New OCA website debuts following months of preparation

With excitement and gratitude, the web team unveiled a major refresh to the site on Tuesday.

“Due to the dedication of the web team members who preceded us, we inherited an amazing library of content,” comments Managing Editor and project manager Ginny Nieuwsma. “Yet technical demands and visitor expectations had both changed dramatically since the website’s inception. The time had come for a major overhaul.”

Hired in January after a six-month due diligence process, the web team first evaluated content management systems. Technical Manager Ryan Platte and Developer Fr. John Schroedel of Inoa Technologies chose ExpressionEngine for its flexibility and power as a publishing platform. The designers at Simple Focus then guided the team through a series of exercises aimed at defining the OCA’s goals. Just how should an Orthodox site with worldwide impact look and function in 2011?

Orthodox aesthetic

Notes JD Graffam of Simple Focus, “When designing for the Orthodox Church in America, there’s a richness and depth that’s literally sacred. Our task was to find a way to balance the depth of information with the richness and history of the OCA. We didn’t have all the answers – so that meant asking difficult questions about what content is valuable to everyone, simplifying the choices and exploring design choices that were unique and different. In the end, we were able to design a site that’s full of valuable content, but is also beautiful and simple to navigate.”

The web team vetted multiple artistic palettes and page layouts. Hiring prominent logo expert and OCA parishioner John Burns to refine and upgrade the logo was an important first step.

For the banner, the team chose a hero image and text box that could rotate with the liturgical seasons, solidly anchoring the page on beautiful images of Christ, His saints, and His Church.


“One of the most immediate and tangible benefits to our visitors will be that they can find things!” says Nieuwsma. On the right side of the home page, a feature column provides easy entry to the ever-popular liturgical resources, and will spotlight OCA related outreach, media and events.

The main menu breaks the site into four subsections, each featuring colorful landing pages with banners:

  • About the OCA—view the up-to-date Synod pages, the new history subsection, the new central administration landing page.
  • The Orthodox Faith—find easy entry to Scripture readings, books and articles about the Faith, prayers, and Fr. John Matusiak’s unique Q & A section. The new “footer” also provides a second entry point for inquirers.
  • Directories—find everyone’s address, website, parish information, monastery listing, and helpful maps too. The banner will rotate, featuring images of parishes throughout the OCA. Note: parish entries no longer include fields for ministry groups and upcoming events. Parish and diocesan websites have vastly improved in the past few years and are better sources for news happening at the local level.
  • Work of the Church—what’s going on in the OCA right now? Here, find the newest journals and magazines, browse a completely revamped media section, read recent Resource Handbook articles or the latest issue of The Orthodox Church.

On the site’s interior pages, breadcrumbs and useful sidebar menus also guide users through the site’s rich content.

Technologically sound

The web team also recognized that the site must be easy to access via mobile devices. Graffam explains, “For the OCA redesign, we used a responsive design approach in order to deliver the Web site to users in a way that’s a pleasure to use and read, no matter what device they are using. With responsive design, we decide what content is relevant to all users, then we deliver it to their device so they can consume it and navigate the site easily and quickly. It doesn’t matter if you use a small or large monitor, an iPhone, an Android or an iPad - it just works.”

Behind the scenes, the team is using a new ticket system to track requests and technical glitches reported by users. Response time varies from one hour to one day. Platte and Fr. Schroedel together set up a new server environment that is cost-effective and secure. Over the coming months the entire site will have migrated off of the 90’s-era Windows server, improving site reliability a great deal.

Both Nieuwsma and Platte credit the support and vision of the OCA Chancery and Synod. Says Platte, “Members of the Holy Synod, Metropolitan Council, and the Chancery staff have been unanimous in their support of an ambitious approach to this project. With the substantial and energetic support they’ve given us, we’ve fit a site reorganization, complete design overhaul, rethinking of content strategy, security improvements, hosting service changes, and a complete rewrite of all of the site’s programming into a fixed budget.” Adds Nieuwsma, “Our task would have been impossible without the hours of hands-on Chancery input we’ve received from Fr. Eric Tosi, Jessica Linke, Greg Sulich, Pdn. Joseph Matusiak, and Alex Liberovsky. While we worked hard backstage, Senior Editor Fr. John Matusiak was working hard to keep the site current, managing the day to day news posting to the site, while freely offering both his time, his library of images, and most valuable of all, his perspective as a seasoned Orthodox journalist.”

Some of the web team’s projects for the remainder of 2011 are: expansion of the photo galleries and the media section, addition of historical resources in Archivist Alexis Liberovsky’s section, and an upgrade to the Feasts & Saints and Scripture Readings sections to new, more reliable systems.

The entire team is enthusiastic about the new site and grateful for God’s grace and help. Glory to God for all things!