This is the text that I wrote for the seminars on the 8th and 9th July 2011 at Great Yarmouth and Norwich. Obviously, the actual seminar differs from what was actually said, and the audio from at least one of them will be available on http://parishlife.podbean.com
We gather in the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The title of this paper and workshop is about “How can one connect with people in an age of so much diversity, apathy & choice”. I’d much prefer my original title “How to set your church on fire” but I suspect this would have garnered undue interest from Archdeacons and Ecclesiastical Insurance; but we need to recognise that they are essentially the same thing, and the missionary objective of the Church as embodied in the Gospel calls us to set our Churches on Fire for the Lord and use the tools of this modern age as bridges to connect with those who see the Church as irrelevant, sidelined or beyond them.
This is probably best explored through the telling of our story, the story of Blessed and the story of the development of a missional approach which places an encounter with the sacraments at the heart of the outreach of the Church.
The problem is, I’ve never been conventional: always been in trouble, always been at the back of class irritating the authorities who tell us how it should be done, and why it has to be like it is.
Blesséd (the Fresh Expression, the alt.worship community I speak of) is, I suppose a reflection of this: a loose collection of individuals and their charisms that almost on purpose seeks to take what we know and love and do it differently.
Blesséd is an alternative worship community which gathers a dozen times a year in worship, almost always sacramental worship and usually as Mass, shaped by the liturgical seasons; and is continuing to seek (rather haphazardly) to become a more distinct non-parochial, non geographical ecclesial community as it tries to support itself through social networking and other media between gatherings for worship.
On one level, Blesséd is solidly traditional – deeply sacramental, unashamedly Anglo-Catholic, soaked in gin and the cycle of the daily office, and on another it seeks to blow that world apart – to declare the whole of creation as sacramental, and our approach to God as immersive, multisensory and wildly, rabidly inclusive.
Blesséd is, as I am sure you are, steeped in values which have been passed down to us from the apostles and the saints, moulded by Holy Mother Church and shaped by the weight of theological consideration, liturgical practice and the pastoral needs of the pilgrim people of God.
This seminar seeks to build on our shared Anglican heritage: in our case, a catholic heritage, to re-emphasise our mission and the proclamation of the Gospel, and for us to be reminded that we already have the principle tool of mission to hand: the mass.
It gives me the opportunity to speak on a number of subjects close to my heart: liturgy, mission and creativity and not what many of you were expecting: computers. I find myself in an odd position: much of my ministry, my missional work is in the practice of liturgy, its use as a missional tool, especially to young people and yet, what do most of my colleagues use me for?
I am simply a parish priest: Vicar of St Thomas the Apostle, Elson. An urban parish in Gosport in the Diocese of Portsmouth. I come to this place via a career in Intensive Care and Critical Care Nursing in a number of London Teaching Hospitals and an almost accidental role as a guru in the use of Information Technology to support Nursing which came about from my research into the communication between Nurses and Patients in a particular kind of High Dependency Critical Care. I also worked for a while as a freelance Computer Programmer in the City of London just before my theological formation at Mirfield.
I carry all of the pressures and anxieties of Parochial Ministry: a heavy pastoral load with sixteen and a half thousand souls in my cure, a small, struggling and (I have to admit it) poor parish; a desire to proclaim Christ made present in a particularly Catholic spirituality.
So, I suppose the key questions you want to have answered in this session are:
• Why should I do creative liturgy? Does it make a difference?
• Can I do it in ways which are authentic to my tradition? (I will speak primarily to my tradition, but the same can and should be applied across the board)
• How can I do it when I don’t have any technological expertise?
(and not computers)
One of the legacies of the Reformation was the rejection of the sensual and the sensuous. Our engagement with God is much more than simply what we say aloud, or even what we hear, but in sight (spectacle and ritual), smell, taste and touch and through these we are enabled to engage both our minds and hearts in worship: we are creatures created to worship, but I suspect that the evangelical narrowness of sola scriptura cuts out many of our worshipping experiences by restricting our means of engaging with God. God is bigger than that.
Catholicism is a fundamental way of looking at the incarnation and the world as affected by the incarnation, and therefore our sacramental life is crucial, central even to the work of mission. Being authentically Catholic means being multisensory and opening ourselves to the outrageous and audacious possibilities which the Incarnation offers to us.
Bishop Lindsay Urwin, [now in this Diocese of course in an article on the sacramental ministry in fresh mission, suggests that:
“One might argue that in a culture saturated with trivial, unmemorable and unreliables words, Christ-filled symbol and action might have more chance of breaking through [and being heard”
Mission-Shaped Questions p31
When words run out, and they always run out when we are in an encounter with the indescribable, we turn to symbol and sign. Society is surrounded by symbol and sign, not to control us, but to enable us to engage with that which is beyond our experience: from the burning bush to the body and blood, our encounter with the sacred cannot solely be through word alone, for the soul encounters God on so many more planes of function.
Fundamentally, I believe that our primary encounter with God in worship is not an intellectual one, but an emotive one. Worship is one of the first ways that seekers of faith encounter Christ, and when asked about their first dip in the worship ocean, they do not reflect on worship in terms of reason or logic: whether they were convinced by the argument, but how it made them feel.
The experience of Blesséd firstly in Southsea, and now in Gosport shows how it is worship, and fundamentally sacramental worship is a key tool in breaking through the mundanity of everyday life. In urban Portsmouth, we stepped out in mission to an extremely mixed group of teenagers. Not having any money, resources or (quite frankly, any clue), my first solution was simply to introduce these largely unchurched young people to the Church: the Lady Chapel in particular. In the dark: lit only by candles and swathed in incense, around a cross, or an ikon, projecting some words on a blank wall or the altar frontal: something wonderful happened and these young people who only months before were the ones vying to knock out as many quarterlight windows as they could were able to grasp the presence of God in their midst.
It is a risky strategy of course, because it means opening ourselves out in vulnerability, but Church isn’t simply a building placed in aspic, and inviting a mob of the unruly, the untidy, the snotty and the messy into the sacred space is precisely what Christ told us about in the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24)
Truly effective mission simply allows people to encounter God, and the missioner simply turns up for the ride.
The last great swell of Anglocatholic Mission was in the 20’s and the 30’s and took place in poor, working class slums where the beauty and transcendence of worship lifted the people of God. It was through the sacraments that encounter took place. When we started to plan worship, a number of our young people involved all said independently “well, it has to be a mass doesn’t it?” “We wanna do that fing with the bead and the wine, Farv” [yes, we talk like that in Portsmouth It is intriguing that they sought to define themselves in terms of their relationship to the sacrament and yet not to be constrained by the traditions of it. For them, each element of the mass was seen as being up for grabs, for a radical interpretation and a retelling of the story.
So, in 2002 (long before the Fresh Expressions labels was applied to anything outside of Choral Evensong), Blesséd was born – Eucharist with funky backbeats, Gloria with dancing, Sacrament with Attitude. Blesséd sought to continue its sacramental heritage whilst proclaiming its ancient truths in new and creative ways. This has meant taking what we know and love and asking how its story may be told for new generations.
And I explored this in a chapter of the book published in 2009 edited by Ian Mobsby and Stephen Croft on Ancient Future: Fresh Expressions in the Catholic and Contemplative Spiritualities
and last year in a book specifically on Creative Sacramental mission [I have some here at a bargain rate
This year’s book on sacramental worship with Children will be published in the Autumn, and you can pre-order that on Amazon now.
This is not the place for me to extensively explore the role of the sacramental life in mission suffice for me to leave you with the impression that for our community, it is the fount of all being: all life is sacramental and the sacramental life is the mechanism through which Almighty God and his creation encounter each other.
We could explore a lot of stuff about PostModernism and the role of sign and symbol: semiotics in mission, but I think that is better kept for a discussion over a coffee later!
Blesséd therefore seeks to encourage creativity first and foremost: the Gloria is tap-danced. Bread is kneeded. New prefaces are said and wine is consecrated by the bottle-load in unspoken action. Blessings are scribbled on a rocket and exploded in the night sky over Gosport. These creative, expressive ways are as real to these missional communities as were the first Eucharistic prayers of Hypolytus.
I am not advocating the throwing away of our carefully honed heritage in favour of some spiritual supermarket of technical wizardry and gimmicky mass, but rather a creative and free-flowing use of the entire tradition of the church: tradition which is not static, but dynamic and as engaging as the Incarnation. To the other extreme, this creative flow should not be restricted to just “youth services” or “children’s services”, but as we find at St Thomas the Apostle, creativity starts to infuse and cross-fertilise: We must be one of the few anglocatholic parishes to use a projector at each Parish Mass, and we benefit from the flexibility and cost-effectivness of projecting the entire liturgy and hymnody on screen each and every week.
One of the things I repeatedly hear after Blesséd worship, especially from fellow Clergy is “oh, I couldn’t do anything like that – I am so untechnical” as if I am the holder of some kind of esoteric secrets. My friends, the key skills are the ones you already posess: your creativity
For I am convinced that the best multisensory worship does not have to plug into the mains and our key tools: incense, stones, flowing water, bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ are the best tools, and dancing pixels are there to support them.
In the V&A Museum is this work by Jonathon Barnbrook.
We should be constantly asking ourselves whether the technology we are using is appropriate or indeed is of any use. Ironically, this means any technology: how many people have been forced to wince through the murder of Shine Jesus Shrine played inappropriately on the Organ a full trad choir butchering Taize and a badly set up projector emasculating a worship chorus. The use of a mic, a guitar, a video can enhance worship, but it can also be used to destroy that delicate moment where God and people come together.
We have to recognise that whilst created in God’s image, we are all different and have different learning styles and different approaches to God. Eneagram and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator have backed this up – what works for me will not necessarily work for you.
Our problem has been that Archbishop Cranmer was clearly an auditory learner and our legacy as Anglicans is to be rigidly tied to the prayerbook, the Common Worship Text, to the hymnal and to the written word.
Not all of us are like this. Some are. Good for them. I [as you might have guessed am not. I work best with visual stimulation backed up by the auditory others love ritual and body prayer and have what educationalists refer to as a kinaesthetic bent.
None of this is wrong. I used to think I was a terrible Christian because I was useless at silence: I’d get twitchy before the Blessed Sacrament until I did Myers-Briggs and the wise monk who analysed me said “you need something to do in prayer” and gave me a rosary, and my prayer life was transformed.
However, because we have lost our pre-reformation love of the visual and the ritual, the first thing I want to share is some good practice in the use of projectors.
My worst experience of projection occurred in a sacred space where one should have expected it to be slick and professional: the wildly successful St Aldates in Oxford. A rich evangelical parish in central Oxford (which I am not going to name, but you can work it out!)
There, amid impressive music, powerful testimony and the sight of dozens being baptised was the most second rate use of a projector I have ever seen. For successful use of a projector does not rely on how much money you spend on kit but the thought and the preparation of what is displayed and the training and liturgical awareness of the operator.
The major error is one of distraction: the worst thing about Powerpoint (more on that later) in business and especially in teaching (my wife is a newly qualified teacher and the worst powerpoints ever are made by educationalists) – the worst thing is the templates: they distract: fonts, backgrounds, animations (oh! Lord have mercy, animations!).
You don’t need any of them. You don’t need a cross, a waterfall, a sunset behind your words. Use images where words are not needed, but if words are the important thing – use just words.
Similarly, you shouldn’t use too many words. Many Churches (St Aldates included) havn’t grown out of their days with an OHP and acetates with two whole verses and a chorus on screen in very very very small writing.
Here are some bad examples. DO NOT ATTEMPT THESE. WALK AWAY FROM THE SLIDES
My tendency is to put no more than 2 lines of a hymn on screen at anytime and to fill the screen with it, so that it may be seen without a distracting background and in a simple clear font. Given, the operator cannot fall asleep but this is a good spur for teenagers for whom the mass is otherwise the most boring thing ever – it keeps them alert because you have to change the [what I will call the slide before the end of the line, so you are up to speed with the text.
An example: (to the tune of St Denio)
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid (change) from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great (change) name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou (change) rulest in might;
thy justice like mountains high soaring above
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.
I use simple visual clues:
The Lord be with you
and also with you
We probably all do similar already with bold text in printed sheets, but instead throughout I always use yellow or red (depending on background colour) for congregation responses, and green for directions
(let us be seated)
Or translations: Miserere Nobis (have mercy on us)
People unfamiliar with Church find this simple “say the bright colour” approach easy to pick up and therefore less intimidating that wading through a booklet. It encourages singing and works very well with traditional hymnody.
When it comes to the sighting of screens, I have to confess that the DAC can sometimes prove a challenge [although I am sure your DAC is lovely. The solution lies in the moveable: we created an 8ft high tressel upon which a standard [and very cheap projector screen is G-Clamped. No faculty is required.
The most effective position for projection is immediately behind the altar so that the screen does not distract from the focal liturgical activity, but rather encourages, points, focuses on the real liturgical action, as seen as Walsingham. This works well when you pull the altar into the Nave as you can back-project from the Chancel, but this does tend to annoy the Choir [as do most things, let’s face it
Other solutions involving temporary hangings, banners, or even multiple projectors or LCD TVs but I would counsel care that they do not become the focus of worship away from what is taking place on the altar. In a big space such as Walsingham, we concentrate during the consecration of the elements on the priests hands and the elevation.
I have already spoken of Powerpoint and for many it would be the first choice of software for projecting words and even embedded videos in worship. One piece of advice: don’t.
It’s like using a bicycle in the Isle of Man TT Races: you would get round but after a lot of wasted energy. It doesn’t have the flexibility or the speed to display liturgy effectively. There are a number of applications which are available ranging from Open Source [ie Free solutions such as DreamBeam through to very effective commercial applications such as MediaShout or my personal choice Easyworship
a more detailed list can be found at
What they offer is a complete integrated system for scripture, images, video and even web pages with the ability to respond dynamically to the worship environment which a linear system such as Powerpoint, even using Presentation Mode cannot live up to.
Beyond words, we should consider the use of video and image, both as a creative tool and as a supportive tool for liturgy. We could speak of all kinds of places for this kind of work, and today’s session has been littered with gatherings, penitential rites and even Eucharistic prayers, but for simplicity, I will speak only of the development of the Visual Intercession. It wasn’t my idea, but I believe that Blesséd has taken the concept further than many.
Many years ago, my wife and I, as simple Sunday School teachers introduced a session of prayer (for a Harvest festival if I recall) using pictures photocopied onto OHP acetates as someone played piano (now that dates it, doesn’t it. I think it was the early 90’s).
Later we stuck some pictures together on a Powerpoint Slideshow and pressed play on a CD… and later still as a simple video made on a PC and at last we were able to pray with others rather than be tied up with the mechanism to help others to pray without words, guided by the images seen on screen.
Not everyone responds to visual intercessions as I have mentioned earlier, but it allows many more to explore intercessory prayer in a creative response as an image will guide two different people to have different foci of prayer: they are individual and I believe that this makes the Baby Jesus smile.
In videos generally there are two distinct styles, philosophies even which need to be noted:
The Visions Style
based in York, Visions is an alt.worship community which arose from the 1990s club scene, it uses video loops as an immersive process, as wallpaper around the scene (often using multiple screens) so the worshipper can just drop back and absorb the vibe from short repetitive loops
The Blessed Style
tends to use longer, less looped videos which drive forward the liturgy – which support direct liturgical action and have a distinct beginning and end.
They are simply different approaches and one is not better than the other, simply recognise that they are different.
These days the tools of simple video making come shipped as Standard with every PC or Mac
To show how easy it is to create a basic visual intercessions, we have a small number of workstations around this room (mostly PCs but one Mac, depending on your inclinations, but we are an inclusive Church and I won’t mind if you are an abnormal Mac user) and I think it might be nice if we can have a go at producing a simple visual intercessions.
But before we do that, I know that the issue of copyright might be lurking in the back of your mind. After all, it’s important that we uphold the law…
Speaking personally, the Gospel is more important than any manmade law and honouring God comes before honouring financially any person. I inhabit a culture where intellectual property is seen not as an end product but as a tool for further enhancement: the growth of sampling or the mashup video and the development of the download as the key method of music distribution in the past 2 years has reflected modern youth’s disregard of copyright as a concept and the embracing of other forms of intellectual property which ensure proper attribution, reasonable recompense and creative freedom. Sharing files is not seen as a crime by young people.
Having said that, we should respect an individual’s creativity. Thankfully the performing rights society think the same as I do: they have stated that they will not pursue copyright on a creative work if it is being used in an act of divine worship for which no charge is being made
As we never charge for the Mass (which probably explains why Blesséd is constantly underfunded, starved little urchin of a group – no official or central FE funding for us, I must say!) we are safe. However, stick a video with a piece of copyrighted material on YouTube or on a DVD on a book or charge entry for an event (a collection doesn’t count, thankfully) and you’ll find yourself taken down or worse, sued. Thankfully more and more companies are seeing YouTube as a means for generating awareness of their music, linking to the option of downloading the music from iTunes and letting you keep it, with the notable exception of TimeWarner, who just remove it.
Luckily there is so much stuff available that the use of Copyrighted Material is seldom wholly necessary. Material can be found on the internet that is in the Public Domain – a work in the public domain is free for everyone to use without asking for permission or paying royalties. The phrase “public domain” is a copyright term referring to works that belong to the public. Works can be in the public domain for a variety of reasons: because the term of copyright protection has expired; because the work was not eligible for copyright protection in the first place; or because the copyright owner has given the copyright in the work to the public domain. Often video placed on sites like YouTube by their creators are considered to have placed them in the Public Domain (and I will explain later how to obtain those videos)
There is other material which is available freely for use but still remains the property of its creator. This is the marvellous Creative Commons works allows free use and reuse but asserts certain rights, ranging from requiring credit to be given to the originator (attribution) or restricting its use to non-commercial uses – such as worship. The Creative Commons website details this much more readily.
Of course, the best material for you to use is stuff you have made yourself. The quality of digital still and movie cameras is now amazing. £150 will buy you a camcorder which records onto a small memory card – no tape or disk anymore and an 8Gb card costing £10 can record six to 8 hours of high quality video on it.
A still camera can be used to take successive still images and a free program used to ‘stitch’ these together into a stop frame animation. I have the habit of ‘borrowing’ my daughter’s Barbie dolls to film bible stories with a Sacred Heart statue playing Jesus.
Google Images is a marvellous source for finding still images, but care must be taken to ensure that you don’t simply select the first image you come up with, and you choose carefully for image quality as a web image is often much poorer in quality than an image on screen and when put on a 6ft screen will look very blocky…
YouTube is a great source for video images, but the site (and many others) uses a compressed video format called FLV or Flash Video to stream the video. You need a converting tool. This can be done online at sites like Vixy.net (http://vixy.net/) or there are standalone programs such as the excellent Save2PC, all of which can convert to a variety of other useful formats, from which you can use your video editing software to shape and change, maybe removing the audio and replacing it with something else, or just chopping out a little bit that you want.
Whatever you are gathering, throw nothing away. 1Tb of Data Storage in an external drive can be got for £50, and you’ll always want to trawl back for something useful.
So, now: how to make a video using Windows Video Maker…
So, after all that does what is produced enable us to tick the box marked “Fresh Expression”? I am not so sure, because so much has been given to the corporate branding of “fresh expressions” that I, and I am sure, many of you, now view it with little more than cynicism. But:
• I would want to argue that if anything we are doing is stale, tired, weatherbeaten and not-really-very-dearly loved then it is a waste of time, effort and misson.
• If anything we do does not stimulate the heart and soul for Christ then it must be ditched.
• If anything that takes place in Church does not stretch and challenge the faith then it is not Gospel-Shaped and has no place in Church.
• If each-and-every mass that you say is not a fresh expression of faith then I would want to challenge you to go back to your ordinal and remind yourself of your ordination charge.
The Mass is, let’s face it, the freshest of fresh expressions.
As Pete Ward discussed in his book Mass Culture the mass is an evangelistic opportunity and a missionary tool. It provides a unique opportunity for expressing the salvation story and the joy of the resurrection in word, song, action and ritual.
The mass provides both fixed points of reference and an ever-changing cycle of encounter with God, and this mix of the familiar and the challenging provides a framework on which to hang new explorations of worship; rather than being a limit to fresh expressions of worship, it forms a skeleton upon which a new creation is formed. No community which seeks to be Christian can be said to be authentically so unless it gathers to break bread and pour wine and see that Christ is in their midst.
The Catholic spirituality might layer more over that and see much more (quite rightly) into that, but essentially each community, regardless of what it calls this engagement with Christ, regardless of its explicit sacramental theology, one thing all actually agree on is that Christ in some way is here amongst us.
So, my dear friends, what are we to make of a paper which seeks to say in new and radical ways “Go and carry on with what you are doing”, for all this messing around with pixels are only an extension of the central act of worship which it supports: the breaking of bread and the proclamation of the resurrection.
So often Catholics are prepared to beat themselves up about mission and their lack of activity in this area. But, to you I say, the tools of mission are in your very hands – broken bread and wine outpoured are far more effective tools than an expensive and limited missionary pack. The fan-the-flame missions are Eucharistically centred for a reason, and the message of freedom, challenge and radical hospitality of the altar has so much to say to a society which is broken and confused by messages which say little to their context.
The Mass cannot be simply set down in a place and expected to do the work itself The concept of priest as conduit of that sacrament has much to say about how we bring about that sacred encounter. Getting bodies over the door is not the end result, but the beginning, and the sacramental encounter is the source of transformation and the cradle of faith.
If all this workshop has done is make you consider how Mass can be retold in your community, and offer you a possibility to unleash your creative and missional juices to that end, then I will have done my work.
So, Go and make mission, and proclaim the Gospel afresh to each and for each generation! Thank you.