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In the laptops of the gods

Churches in Merseyside villages want to share their new technology with local schools, reports Nicolas Barnard

THE latest route for getting new technology into classrooms is via the pulpit.

In a pilot programme linking cassocks with computers, churches in two Merseyside villages are to boost information and communication technology resources for their communities. Schools should be among the leading beneficiaries.

Organisers of the multi-denominational project want companies to lend interactive "whiteboards" and laptop computers to the clergy to illustrate sermons on Sunday and use in the community during the rest of the week.

The scheme is the idea of Georgina Stein, of the Learning Circuit, a south-west London charity formed by Roehampton Institute, the AZTEC training and enterprise council and local businesses to promote community-based technology. Ms Stein's sister happens to be the Rev Liz Collison, former primary teacher and associate priest at St Ann's C of E church in Rainhill, Merseyside.

"I realised we work with libraries, community centres, schools and colleges but not with churches. But churches are involved in schools and the rest of their communities so there was an obvious gap," Ms Stein said.

Most clergy also spend a lot of time in schools, and the churches are as keen as any other organisation to get wired up and modernise their image.

Whiteboards project moving graphics for audiences and are already popular with lecturers and business people making presentations to client. Computer-literate clergy believe they could also bring church services to life and make sermons more immediate.

St Ann's also plans to use them in confirmation and wedding classes and in local history presentations to pupils who visit the church regularly, while laptops can jazz up parish newsletters.

"We want to get away from flipcharts and bits of cardboard with scruffy writing," says Ms Collison. "Typewritten notices diminish what we're trying to say. They're poor quality for the 21st century."

But they lack the cash and, as Ms Collison says: "Computers will spend a lot of time in cupboards and not get used except at weekends."

The answer is to pool equipment; Rainhill's CoE, Methodist and Catholic churches will share one whiteboard and laptop, while another set will go to churches in nearby Huyton, where Canon John Stanley, chaplain to the Queen, is vicar of St Michael's.

The scheme is called the 1829 Project after another age of great technological advance - the Industrial Revolution. George Stephenson unveiled his Rocket steam locomotive in Huyton in 1829.

The 1829 Project also hopes to convert a disused Rainhill primary school into a computer centre for adult education and local groups to use.

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