Now Playing on MP3: iSermons

A few pioneering houses of worship are spreading the word from the pulpit to the iPod. Members of the congregation can download Sunday's service and listen to it anytime during the week.

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When new communications technologies come along, religions are often among the first to embrace them. Think early radio or evangelists on TV. Now some churches are getting into podcasting, a technology that's only about a year old. Podcasts are like radio shows that can be downloaded and listened to on portable players, such as the Apple iPod. Here's NPR's Charles Edwards.


Sunday morning service at Fairfax Church of Christ in northwest Virginia begins with announcements. Then Pastor Bruce Black goes right into his sermon. Today's topic? Adventure books, like "Harry Potter" and what he says is the biggest adventure book of all, the Bible.

(Soundbite of podcast)

Reverend BRUCE BLACK (Fairfax Church of Christ): I want us to begin this morning by looking at this passage in Ephesians, chapter 3, verses 14 through 21, a very familiar prayer. You can do one of several things. You can read along in your Bible...

EDWARDS: ...or listen along in your car 24 hours later. Jesse Lee does just that by downloading the sermon to his iPod. And by connecting the tiny, portable media player to his car stereo, Lee brings religion to rush hour. He's driving west on Route 50 to his job as a systems engineer in the Washington, DC, suburbs.

Mr. JESSE LEE (Systems Engineer): It's going to take probably--at this time of day it'll probably take about 30 minutes, which is just about the length of this sermon. Twenty-six minutes is the length of the sermon.

EDWARDS: Lee usually attends Sunday service. However, he says podcasting helps him realize why it's good to hear the sermon more than once.

Mr. LEE: I'm recognizing just how much you kind of lose as you go throughout the week. He just referenced the Scripture on the sermon, and it's great to hear that again because, you know, I'd already forgotten what Scripture reference he had used.

EDWARDS: That can happen, Lee says, when you're trying to calm down your two-year-old while the pastor's preaching. That's why Lee's happy he attends a church that's tech-friendly. The church's audio engineer, Chris Theoret, says the idea came from Lee himself.

Mr. CHRIS THEORET (Audio Engineer, Fairfax Church of Christ): `Gee, wouldn't it be cool to make it a podcast?' And so we said, `OK, we'll figure that out,' and it turns out to be real easy to do.

EDWARDS: This is basically how it works. While Pastor Black is giving his sermon, Theoret is recording it to a computer. He converts that file into an MP3 format, which he posts on the church's Web site. Then people like Jesse Lee download it to their iPod, and from there they can listen wherever they want. It's easy for a church that's already as wired as this one. This church's sanctuary has two big, flat-screen monitors. Pastor Black uses them to show text of Scriptures and pictures as if his sermon was a PowerPoint presentation. So when the pastor, who even has his own blog on the Internet, heard about podcasting, he thought it was a great idea.

Rev. BLACK: The apostle Paul one time said, `I'll become all things to all people by any means to win some.' So if we can stick it in people's iPods, if we can get it to them in a message and a format that they're going to listen to and pay attention, I think that's going to be a good thing.

EDWARDS: It's too early to know, Black says, how many people are tuning in, but he says as long as podcasting is free, he's happy to be able to spread the Word on Sundays and every other day of the week. Charles Edwards, NPR News.

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