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Hallo again to all.

Recently we sorted through a pile of church-related publications, ranging from service leaflets to guide-yourself-round brochures, all gathered from various places 'round the Anglican Communion. All from provinces not usually considered penurious. So there they were, heaped high on a table in front of us. The verdict? With one or two exceptions, the publications were astoundingly mediocre. Dull prose, clumsy type, poor page design, and unimaginative photos were the most common faults. Skimming them made us tired; reading them seemed a vaguely penitential task, and one we just could not face.

Although we can't push web sites into a pile to look at, we sort through the equivalent of a pile every week here at Anglicans Online. A few are outstanding, but most are, alas, the digital equivalent of their printed brethren: jumbled in navigation, with ill-conceived type, blurry photos, and old information. We confess that we are less bothered by poor web sites than we are by poor publications, primarily because it is far easier to fix—or, if necessary, rubbish—a bad web site than it is to scrap and redo an entire brochure or booklet. And the web is still in its infancy, without a clear tradition of good design and effective writing.

We've been grumbling to ourselves about the poor standard we Anglicans seem to have set in the communications we produce about ourselves; call them the 'minor arts'. As a church, we fail quite miserably when it comes to telling people who we are and what we do. The failure isn't just from lack of money, though money sometimes helps.

Far more at fault than small budgets, we suspect, is our own sloth: we don't make these minor arts a priority. Our print pieces and our web sites are done often too hastily, or by a committee, or both. Text is recycled from old memos rather than written freshly. Photos are someone's old snapshots rather than carefully thought-out images. Someone's cousin Billy threw the parish web site together because his uncle volunteered his services. All this results in pages that go unread, web sites visited once but never used as a resource; a cumulative pile of inadequate communication, giving no credit to us or to God and inviting no one to open and read.

It wasn't always so. Anglican prayer books through the years have been fine examples of typography, combining usability and beauty in formidable measure. The design of the Church of England's Common Worship has much to commend it. Some early 19th-century diocesan newspapers are fine examples of plain but handsome design; we've seen service leaflets from the first third of the 20th century that are small works of art.

It takes time, care, and skill, far more than it takes money, to create good church communication. Do we know whether there are people in our parishes and our dioceses whose creative talents we can call on? Or do we rely on well-meaning but unskilled volunteers, because it's too late to do anything else? Do we care enough to plan our communications so they are as good as they can possibly be? These things aren't accessories; they are the bearers of who we are into the world. There might be someone in your parish who can do a great job of creating printed material and websites. Have you asked?

'If you look after goodness and truth, beauty will take care of itself', Eric Gill once wrote. Wise words.

See you next week.

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 21 September 2003

A thin blue line
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