CHAT. The word evokes images of jawing away at your neighbour over the fence or of friendly gossip in the church basement after the Sunday service. But ask any teenager about chatting (or their parents who despair of ever using their home computer again) and you’d get another image.
Chat rooms on the Internet are a different kind of community. To picture a busy chat room, think of 30 people standing at the edge of a cliff, all facing the same way, speaking out loud, often at the same time. From time to time, something Person #4 says might catch the ear of Person #21, so Person #4 turns that way and responds, but in the meantime, something else has caught the attention of Person #21, and off she went to another conversation.
Chat rooms – unlike bulletin boards, web-based discussion groups and e-mail lists – are live. Your thoughts are posted the instant you hit your enter key.
If it’s in-depth conversation you’re seeking, it’s not impossible. Conversations tend to be a bit disjointed, as chatters make their entries short to keep interaction flowing, but most chat rooms have the facility for you to enter a “private room” with another person. That’s not as sinister and seedy as it sounds. You might find an individual you are interested in talking to – something the others in the chat room might not be interested in – and you can pull that person into a private room for one-on-one chat.
There are a few Internet destinations where thoughtful Anglicans and members of other denominations gather, mostly at night, to discuss faith, theology, families and current events.
Being a new chatter myself, I started my search for chat rooms with Anglican and other Christian Web sites. Anglicans Online!, the impressively comprehensive international denominational Web site, lists two references to Anglican chat rooms.
AO’s treatment of #Anglican Chat (address: http://justus.anglican.org/stsams/IRC.html) offers an explanation of IRC (Internet Relay Chat). The instructions are clear, but ignore its recommendation of mIRC software for chatting using IRC. Opt instead for Pirch. Both applications can be downloaded from the Web (links are provided at AO), but Pirch is much simpler.
Think of #Anglican Chat as a community access cable channel. Located on the DAL.net network, if you log on during the day, there’s no programming available. The chatters provide the programming, and often there are no others with whom to chat until the evening.
#Anglican Chat can be a supportive community to visit. Much of the chat is light, but visitors who are having spiritual troubles are encouraged to unload their burdens. An Orthodox visitor or an Anglican who regularly practises the sacrament of confession log on and questions start flying: “Do you cross yourself three times?” “What form of Hail Mary do you use?” “Where does the confession take place? A confessional?” Other chatters learn something new and the community is built on understanding.
Anglicans Online! also links to the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans chat room. Unlike #Anglican Chat, the OEF chat is web-based; you need no other software. Though this chat room has some cutesy features – you can choose an image like St. Elizabeth to accompany your postings – it’s rarely operational.
Elsewhere, like the easy-to-use OEF chat, Ecunet live chat (address: http://ww1.ecunet.org/chat/ecunet.html) is also web-based. Many Anglicans are already familiar with Ecunet, which bills itself as “The world’s oldest global, ecumenical on-line conferencing community.” Offering both web-based and e-mail discussion groups, Ecunet also hosts up to eight different chat rooms, including PresbyNet Chat, and the general Ecunet Chat. Click on the name of any chatter in the right column of the chat window for his or her profile; chatters come from all denominations, and include both lay or ordained people. If you’re one of the first to log on to one of the Ecunet chat rooms, leave the window up with the audio and entrance alerts turned on (look under the Options pull-down menu). You can continue surfing the Net and checking your e-mail; if someone else logs on to the chat room, you’ll hear a zapping sound and you can switch back and say hello.
The Ecunet rooms, by their nature, are more ecumenical. Like any discussion group, they seem very “insider” when you first join, but these chatters are very welcoming to newcomers. They joke about who’s Pope (at the top of the chatters list window) and give others hugs using parentheses, as in: ((((((Bob)))))).
Ecunet also offers basic chatting advice, including the tip to use discretion when giving out your full name, address or phone number to fellow chatters. The nature of the medium makes it easy to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Leanne Larmondin is Web manager for the Anglican Church of Canada.