Fig Tree webmaster Lorna Kropp connects tech and faith
By Mary Stamp
Fig Tree webmaster Lorna Kropp appreciates the opportunity and challenge of keeping up with web technology and connecting it with her faith outreach.
As an early adopter of technology, self-taught in coding and software, she finds it's an adventure to be challenged by emerging technology.
This work connects with her long-time education and faith commitment.
Fig Tree editor Mary Stamp saw the need to develop a website and began, also self-taught, publishing summaries of articles on a Netscape website.
In the June 2001 issue, she announced that there were summaries of stories and color photos online in a folder on a Quest users site. It included connections to congregations and agencies.
In November 2001, The Fig Tree established its domain name, thefigtree.org.
The goal of the initial website was to introduce people to the publication by presenting summaries of articles to interest people in reading the print edition.
Mary worked the next few years with an Interactive Website Team that included Mark Alfino, Steve Blewett, Jim CastroLang, Duane Nightingale, Raymond Reyes and Wesley Strait, discussing the mission, content and tech options for a website.
Today's website includes content back to 2004.
Mary began consulting with Lorna, who she knew through the United Church of Christ. (UCC).
Lorna, as a founding parent for Discovery School in 1983 and starting as a volunteer technology teacher, built a full-time library/technology program for the school. She taught students and collaborated with faculty to integrate library/technology skills into their teaching until retiring in 2008. After that, she transferred some of those skills to learning a new web platform and helped Mary by taking on the web design for The Fig Tree.
Learning html code, Lorna started designing websites in 1999. She developed Discovery School's web presence and volunteered to help Westminster Congregational UCC and the Pacific Northwest UCC Conference develop websites.
In fall 2008, Lorna started working one day a week with The Fig Tree.
"I believe in ecumenism and wanted to keep learning about technology as the web designer," said Lorna.
The Fig Tree began using Dreamweaver as the website design software. Over the years it has offered many upgrades. Lorna does research, tests and proposes tools, and teaches Mary, who helps with updates, designs, ideas and corrections.
"The Fig Tree website has many stories of people of all walks of life acting out of their faith," Lorna said.
Because technology advances keep moving at such speed, she has to keep up with new coding and style changes—like "responsive" pages that change size to fit the screen—so the stories and directory are accessible regardless of the screen size a reader has.
Since she began, Lorna has kept a spiral notebook in which she has recorded what she has done every week.
For example, she opened the notebook and found that on April 28, 2023, she did research on Google's new approach to tracking website visits.
On first Thursdays, Lorna transforms the text of articles and photos into web pages, and updates ads and promotional graphics for the website. Mary prepares a folder with elements of the current issue.
On second Thursdays, Lorna sends emails to all of those featured in the stories and their agencies, to encourage them to "share" the articles with others. She also loads the pages affected by template changes.
Lorna noted that The Fig Tree website has 19 years of 10 issues per year with about 12 articles each month. She estimates there are 2,280 stories available.
On third Thursdays, she may work with interns or on directory pages. Interns are assigned projects to improve the website. Last spring, Rawan Kassim developed a feature to introduce elements of peace/justice and solutions journalism.
Mary and Lorna have worked since fall with Kai Teoh, a web designer who is volunteering, to refine the "mission" page with six photos and phrases describing The Fig Tree's approach to journalism. The words and graphics will be changed periodically.
Kai has also designed layout changes for the history, programs, staff and leaders pages under "About" in the menu.
On fourth Thursdays, Lorna explores new ideas on format or does updating on the Resource Directory web version.
"I am constantly trying to find and set up new elements on the pages," she said.
There are also regular redesigns for the donate page with changing events each season—the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, the Spring Benefit Events, the Fall Festival of Sharing and Year-End Giving.
"Each update in the Dreamweaver software brings new elements and quirks," Lorna commented.
Not only does she need to keep up with technology, but she also strives to represent The Fig Tree journalistic design styles and nonprofit page design trends.
"My purpose is to create an engaging, eye-catching, informative design that makes the challenges The Fig Tree content expresses accessible to more people," said Lorna.
"Our message is needed in our divided world that seems more cynical than eight years ago," she said. "I'm continually amazed how Mary comes up with five to eight heartwarming stories that need to be shared, and I'm part of helping share them."
Lorna grew up in a Congregational Church in Fort Dodge, Iowa. While studying psychology at Iowa State University, she was active in ecumenical campus ministry with the Iowa/Nebraska United Campus Christian Fellowship and the National Student Christian Fellowship Board.
Summer work camps with the American Friends Service Committee in Nashville, New Orleans and Ames introduced her to race relations, civil rights and poverty efforts to improve lives.
After graduating in 1964, Lorna spent two years in volunteer service at a German Evangelical Church young adult program in Stuttgart. Then she served with the American Friends Service Committee in Paris, doing work camps—in Italy, England and at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in Switzerland.
Lorna returned to earn a master of arts in religion from Yale Divinity School in 1968. In 1970, she married Paul, who also studied at Yale. She worked at a mental health center in Hamden, Conn., with families of developmentally delayed children and adults.
In 1981, the Kropps moved to Spokane, and Lorna became active in education at Westminster UCC and as church school curricula resource person with Pacific Northwest and national UCC.
Making connections and sharing her time and skills to help others and build community are integral to Lorna's faith and way of living. The connections have grown and required a willingness to tackle new skills. In addition to The Fig Tree, Lorna shares her STEM skills with Lego robotics programs, FIRST Lego League and environmental advocacy with the Friends of Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge programs.