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April 26, 2015 · 07:56

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August 29, 2013 · 08:54

“Father, forgive me – I have signed in”

Salt Lake Tribune   By Vince Horiuchi   Posted: 08/19/2013

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Bishops take pictures of Pope Francis with mobile phones at the Archbishop’s Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on July 27, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) Tyler Woolstenhulme might be loath to admit it, but sometimes he’s not paying attention in church. He will happily confess that he’s not the only one.

The 31-year-old Mormon has more than once sat in the pew of his congregation in Sandy, Utah, and let his mind wander. When that happens, he pulls out his iPhone and sometimes plays his puzzle game, “1to50.” Or maybe he texts his friends across the aisle.

“I take the time in church to catch up with people I haven’t contacted in a while,” he said. “I text friends or family.”

The thing is, he says, about half the congregation also is on phones and tablets during a sermon.

“I see people play games all the time. I’ve seen them watch football games,” he said about other congregants and their mobile devices.

For many bored churchgoers, fiddling with smartphones or computer tablets is the 21st-century equivalent of playing tic-tack-toe or dozing off during services.

It can be a problem particularly with younger members, the first generation to know no life without cellphones or social networks and with whom digital devices are “like an appendage to their body,” said Colleen Gudreau, spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. “They don’t see it in the same context as the adults do.”

Firing up the iPhone or iPad can be especially tempting for Mormons in search of a break, according to some members, possibly due in part to Sunday services that stretch over three hours.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official policy banning the use of mobile devices during services, according to spokeswoman Ruth Todd.

In fact, LDS mobile apps containing scriptures, lessons, conference sermons and more can heighten rather than hinder the worship experience.

The devices also can be a godsend for parents wanting to occupy their fidgety children. But sometimes, many can be seen accessing Facebook, checking sports scores, catching up on the news or playing a quick game.

Almost every church has offenders. One Mormon churchgoer was so focused on playing the puzzle game “Candy Crush” on his phone he didn’t notice that the worship service was over and everyone had left. Another was playing his racing game on a tablet while grasping and turning the iPad like a steering wheel.

When Kurt Anderson was a member of a Mormon singles ward (congregation), he noticed 60 percent to 80 percent of the churchgoers were on their phones and tablets during a service. Now that he heads his own congregation of older members, he still sees about 10 percent of them on their mobile devices during services.

“It’s nothing too terrible,” Anderson said, “but there are some moments where you try to corral them in, where you say, ‘Let’s put the electronic devices down and try to connect as individuals.’”

In some cases, devices have become so distracting so often that it’s normal to remind parishioners before worship services to turn off their mobile units. Some Mormon bishops have mentioned it in their talks. Other churches post signs or remind congregants in their weekly bulletins.

At a Mormon ward in Cottonwood Heights, teen girls began putting their cellphones in a basket before the start of class when texting got out of control. The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Burbank, Calif., even produced a wildly popular YouTube video with more than 3.8 million views that quips if your phone rings during the sermon, “You’re going straight to hell.”

“Remember,” the narrator stresses, “God wants your complete attention.”

“A lot of churches have announcements at the beginning that this is a holy time and to please put their devices away. It’s like in an airplane,” said Samantha Almanza, director of the youth and young-adult ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. “It’s just time to dedicate to God and not your mobile device, and that’s taught to them and reinforced to them.”

Now that electronic devices have become so ubiquitous in churches, some clergy want to use them to their advantage.

“I’m actually exploring a service where I would encourage people to Twitter me,” said the Rev. Dennis Shaw, pastor at Sandy’s Hilltop United Methodist Church. “So as I’m doing the service and I have my cellphone in my hand and the Twitter (feed) changes, I can follow the dialogue. It’s a way of potentially engaging people.”

The Very Rev. Ray Waldon, dean of Salt Lake City’s Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Mark, recently attended a seminar in San Diego titled “Digital Jesus” in which church leaders were encouraged to get their members tweeting and posting about the sermons during service. He said the younger people using social media were referred to as “digital natives” while older churchgoers are known as “digital immigrants.”

“Our digital natives are truly paying attention. What they are doing is texting or tweeting the word of God,” he said. “My experience at this cathedral is not that they are not paying attention. It’s quite the opposite — they are so moved they want the word of God to get out.”

The LDS church also has embraced the digital age, producing a dozen official mobile apps for phones and tablets that allow members to search scriptures or prepare Sunday school lessons.

“I see development of technology as the fulfilment of a Judeo-Christian prophecy,” said Tracy Cowdell, a regional LDS leader in Sandy.

“Isaiah, who spoke of our time, said: ‘The Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’ Technology is a way for us to connect with more people and more people having more access to spiritual information.”

(Vince Horiuchi writes for The Salt Lake Tribune).

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August 4, 2013 · 09:12

Helicopters for Christ

 

A Texas megachurch pastor, whose ‘Aviation Department’ advised him that upgrading the blades on his helicopter would save his church $50,000, recently caused an uproar for asking his congregation to help finance the upgrade with $52 ‘favor seeds.’

Bishop, I.V. Hilliard, of the New Light Christian Center in Houston Texas, reportedly sent out a controversial newsletter to his “Friends in Jesus” list, telling them that if they sow a $52 transportation seed toward the upgrade they would receive “breakthrough favor” within 52 days or 52 weeks.

“Does your car need repair or total replacement? Do you have a dream vehicle or luxury automobile you long to purchase?” noted Hilliard in the opening paragraph of the letter.

“Our Aviation Department has an opportunity that will save the ministry well over $50K if we will move on it right away. My Aviation Manager stated that while repairing our helicopter they discovered that if we upgrade our blades today, it will save thousands in the days to come,” he explained.

Then while pointing to various biblical scriptures, Hilliard noted: “We have an urgent transportation need that the Lord said can be an opportunity for you to see His favor and His wisdom released to help you.”

“Scripture teaches when you give to a Kingdom need, God will raise up someone to use their power, their ability and their influence to help you,” he added.

 

“As I pondered and looked at the situation, I heard that still small voice of the Holy Spirit say ‘tell your special partners who have special transportation needs’ and their obedience will release favor for their needs and desires. I got excited and set down to write you!” noted Hilliard.

The Bishop’s request however stirred a heated debate online as soon as it was made public.

“You sir, are proof that SUCKERS/SHEEPLE are born every day! Give that charlatan money $$? LOL Why? So he can buy more gold rings, bigger mansion, bigger cars, hire another maid, a Helicopter??? ? All under the guise of Gawd..LOL This atheist is glad he’s an atheist!” wrote John R Costello on the Bishop’s facebook page.

Apparently upset that some people think Hilliard’s request is unreasonable, Pastor Eddie Daniels responded supportively to the controversy on the Bishop’s facebook page.

“Concerning Bishop I.V. Hilliard: Simply put, the church’s helicopter is under their maintenance responsibilities and not the sole responsibility of any one individual. Why does anyone feel coerced to be upset about the financial responsibility to spreading the ministry? Helicopters do not maintain themselves. They are not Transformers, neither Autobots nor Decepticons. Wake up church and get the world out of your affairs,” wrote Daniels.

In response to a Fox News report on the request, the New Light Christian Center, issued a statement apologizing to anyone the request may have offended.

“New Light Church World Outreach and Worship Centers, Inc. regularly make appeals to Special Partners, Members and friends of the church for the support of various programs and services,” New Light stated.

“Occasionally, it is not uncommon for an appeal to be directed toward specific Kingdom projects or specific needs. In this instance, the appeal was directed to our Special Partners and friends who are familiar with the Biblical principles upon which we base our faith. We sincerely regret if anyone was offended by this appeal in that it was not our intent.”

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July 2, 2013 · 21:12

More from “Lark News”

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ANAHEIM HILLS — A small group from Life Baptist church met during the week, but the members have no memory of seeing each other because they were staring at their smartphones the entire time.

“I thought everyone else was keeping up the discussion,” says one woman who successfully ‘Liked’ fifty-five posts and finished two games of Words With Friends during the 90-minute gathering. “I guess no one was.”

Members were so engrossed in texting, posting and Tweeting that it did not occur to them that nobody was talking, let alone leading the meeting. Silence descended on the room as members sat tapping screens, occasionally giggling and typing messages.

“I went into the kitchen at one point to get snacks, and it did seem awfully quiet,” says one man. “Everyone had their heads down. I thought we were praying.”

One man had just bought a new app and was eager to try it out.

“I was tearing it up on Tiny Wings and thought everyone would understand,” he says. “I remember walking into a door, but I’m not sure what building it was — maybe small group or Bed, Bath and Beyond. I don’t have a visual for it anymore.”

Some people even texted and messaged each other while in the same room.

“I was having a great conversation with Karen on Facebook and didn’t notice that she was sitting three feet away from me,” says one woman. “She messaged me, ‘Oh, I’m in small group,’ and I messaged her back, ‘Really? Me too!’”

Only later did members confirm that a meeting had taken place by piecing together tweets, texts and Facebook posts.

“It says on Facebook that I checked in at their house, so I must have been there,” says one woman. “Facebook doesn’t lie.”

Others looked at their timelines and Twitter feeds and saw posts like “Heading to small group” and “Picking up chips and salsa” at around the same time. But none have any memory of what happened after that.

“I think I ate a plate of something, but I was pretty engrossed in Fruit Ninja, so I didn’t really notice,” says one man. “It may have been brownie bites.”

One woman and her husband arrived home afterward, sat in their garage, looked at each other and said, “Did we just go to small group?”

“It was a little eerie,” says the wife. “The only thing I can recall is seeing my iPhone screen. Which, by the way, have you checked out this app?”

Members group-texted each other afterward and pledged to actually look at each other next time they meet.

“We felt kind of bad,” says one man. “I told them if I forget to pay attention next time, just Facetime me.” •

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May 5, 2013 · 12:33