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iPad has become tool for pastoral care ministry of presence

A key question about ministries using technology is:
Does it help connect people to community or isolate them?

Erik Strommen has helped First Congregational UCC in Bellevue turn an iPad, his birthday gift last April, into a ministry of presence for pastoral care. 

Erik Strommen

The Congregational Care Comission has found it a way keep people connected to the congregation even when they may be cut off by health or age.

Soon after he received it, he was visiting a member in the hospital as part of the Congregational Care Commission.  The person asked about it and wanted to see some pictures he had on it from the church and his family.  He held it on his lap and scrolled through the photos.

Seeing that response, Erik wondered what else the church could bring to people.  He first thought of the church’s beloved music program.

Being tech savvy in his work as a consultant through his company, Playful Efforts—designing interactive learning games and play for toy and media companies—he has a “jaundiced” view of typical ways technology is used to educate with a lot of flash and little content.

“I’m impressed with technology when it has unintended consequences that build integration in community, rather than isolation from community,” he said.  “My number one question in looking at technology is how can we use it to connect people.  Will it make people feel connected to community?

I want technology to add value.  Part of living a life of faith is finding ways to connect people and build community,” he said.  “It’s also to bring comfort and joy to people who are suffering.

Bellevue First member views choir at home.

The iPad has a built-in camera, so every Sunday he records the adult or children’s choir.  The church’s part-time lay parish visitor, Brenda Hounjet, takes the iPad with the music on her pastoral visits.

When one member fell and broke her hip, people in the church wanted to send a greeting and decided to send their wishes for her healing and express how them missed her via an iPad video.

Erik, the son of a UCC pastor who grew up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, edited it to a two-minute get-well video to take to the hospital.

After earning a bachelor’s at Cornell in 1983, and a master’s and PhD in developmental psychology at Rutgers, he worked seven years as research director for interactive learning with Sesame Street.  He came to Seattle to help Microsoft start an interactive toy division.
He was not involved in a church until coming to Seattle and joining Bellevue First—which is an open and affirming church—with his husband Dave Shulman.

Erik also uses interactive media to film children in the church school or vacation Bible school as they act out parables of Jesus, DaVinci’s “Last Supper” and other Bible stories.
“When we did the Last Supper, we had eight children, but needed 13, so several dressed and posed as two apostles.  I used Photoshop to combine several photos into one,” he said. 

“When they were acting out David being selected king, while standing in the field full of sheep, there were only sheep costumes.  I took photos of children in them at different angles and made a photo with many sheep.

Children’s lives are highly mediated,” Erik said.  “They see media as normal extensions of their lives, so they enjoy sharing the photos and videos with others.”

Another time, he did a one-minute video with the children retelling the resurrection story—the women coming to the empty tomb, meeting the angel,  finding no body and going to the disciples to report.

As the children create photos and videos, it makes Bible stories more relevant than writing in workbooks or sitting and talking, Erik said.

“It makes lessons more vivid and integrated into their thinking,” he said.

Erik, who is also a puppeteer, has also come to classes with puppets.

From his work at Sesame Street, he has incorporated a process for producing informal learning content.

The iPad makes it easy,” he said.  “In the old days, I had to take a video, transfer it to a computer to edit and then save it to a DVD.  Now I just take the video, edit it and publish it on the iPad, which combines ease of use with portability.”

Erik is pleased with the unanticipated, positive effects of using the iPad.

“People in church see me recording something and want to access it,” he said. 

Lisa Horst Clark, Bellevue First’s pastor for spiritual formation, asked him to film her children’s stories so she could see herself and improve her delivery.  Then she posted it online, and her grandparents in Illinois were able to watch her doing her job.

Erik loads what he captures and edits on the church’s website, where he is building an archive of video, photos and recordings of church music.

“The beloved community is important in our culture, which can be isolating, judgmental and harsh.  It’s hard to find spaces where we can share what we have in common with others and can express that they are valued,” Erik commented.

He finds the iPad intimate.  Patients in the hospital cradle it on their laps.

“With the iPad, we are able to bring people the message, our community loves you the way God loves you,” he said.

For information, call 425- 454-5001, email or visit

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © April-May 2012





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