But the technology typically is very expensive and accessible only to well-heeled clients, said Martel A. Perry, executive director of Howard's International Faith Community Information and Services Clearinghouse and Training Center.
Perry, working with such technology companies as Hughes Network Systems, Hewlett-Packard and MicroAge Inc., developed new, more affordable ways of transmitting signals.
Hughes, based in Germantown, owns DirectTV
, a popular home satellite broadcasting service.
With Howard's prototype system, soon to be available on the general market, a church can become a ``distance learning center'' for a one-time cost of $4,500 to $10,000 (plus long-distance telephone charges), depending on whether the church wants a telephone line connection or satellite linkup.
, who studied numerous programs in this country and abroad, said he
found a church in Florida that pays $5,000 a month for its video-conferencing capability.
The cost of converting the divinity school, once a residence for Franciscan seminarians, into a modern high-tech center was inexpensive compared with other systems, which can run millions of dollars, Perry
and others waived overtime fees or contributed materials to help get the program going.
Howard's system, which is being tested through a pilot program at five churches across the country, can accommodate two-way interactions with up to 19 sites, Perry