It began as a simple ministry: place daily morning prayer, noonday prayer and compline online for anyone to hear. The Rev. Dr. Chip Lee, who has a background in broadcasting, has been recording these inspirational prayers for downloading in his rural Garrett County office and putting them on his church's Web site since September 2005.
In January the Diocese of Maryland installed a new server, upgrading the output to streaming audio and video of live and pre- recorded content via RealPlayer(tm) - including Lee's devotionals.
This means no more waiting for files to download before hearing or seeing anything. RealPlayer is a free program that allows users to watch or listen to streaming or pre-recorded content through the internet.
This new technology carries Lee's and the diocese's message to greater numbers of people than ever before. There were 7,500 visitors to www.ang-md.org in January, up from 6,500 in December.
"Having greatly improved the quality of our output, the diocese and I wanted to reach more people and the office of military chaplaincies was a logical choice," noted Lee, rector of St. Matthew's, Oakland, and vicar of St. John's, Deer Park. "This is a resource for our chaplains in the field to pass on to those in their charge. Our soldiers and sailors, especially those in the Middle East, are disconnected from the world and this ministry allows them to connect with God. They don't have to wait for a service or find a chaplain - it's there when they need it."
With one e-mail, Lee expanded the daily devotionals audience to include members of the U.S. military worldwide. He contacted the Rev. Gerald J. Blackburn, director for military chaplaincies, on February 19 simply asking him to "check out the links" and "if they meet with your approval, offer them to your chaplains so that they might offer them to the sailors and soldiers in their charge."
On February 26 military personnel began downloading MP3 files of the devotionals. Due to limitations on bandwidth, streaming audio is not available to the troops overseas; the files are formatted to meet the needs of the military and give all visitors to the Web site a choice of formats.
"We greatly appreciate being able to offer to all our chaplains and members of the Armed Services this helpful online access to the Daily Office as a convenient spiritual resource for personal and/or group use. It also serves as an important connection with our greater Episcopal Church family for those Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guard and civilian government personnel scattered around the globe, including those at sea aboard ships, those in rather remote military installations in such places as Iceland and Okinawa, as well as those in harm's way in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait," said Blackburn.
Positive e-mails from chaplains in the field in Iraq indicate that Lee's ministry is a blessing.
"Once I got to the MP3, it was marvelous and a broadcast quality production. It is truly a wonderful contribution to our troops and the web. May God richly bless you and your parish for your outreach over the web," wrote Lt. Cmdr. (sel) Mark S. Winward, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy.
"What a wonderful resource! I'm going to pass this along to the incoming chaplains as we go home," wrote Lt. Michael R. Pipkin, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy.
The increase in number of visitors to the churches' Web site seems toback that up. Within 24 hours of posting the MP3 files for the military, Lee reported a jump in visitors from 830 to 1,100.
Morning prayer is updated daily and noonday prayer and compline rotate seven versions by day of week. The devotionals run six to 16 minutes and are set to the Native American flute music of R. Carlos Nakai, used by permission of Canyon Records, Phoenix, Arizona. The devotionals are posted on the Lee's church's Web site, www.episcopalchurchingarrettcounty.org, which can be accessed through the Diocese of Maryland home page, www.ang-md.org.
In the future the diocese hopes to expand offerings to include vespers, sermons, concerts and special worship services.
The diocesan Web site is in the process of being upgraded for greater accessibility by those who are blind or visually impaired. Access to Web site content will be enabled by text-to-speech synthesizer software programs (aka "screen readers"), allowing the diocese to more effectively minister to the blind community.
The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland is a Christian community of 23,000 households in 117 congregations covering 10 counties and Baltimore City. Visit www.ang-md.org for more information.