BY: DAVID WARREN, PhD
Consider this message: "CHAusa, the website of the Catholic Health Association, is an online community that strengthens the Catholic health ministry." What does this statement mean?
Your Information Service
One way to understand this "online community" is fairly pedestrian. When you send e-mail addressed to [email protected], you are taking advantage of the concierge function of the website. The "webmaster" (usually me) routes your request to the appropriate person and makes sure you receive the help you need. Webmaster is one way CHAusa enables you to communicate instantly with the association.
The website also allows CHA to request information from you and for you to respond quickly without hassle or expense. For example the website features a Question of the Month, the responses to which help CHA better understand your concerns. A more substantial instance of CHAusa being used to collect information from members is the current call for examples of parish-based programs that serve aging and chronically ill persons.
The website provides you with instant knowledge about the association: our strategic plan, our board of trustees and committees, our positions on particular issues, our breaking news. CHAusa is the fastest way for you to learn about CHA.
The elementary ways in which CHAusa connects all of us certainly do create "an online community" — but not much more so than does the telephone in your office or the bulletin board in your coffee room. And while it certainly strengthens the Catholic health ministry to be able to communicate quickly with little or no expense, it would be just another case of late-twentieth-century hype to declare that because CHA has a website, the ministry is therefore improved.
What really makes CHAusa an online community that strengthens the ministry? The association website provides space to collaborate — to work together without the limitations of geographic distance, physical room, or even time of day. If you have access to the Internet, then you have access to CHAusa — even if you happen to be conducting field research in Machu Picchu. If something needs to be posted on CHAusa to be shared with other members of the ministry, then a lack of space won't deter such a posting. If you prefer to work after midnight but before dawn, then you can still make CHAusa part of what you do because the website is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
CHAusa is perhaps best described by the biological term nexus, "a specialized area of the cell membrane involved in intercellular communication and adhesion." CHAusa is a virtual place for members of the Catholic health ministry to connect, to grow, to help each other, and in so doing to create a stronger ministry. That might mean helping to build collections of materials, such as the online bibliography for healthcare as a right (www.chausa.org/publicpo/right.asp) or the postings designed to assist member institutions with corporate compliance programs (www.chausa.org/misssvcs/ethics/corcomp.asp). That might mean being a regular participant in a bulletin board to discuss a critical issue such as the future of sponsorship or seizing some of the many opportunities for dialogue presented by CHAusa. This nexus has no value without people to connect.
As We May Think
For many of us the computer seems unnaturally complicated, an often scary emblem of a mystery we label "Technology." Once upon a time people thought the same way about the telephone or the internal combustion engine. Today, we don't even think about phones and cars; we just use these things as needed. For CHAusa to be a viable online community that dramatically advances the Catholic health ministry, you must use the website and become a part of it. Simply put, CHAusa is not a technological miracle but rather a tool to use to your advantage.
Collaboration is a natural impulse in the Catholic health ministry, and CHAusa has evolved — and continues to do so — from that impulse. A substantial portion of association staff members work together every day to make CHAusa a vibrant, content-rich place; we work together on the website both because it's too big a project for any individual and because the website merely reflects the collaboration that is this association.
The collaboration that is CHAusa already includes association members, who contribute ideas for making the website more useful and content for making it more valuable. Now is the time for more members to join this online community and make our ministry stronger.
CHA's website can be found at www.chausa.org. For more information, contact David Warren at 314-253-3464.
Dr. Warren is CHAusa editor, Catholic Health Association, St. Louis.
Copyright © 1998 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.