Across Pacific & Asia

Cell phone companies

signal financial benefits for churches
by Leanne Larmondin - Toronto
With both of them in the same business of getting the word out, some
Canadian churches and cellular phone companies are entering into agreements
where churches lease their steeples and land for communications

Toronto's Church of the Messiah has just signed its second three-year lease
with Bell Mobility, under the terms of which two small transmitters were
attached to one of its towers. Approached three years ago by the phone
company, Rev. Andrew Sheldon says the parish negotiated its fee -- "they
gave us a figure, then we gave them a figure, then they gave us another
figure..." But that doesn't mean the incumbent and altar servers are
packing Bell flip phones.

"I have a cell phone, but it's -- the competition. They offered us a deal
on phones, but it still couldn't beat the deal I already had," said Mr.

Similarly, St. Luke's Church, Victoria, in the Diocese of British Columbia,
was contacted by a phone company about 18 months ago. That company,
Microcell, offered St. Luke's $6,000 a year to erect a post at the edge of
its cemetery, a more suitable spot than the church, which is down a hill.

The only concern parishioners had was the possibility of harmful radiation
from the transmitter. They contacted the government and others and were
told the cellular transmitters emitted no more radiation than a television.

The deal fell through after some bureaucratic entanglements -- including
consultations with the parish, diocese and municipality, which had concerns
about right-of-way -- and personnel changes at the phone company.
(Parishes typically need to consult with their dioceses about such leases
since the property actually belongs to the diocese.)

"We were disappointed not to have that source of income," said Nick
Fairbank, church secretary.
Toronto's Church of the Messiah also contacted experts about the safety of
the equipment, since the church houses a daycare center. A lawyer examined
the deal and the parish also sought both vestry and diocesan approval
before signing the lease.

Extending out north and south from the grey stone tower, the transmitters
themselves are about 15 cm wide and 60 cm long.

"They're grey and the fit in with the stones," said Mr. Sheldon. "They
don't intrude on the architecture at all."  The church earns $5,000 to $6,000 per year
from the lease, which is a tiny portion of its $250,000 budget.

"It's not going to break us (if we didn't have it)," said the rector, but
it does help it in its outreach ministry, including the Out of the Cold
program for the homeless and an after-school program pairing high school
and elementary students.

Cell phone companies describe the lease arrangements as a win-win
situation. Their signals improve with the placement of the transmitters;
the churches reap some revenue and, in some cases, the companies have paid
for needed restoration of the steeples while they install their equipment.

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