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Religious Groups Plan for Y2K Bug

April 3, 1999

Most U.S. religious groups are getting their computers ready and scaling back events in advance of 2000, but some say careful planning can’t totally insulate them from the computer bug.

Religious organizations with extensive computer networks are working feverishly to replace computers or correct programs so computers will not misread the date when the year rolls over to 2000.

Major denominations including Episcopal, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist and Pentecostal have been working for months to put their systems in order by year’s end. Costs are in the millions of dollars.

``We’re coming along according to our schedule,″ said Bobbie Binggeli, a leader of a Y2K task force at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) headquarters in Louisville, Ky. ``We have taken it very seriously.″

Many in-house managers have used the extra scrutiny caused by Y2K to rebuild or replace aging computer networks. Groups that can’t replace equipment for everyone are taking a thrifty approach.

``We’re asking: `Is it essential for that item to be Y2K compliant?’,″ says Ellie Anderson, director of information technology for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The 2.3-million-member archdiocese runs the nation’s largest parochial education system with 325 schools.

``For example, we have laminating equipment, but it will still work even if it’s not ready for Y2K,″ Anderson said. ``As long as it boots up, it’s not an issue.″

Of most concern in the United States are pension and insurance records of ministers. The worst disruptions are expected overseas, where missionaries and other staff could have a difficult time if predictions of power outages and off-line ATMs hold true.

``This thing is huge,″ said Daniel Carr, a management information systems manager at Catholic Relief Services headquarters in Baltimore, which has offices in 60 other countries. ``We should have within our control things like our computers ... our communications equipment. What’s concerning us is our outside vendors.″

Travel plans are also being evaluated, since computers play a major role in air-traffic control networks worldwide. And American groups often bring their workers home for the year-end holidays.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with nearly 60,000 missionaries around the world, is considering suspending travel by its workers around New Year’s Day, Don LeFevre, a church spokesman, said.

Concern over travel in part has prompted InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to delay for a year its triennial missions conference originally scheduled for Dec. 27-31. If the conference in Urbana, Ill., had not been postponed, 18,000 people, mostly American college students, would have been traveling Jan. 1.

``It’s going to be the heaviest travel month of this century,″ said Allan Beeber, a computer expert for Campus Crusade for Christ, a similar college-age ministry based in Orlando, Fla. The group has urged its leaders to complete its annual regional holiday conferences for students before Dec. 31. Campus Crusade is spending $3 million to become Y2K-compatible by spring.

The Promise Keepers also are scaling back plans for events Jan. 1 at state capitals nationwide. To minimize travel, they now are encouraging in-home gatherings and events at local churches

The Assemblies of God has been working on Y2K for five years and is nearly finished. Leaders of the church warn members on its Web site that ``needless fear and alarmist tactics″ such as hoarding food and believing doomsday scenarios ``conflict with the teachings of our Lord himself.″

The nation’s largest Pentecostal denomination, the 8.5 million-member Church of God in Christ, installed a Y2K-friendly database six months ago at its headquarters in Memphis, Tenn.

Sylvia Law, the denomination’s chief financial officer, will meet with IBM and a software company to put together a new record-keeping package for local congregations and districts.

Small, local congregations with loose or no denomination affiliations must rely more on their members to prepare.

``We have some computer-savvy leadership in our congregation,″ said Rabbi Leonard Troupp of Temple Beth David, a Reformed synagogue in Commack, N.Y. The temple already has installed a Y2K-compliant database, in part because members had read up on the problem.

Imam Hassan Qazwini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, hasn’t heard Y2K mentioned by other area mosque leaders. The center’s private school in nearby Dearborn, Mich., has new computers which should not be affected. His mosque has a couple of administrative computers, but Qazwini didn’t know if they were ready for 2000.

``I heard something about computer problems, but I really didn’t take it seriously,″ the leader said. ``I thought it was some kind of joke.″

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