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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The Rev. Stan Buck and the Rev. Mark Hammond, youth pastor at Sonrise United Methodist in Aboite Township, use apps on their smart phones in their ministry.

God on the go

New cell phone apps help believers keep religious texts close at hand


Like a lot of Christian ministers, the Rev. Stan Buck used to carry a well-thumbed Bible with him pretty much everywhere he went.

After all, he never knew when he might want to offer a scriptural word of encouragement to someone in the hospital or cite chapter and verse to make a point during a conversation with a colleague.

These days, though, the lead pastor of Sonrise United Methodist Church in Aboite Township often just carries his new iPhone, where the Bible is just a swipe – or at most four or five swipes – away.

Want to know more about God? Yeah, there’s an app for that.

Actually scores of apps with religious purposes have recently sprung up for cell phones.

And, area pastors say, the apps are changing the way they do ministry.

“I use several apps on a daily basis, and I encourage my other pastors to do so,” says Buck, who not only uses specifically religious apps but also has adapted secular apps.

They include iTunes, which now allows congregation members and others to access sermons delivered at his church and its satellite locations on their phones.

“That’s the way I keep up with other sermons at our other two sites. I listen to them on my phone,” says Buck, whose church has congregations that meet in Roanoke and at Cedar Canyon Elementary School. “My phone is really a ministry tool.”

The Rev. Aaron Jackson, youth pastor at Life Bridge Church in Fort Wayne, calls his Droid and its apps essential for keeping up with his teenage charges, most of whom have cell phones themselves.

He says there’s nothing like the YouVersion app to get kids’ fingers – and heads – into the Bible.

The app puts the Old and New Testaments in 41 versions and 22 translations on a user’s smart phone – plus a search feature, the ability to comment on a particular verse and Bible-reading plans to help a reader get through selected portions of Scripture, such as St. Paul’s epistles, in a certain amount of time.

“YouVersion is a really popular app because it’s free and feature-rich, and once a few people (in a congregation) are on it, it catches on really quick. It spreads by word of mouth,” he says.

Jackson also uses an app that allows him to plan worship services down to the minute – making it possible for him to check, say, whether he has a bass player lined up for next week’s praise band, while he’s having lunch.

He also uses the Pandora app to program his favorite Christian music to his phone and another app to take notes during presentations or write down sermon ideas, even if he has one in the middle of the night.

“That’s the beauty of smart phones. Their apps are just so broad. They might not be for any one profession, but you can adapt them,” he says. “In the past, pastors were having to spend hundreds of dollars on commentaries and big libraries, and now it’s just all there on your phone.”

The Rev. Mark Hammond, a youth pastor at Sonrise, says he’s a fan of the Daily Bible app that provides a verse of the day that greets him the first time he looks at his phone in the morning. With just the press of a button, he can even have the verse read to him.

But he says he’d be lost without the built-in Facebook app on his new Evo smart phone.

Hammond has 1,020 Facebook friends, many of them members of his youth group, and he can blast announcements and cancellations by posting to Facebook through his phone.

“And if I haven’t seen a kid at youth group for a while, in 10 seconds I can ‘poke’ him or go on his wall and drop a word of encouragement or a private message,” he says.

“I’ve been doing youth ministry for 15 years and in the last month, it (his smart phone) has changed what I do dramatically. I’m definitely more effective.”

But it’s not just mainline and evangelical Christians who are using apps.

Ibrahim Al Buraithen, a student at Trine University in Angola, says he uses an app, iPray, that reminds him of the five times a day a Muslim is to pray and points him in the direction, east, he should face, regardless of where he is.

Although he doesn’t consider himself particularly religious, he says he occasionally reads and listens to the Quran, the Muslim holy book, on his phone. But Al Buraithen, who is from Saudi Arabia, says he especially appreciates another app, Islamic Calendar.

He says it helps him bridge cultures while he lives in the West.

“Muslims have a different calendar, which follows the moon movement, so this app will make you able to know what day it is on the Gregorian calendar, because we have special days and holidays on the Muslim calendar,” he says.

For Buddhists, there are apps ranging from a mobile version of Buddhist prayer beads to a geographic search that finds the temple nearest you and provides turn-by-turn directions. Buddhists also use apps to access key scriptures and soothing chanting by monks or pop up animations of Buddha’s life and teachings to entertain children.

Jewish apps include one that places the pronunciation of the Hebrew mourning prayer known as the kaddish at the fingertips of those wishing to honor a lost loved one.

“I use the Hebrew calendar app, prayer book apps, Bible apps, a Talmud app, apps for holidays, and the list goes on. What an amazing world of technology we live in,” says Rabbi Mitchell Kornspan of B’nai Jacob, Fort Wayne’s Conservative movement synagogue.

Roman Catholics can ease the stress of the sacrament of reconciliation, also known as penance or confession, with an app recently developed by two University of Notre Dame students that has official approval from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The app, iConfess from Little iApps, provides a form customizable to the user so he or she can examine his or her conscience for sins and maps out the expected reponses to a confessor priest’s questions. Users can bring their virtual notes on their phone to the confessional, but they still have to speak with the priest in person.

Pope Benedict XVI even has his own app. The Vatican has issued one that allows the faithful to send the pope’s picture to one another’s phones.

Among the sea of religious apps, there has even been an app controversy.

Late last year, Apple pulled an app that provided The Manhattan Declaration – a 4,700-word treatise that supporters describe as “a call of Christian conscience.” The company said the declaration, which supporters said opposes abortion and promotes traditional marriage and religious liberty, was “offensive to large groups of people.”

The app is being reconfigured to be resubmitted.

The declaration was promoted last month at a forum in Fort Wayne sponsored by the Archangel Institute, where participants noted the debate over who gets to decide what apps ought to be widely available.

Buck, who recently upgraded to an Apple iPhone 4, says some of the larger fish in the Christian community – megachurches with national followings and popular authors – have been quick to jump into apps. Part of that may be because they can be lucrative, he says.

Buck says he has recommended an app associated with the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University classes offered at his church and is now working through a personal spiritual growth app affiliated with the Rev. John Ortberg’s popular book, “The Me I Want to Be.”

That is, when Buck is not scrolling through an app that has placed his entire church’s membership directory on his phone, scanning for religious news with his USA Today app, listening to a church leadership podcast or checking directions to a congregation member’s home via his Global Positioning System app.

“The first time, it may take a little bit of time 10 or 15 minutes to download a specific thing, and it takes you a few days to get used to it,” he says.

But apps are worth any fuss.

“I think there was an early-adapter phase when just geeks were using them,” Buck says. “It’s just an explosion now. Everybody’s using them.”