Church House hopes for improved singing as director takes sabbatical

Church House hallways are a little quieter, devoid of a familiar singing and of booming laughter; staff meetings don’t have the same flavour.

Doug Tindal, director of Information Resources, is on sabbatical leave until May. But, as when any staff member takes a sabbatical, the work of the national church goes on, especially with national committees getting ready to meet at the beginning of March. Other Information Resources staff have taken over some of Mr. Tindal’s duties like preparing the department budget and the daily reports from the meeting of the Council of General Synod, which takes place in Toronto March 7-9.

Mr. Tindal is far away from it. His schedule is full of an eclectic assortment of studies, leisure activities — like squash and practising his lip trills in singing lessons — and other hobbies.

His wife, Mardi, and two teenage sons, Alex and Christopher, are likely seeing more of him than they have in years. Mardi, a communications consultant, is working from home — so she is on one floor with her computer, and while Doug is downstairs on his. They send each other the odd e-mail arranging to meet in the kitchen for a cup of coffee.

One day a week, Mr. Tindal leaves his Burlington, Ont., home for the University of Toronto to take a course on how international trade affects Canadian media.

The course is with the university’s McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. It has a very definite application for Mr. Tindal, who oversees the church’s national newspaper, magazine, website and video.

Most Canadians have heard of the dispute about so-called split-run magazines, where a large U.S. publication will sell advertising to Canadian companies and sometimes add some Canadian content in order to say they are producing Canadian editions. Canadian print media complain that the much larger U.S. publications absorb too much ad revenue since they can afford to sell ad space at lower rates.

What isn’t well known, however, is that publications like the Anglican Journal and the 21 diocesan newspapers have been deeply affected by the same trade policies that have affected some Canadian magazines. The national church newspaper and the diocesan newspapers, which are mailed out together as a package, previously qualified for a postal subsidy “which has been very important for making them economically viable,” said Mr. Tindal. That subsidy has been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. The federal government’s Heritage Canada is examining the issue of supporting Canadian periodicals so that publications like the church newspapers don’t fold under financial pressure.

Mr. Tindal’s course is also looking at how the church will be able to access its members as international borders are gradually erased by new media, including the Internet.

“When Internet bandwith is able to support video, what happens to cable as a system which can be regulated in the Canadian interest?” asked Mr. Tindal. That Canadian regulation, he continued, benefited the church as it allowed it to speak to its members, for example, through Canada’s Vision television network.

“Will we have access to our members with the new media?” he asked rhetorically, going on to answer himself. “We may have enhanced access.”

For three days a week, Mr. Tindal also spends up to five hours a day on the Internet examining ways the church can make more effective use of the medium. One pet project is the creation of an electronic committee which is involved in the planning of a meeting of religious communicators next year.

“As a church, we spend an inordinate amount of time coming together,” he said. The electronic committee, which currently takes the form of an e-mail list hosted by the Anglican Church of Canada’s website, is trying to bring people together “in some form of authentic community” where members can still exchange ideas and get to know each other.

“If it’s a great piece of work or a failure, either way, we’ll learn something.”

The other focus of his Web surfing is researching how individuals are using the Internet to meet their spiritual needs — “what kinds of spiritual needs are people seeking to have met, what are people offering and how effective are they.” He visits websites and subscribes to various e-mail lists and newsgroups as part of his research.

“I would love to hear from anybody about how they feel they have had contributions to their spiritual well being from the web,” said Mr. Tindal. He can be reached at [email protected].

Mr. Tindal will be back to his job with Information Resources May 13.

Information Resources, with more than 30 employees, is the largest of eight departments at the national church level. It encompasses such diverse areas of work like the Anglican Journal, resource production, archives, Anglican Video, the library and parts of the Anglican Book Centre.

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