Hallo again to all.
Quite some time ago, we were at York Minster for a service of Morning Prayer. We had been looking forward to it for days. Over the years, we've worshipped in a goodly number of churches around the world, but never before in that iconic place. It was beautiful, but it felt more like a concert performance than a worship service. Our role was to be passive and to listen, saying 'Amen' from time to time (but not too loud). There was a hymn, but only the choir sang. The recent BBC broadcast of the Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College had a similar feeling. It was difficult to get a sense of worship out of something so non-participatory.
Just a few months before that experience at York Minster, we had attended the Sunday-morning funeral in the USA of a murder victim in a rough-and-tumble city that the previous year had scored the USA's highest crime rate per capita in that country. It was a Primitive Baptist congregation, and as far as we could see in the jam-packed church we were about the only people there with white skin. The service was powerfully interactive. If thirty seconds passed without some member of the congregation shouting something back at the preacher, he would stop and ask for responses. By comparison with the York Minster service, this Baptist funeral had more of the air of a footy match in Manchester.
Both of these were valid and effective Christian worship services, dedicated to the very same Christ and the very same God. But their styles were a world apart.
When Anders Celsius was devising his temperature scale, he took the coldest repeatable thing he could find (water freezing to ice) and called that 100 degrees, and he took the hottest thing he could find whose temperature was repeatably stable (water boiling) and called that 0 degrees.* He knew that those were not absolute limits — something might well be colder than 100 degrees or hotter than 0 degrees — but he needed a pair of benchmarks to define his vocabulary. Along those lines, we recognize that a worship service could perhaps be more passive than was Morning Prayer at York Minster, or have more congregational involvement than the Primitive Baptist funeral, but we need a pair of benchmarks to define our vocabulary, and we choose to use those. We'll call the York Minster service 0 and the Primitive Baptist funeral 10.
Our preference in liturgy is very much of the Oxford Movement, but we often find ourselves traveling to a place far away from the nearest thurible or east-facing altar or dalmatic. The parish church we attended today, which we know well, is usually quite interactive in its worship. The congregation sing hymns enthusiastically, chant psalms along with the choir, and say their Amens and Alleluias loud enough to rattle the windows. Perhaps 7 on our scale. But today there was a digital projector and projection screen in use at the main service, and we were intrigued by the nature and power of its effect on the congregation.
The projection screen became the focus of attention. So much so that if during the sermon the deacon had donned a gorilla suit and returned to her seat, half the congregation would not have noticed. Because only a few dozen words could be on the screen at a time, it offered merely a peep-hole into the texts and lyrics, rather than being a substitute for a prayer book or a hymnal. We were reminded of how it feels to be looking for something in the dark with a hand-held torch ('flashlight') and then have the overhead lights turn on, illuminating the whole room at once. The entire nature of perception changes when you can see everything at once. The congregational style that we had previously rated 7 dropped to about 2 or 3.
We don't like projection screens in church. But then, alas, we don't like cassock-albs either, yet clergy continue to wear them. Our opinions do not seem to have much effect on behaviour in the ecclesiastical world. We try to make people think, but we don't try to specify what they ought to do. There are going to be projection screens in churches, and that's that. We can't imagine choosing as our home church a parish that uses projection screens regularly. But perhaps you can so imagine. We prefer a gilt rood screen to a beaded-glass Da-Lite screen and overhead arches to overhead projectors. And we love books and paper and the printed word.**
Just go to church regularly. That's all that really matters. And perhaps you could tell us how you feel about interactvity and projection screens in worship.
See you next week.
12 January 2014
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