Minister spreads good word about Linux to nonprofits

If you're already a penguinista, Pastor Parris is preaching to the choir. But for those who aren't converted to open source, this minister is spreading the gospel of Linux and practicing what he preaches.

Ordained minister Don Parris has plenty of experience spreading the good word -- about Linux.

Parris is planting a new church in Charlotte, N.C., the Matheteuo Christian Fellowship. Matheteuo translates to "make disciples," and Parris has extended this directive to include Linux disciples. His PDF book, Penguin in the Pew has been downloaded more than 1,000 times.

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Additionally, Parris has launched a computer training class as part of Matheteuo's educational ministry. The class teaches word processing skills and computer literacy, enabling students to apply their knowledge to several different applications and computer tasks -- regardless of the operating system.

Much like the wise man who built his house on solid rock, Parris built Matheteuo's IT foundations on Linux, but mainly because the foolish man's beachfront property was simply too expensive.

"I knew we could afford to run Linux," Parris said, estimating that while Windows might cost more than $80 a license for each of the church's 20 donated computers, Linux would cost only $80 total.

"We would have to make sure we had a legitimate copy [of whatever OS they chose] and licenses on each machine." Parris said that the lack of a technical support vendor would be outweighed by the benefit of being able to distribute Linux throughout his ministry without fear of licensing fees.

How can churches use Linux?

The Freely Project is a Web site dedicated to promoting open source software and Linux use in churches. Creator and webmaster Ben Thorp, who works for IBM in Scotland and has studied both theology and computing, said that Linux seemed to be an obvious choice for churches and other nonprofit organizations.

"It seemed that the two would never really get together. So the plan was to establish a project that would provide resources to Christians to promote Linux within their own contexts," he said.

Typically, a church requires some type of word-processing capability. Web sites can aid in visibility and stewardship, as well as reach shut-in members who cannot attend traditional worship services. Parris pointed out that many churches now use presentation software to project hymn lyrics, but that other possible applications might include musical score notation and sound production.

"The bigger the church, the more hardware and software you're going to have to have," Parris said. A church might require a server PC and several workstations, along with some type of church management software. Currently, there is no Linux software developed specifically for church management, but Parris is working on a MySQL database called the "Church Administration Database," or CHADDB, available on the Matheteuo site.

Any type of OS can meet these needs, but both Parris and Thorp point out that the philosophy and ethics of Linux -- not to mention the affordability -- make it a choice more closely aligned with the philosophy of the church, and a good fit for any nonprofit organization.

The Linux outreach

Thorp proposes an online support service for church IT. "For question and answer forums, I would hope to put churches in contact with existing forums and LUGs," he said. He is interested in pursuing a member-based fault-logging system, "whereby member churches can log a ticket with us, and that ticket gets assigned to one of our more knowledgeable members who would attempt to resolve the ticket in a one-to-one type situation," he said. "I envisage this being something that would appeal to a whole church setup, rather than as a service for individual Christians who are running Linux. There are plenty of support forums out there."

Parris says that evangelizing Linux is very similar to his work as a minister because he faces many of the same arguments. "People say, 'I already have my religion,' or 'We already have our operating system,'" Paris said. "One of the biggest challenges, though, is when it comes to speaking to people in the church who have a non-technical background. They always seem to know a technical guru who has Windows experience. I have to educate people as far as what Linux is about, the fact that it provides better security and flexibility in the way you set it up and produce your network. I think Linux provides better flex there."

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