Tonawanda News — It’s usually considered bad form to use your cell phone in church. But on a recent Sunday, not to long ago, parishioners from St. Vincent De Paul Parish were asked to bring their phones to mass.
At one point in the service, when everyone pulled their phones out of purses and pockets, the church stepped into the future of evangelizing, as all the parishioners simultaneously texted a new online service that would change the way they communicate with each other.
The service is called “Flocknote” and it was designed by a Texan who thought that weekly sermons, traditional “snail mail” and church bulletins were simply not efficient enough in allowing church members to stay connected. David Hayes of Wheatfield, a church member who led the process of installation, said the service uses social media to provide a deeper connectivity.
“If you look at how most parishes and churches in general communicate today, they have bulletins and websites, but this is really taking it to the next level,” he said.
That means church leaders can use texts, tweets and Facebook to share important messages instantly. The program has already helped other churches solve big problems, according to church member Annie Esposito, who came up with the idea to use Flocknote.
“There are a couple of neat stories I’ve heard around the country,” Esposito said. “Flocknote saved Holy Week for one parish. The city had planned a construction project right in front of the church, right during Holy Week. The parish was already using Flocknote. They sent out a text asking parishioners to please contact the city, and all these people did. Sure enough the city heard the request and delayed the project until after Easter.”
The program can also assist with events such as winter storms, notifying people when an activity is closed at the last minute; or can send a message from the pastor.
“Some priests record their homilies and send them out,” Esposito added.
For the Rev. Andrew Lauricella, parochial vicar of the parish, the new online system provides speed.
“This helps us to communicate with parishioners during the week, and not just on weekends when we have their attention,” he said.
The Flocknote system also allows for specialized listings, so priests can easily communicate with ushers or the choir or other specific groups, Esposito noted.
“Church communities are really built on relationships,” Hayes noted. “Using Flocknote you can actually comment on the announcement sent to you. You can also participate in polls. It’s a way of listening to the parish.”
And while some parishioners in the Military Road parish — which includes the Prince of Peace campus on Military and the Catholic Academy Elementary School — will continue to prefer communication via telephone and weekly church bulletins, or even the most old fashioned way — person to person — church leaders are seeking to sign up more of their 5,000 membership. Currently only about five percent have joined, but while some may not bet tech-savvy, the experience is designed to be easy.
“It’s so neat, this fresh, young perspective,” Esposito said of Flocknote. “The site even has a happiness engineer. That’s so adorable. If you have a problem you call the happiness engineer and she takes care of you.”
FLOCKNOTE Those interested in knowing more about Flocknotes, an online system that links the parisioners of St. Vincent De Paul, can send a text to 84576 and type in the word "vincent." Flocknotes will send a confirmation text; or visit www.flocknotes.com/svdp; or phone the parish at 283-2715.