Archives November 2015

How to use Prezi for Collective Worship (& other useful bits about using tech in worship)

Death by Powerpoint - a crime against humanityI’ve been speaking to people about Jesus (and in previous lives, other things as well) and supporting that with slides for more years than I care to remember. It started with Harvard Graphics for me, and if you too remember that on DOS then we are both way too old for this game. However, Powerpoint eventually took over and on Windows it has been and remains the dominant presentational tool used. However, we have all encountered Death by Powerpoint where a dull speaker simply reads dense and poorly set out text to a bored and lifeless audience.

Text on it’s own is dull. The visual media was intended for the visual, with text kept to a minimum. I see Dr Bex Lewis report from the many many conferences she attends and am struck by how wordy, how dull, how lifeless many of the slides on screen are like. Once when I was giving a Clinical Paper using traditional old-fashioned 35mm slides, as a poor and unfunded Staff Nurse I could not afford to have any extra slides made above the 5 which the conference would pay for. This focuses the mind somewhat on what you really want to illustrate so it was just the most important diagrams I needed. To fill the space, I went down to the National Gallery and interspersed my talk with classical paintings on 35mm slides (remember them?) and it went down a storm as people remembered images and what I said around the images far better. It was not what was on screen that was important, but the story that I told using the images as backdrop. Less words. More images. Images tell a story for you whilst you spin a yarn.

The TED talks have reinvigorated the scientific conference: short and pithy, scriptless 20 min talks direct to an audience which inspire and invigorate. Every Collective Worship should be like a TED talk and enable those in Worship to leave inspired and challenged.


The story is the important thing. Never read it, but internalise it: tell it from the first person, as one of the witnesses or one of the protagonists (but obviously not as Jesus himself), the woman who was healed, a disciple in the boat, or the Last Supper, someone in the Jerusalem observing the Crucifixion. I seem to spend a lot of time playing S. Peter – especially as he was good at stupid statements at critical times which make hugely useful teaching opportunities. Draw the audience in with what is going on and through that communicate the awesome truth of the Gospel of Jesus. None of these stories are very long. You probably grew up with them, and with a little prompt can remember it fully. It doesn’t matter if a word is out of place, for this is the Oral tradition which you are continuing: worry less about the words, but about the word – the overarching meaning of this story. It’s better also, given in your own accent, the accent of the people you are speaking with, as though we were all there.

Reading from the Powerpoint doesn’t work with Children, especially not in Worship

Children are the worst audience. They don’t hide their boredom or disengagement and the problem with many clergy coming into to Schools to lead Collective Worship (previously known as Assembles, but no longer) is that they have forgotten how visual the story we have to tell is. If you simply read a passage of the Holy Scriptures at them in a dull and lifeless way then they will come to believe that Scripture is dull and lifeless. This is a dynamic collection of stories inherited from an Oral Tradition, which was told and retold before anyone ever got to writing it down. It speaks powerfully and so your Collective Worship should also be powerful, driven and lively. I find that with a well-crafted retelling of a Gospel Story, one can hold a large hall of Children rapt with attention, because most of them have never heard the story. It is said that you have to hear the (whole) truth about Jesus dozens of times before it even starts to make an impact, so start here and repeat until evangelised.

“I won’t use the screen because I’m not technical” is not really an excuse, because the screen becomes the backdrop and the prompt for the important bit: the story. Later in this post, I will guide you step-by-step through effective use of presentation software with a minimum of technical skill. If you don’t know how to do it yet, then why not try and learn: baby steps at first because you have the most important task in primary evangelism later this morning, with undoubtedly the largest congregation you will have all week, to make Christ known through your Collective Worship.

Of course this is but one way to reinvigorating Collective Worship, and if you have a team of people, I highly commend the Open the Book project from the Bible Society which uses real live drama, and backs up my point perfectly. However, few of us have those human resources (on our own normally) and have to tell the story as best we can.

The End of Death by Powerpoint

I do use projected images in Worship, and there are some words on them. I always begin worship with “In the name of the Father…”, use “The Lord be with you” on absolutely every encounter with a group of young people, close with the Lord’s Prayer, the Grace and a proper Blessing and Dismissal because, well, it’s part of the Anglican liturgical heritage and how can you teach authentic Anglican values (as desired by SIAMS) if you don’t frame Collective Worship in an Anglican structure? I use the opening, blessing and dismissal and Lord’s Prayer in non-Church schools as well, but whether in Church or LA Schools, children are never forced to pray. “I invite you to pray. If you don’t want to pray, then that’s fine but please remain still with your own thoughts so as not to disturb those who do want to pray...” If the Humanists don’t think that this is adequate, then they really have no confidence in their misunderstandings.

To support the Worship, I use a presentation tool called Prezi. 2015-11-27 11-14-25

Prezi is available online and for free, but you have only limited space for presentations and have to have an internet connection (although it has run very successfully over my phone). You can create a wonderful Prezi online and download it as a standalone, take anywhere presentation (and I have seen them used very effectively as an interactive kiosk tool) but obviously that is fixed and you can’t modify the Prezi rapidly without downloading a fresh, edited standalone file.

However, there is a very reasonably priced Educational/Non Profit licence which schools and churches can sign up for and which not only gives you much more space but the ability to work offline which is what I normally do, particularly as the firewall in most schools block access to YouTube and your carefully embedded video link won’t play. I always embedd a complete video inside my Prezi – of course it makes the file bigger, but it always works, even offline. You can edit and share really easily without Internet and they are synced with your online version. Editing and reusing is a doddle.


Rather than having traditional “slides” it features a canvas around which the user may roam. Once can zoom in and out of sections, revealing text and images and moving around a graphic, a picture or even text. This means that for storytelling, it gives you a perfect backdrop.

I often call up an image: a painting or an icon of a given story, and then roam around it highlighting details as part of my story

You can call up an image or some text, and then zoom in to make a point, or draw attention to something, zoom out to get a bigger picture.


Notice how little text there is above here.

You can link to YouTube Videos to illustrate or amuse or even help tell the story. I often take an animation like a lego brickmation and have the sound off in order to tell my story over the top. As I mentioned before, I have often reedited these slightly to either trim the beginning (the annoying titles are unnecessary and the audio is often not needed). Most of this basic editing can be done in Windows Movie Maker (free for PC) or iMovie (Mac), but you will need to get the movie from YouTube or Vimeo first. 2015-11-27 17-52-33

There are many ways of downloading video off the Internet, but my current favourite is Freemake Video Downloader. It is free, but comes bundled with loads of bloatware, which you just have to be careful with and decline to install. Once you wade through that, it is a powerful and effective tool that can download in a variety of formats. My preferred format and which is perfect for Prezi is the one with the little Apple Symbol next to it – 640×480 MP4 (if this means nothing to you, don’t worry, just look for the little Apple icon and you’re fine. Prezi can import other formats, but it needs to upload them, crunch them and send them back (automatically) as the same format I just described – so saving a file directly means that you cut out the middleman.

All you have to do is find the video you want, copy the address of the video and then paste it into Freemake Video Downloader, choose your format and choose just Download.

Making a Prezi 2015-11-28 09-23-38

As with all things, Prezi provides a host of templates which enable your presentations/worship to look like everybody else’s. My advice is to ignore those and concentrate more on your look and feel. There is a limited pallete of fonts for each Prezi which prevents the ‘I’ve just got a new presentation tool’ riot of colour, whizzy transitions and fonts which proliferate: Teachers, I’m looking at you. Choose a colour scheme to suit you. Choose fonts which are first of all legible. Non-Serif fonts are generally accepted as better. However if you use Comic Sans then you are patronising the children and you might as well leave now… 2015-11-28 09-22-37 2015-11-28 09-21-52I tend to create ‘invisible frames’ which I suppose are the closest to slides Prezi has. By being invisible it does not clutter up the screen. There is only one form of transition, praise the Lord, which is the simple fade-in and is all you need: seriously, all you need.

Stop thinking in bullet points. 2015-11-28 09-23-16It is possible to do bullet points, and I do occasionally use them, but it should not be your default way of thinking. Consider instead how to illustrate your story. Move through that story using the screen as your support, not your script. Engage by telling the story to, not at your young people.

The Zooming around concept in Prezi is awesome, but you should be careful with moving rapidly across a massive canvas, in and out quickly: it can disorientate, so better to make reasonable, non vomit-inducing moves. Or provide a bucket – your choice.

The rest of this tutorial

The only way to learn is to play: start basic and then progress. My first test Prezis were very basic indeed, then they got horrible and over-ambitious and so I scaled them back to where we are now. It’s a good tool, but it doesn’t replace YOU. Your story is the heart of this: short, pithy, challenging and with something to learn from: oh yes, just like the stories Jesus himself taught…

Hail Mary…

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee;
blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Here we are, sat in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and the intercessor has started expecting us to pray to Mary… how blasphemous!

…and how mistaken.

[caption id=”attachment_5489″ align=”alignright” width=”239″The Virgin in Prayer Artist: Sassoferrato Date made: 1640-50 National Gallery, London The Virgin in Prayer
by Sassoferrato
National Gallery, London[/caption

The Hail Mary prayer is not a prayer to Mary, but a prayer with Our Blessed Lady. This is an important distinction, and often the source of much confusion. Many accuse Anglocatholics of worshipping Mary, of elevating her to be perhaps a fourth part of the Trinity, if that were either mathematically or theologically possible; and yet we all know that prayer can and should only be directed at God: usually the Father, but also on occasion, the Son or the Holy Spirit, for which it matters not because three are one and one is three without division or exception.

Most people would have no problem if I asked them to pray for me. The Hail Mary does the same, and is (as with all proper prayer) rooted in Scripture: taken from Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42. They recall the words of the Angel Gabriel to Our Lady and address her with her first title: as one filled with grace. This is not her own grace, but the grace of God. We can never achieve anything by our own merits, but only through God, and so the Lord takes this normal, very young (12 or 13 years old) girl and fills her with grace so that she may become the bearer of God in flesh. Mary travels to her cousin Elizabeth, also blessed by God with the bearing of John the Baptist when she had been written off as fruitless by society, and we echo her words, that she is “blessed amongst women” because of the fruit of her womb. To cite words of Scripture cannot in any way be blasphemous, and certainly not when it speaks of the Incarnation: the stepping of God to this world, the seemingly remote becoming intimate.

Incarnation (literally en-fleshment – the wrapping in meat) is an outrageous concept – that God chooses for us to be poured out (Philippians 2:7) into the frail vessel of humanity is unique and challenging, for it shows the value that God places upon us, and the value and dignity that should be accorded to humanity and human life. Many think that the focus of the faith is on the Cross, conveniently forgetting the Resurrection, whereas perhaps we should be more focused on the alltogether more radical idea that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son (and therefore himself) to the World (John 3:16). So often we think that Scripture is about the Cross when perhaps it should be seen as about the Incarnation. There are many people who forget that Jesus was an actual person, who walked this earth and whose real life is attested to in many (non-Christian) historical records.

We then turn to ask Mary to pray for us, giving her the ancient title “Mother of God”, in Greek Theotokos – “God bearer” – a title accepted for her at the Council of Ephesus in 431 in recognition that she bore Christ who was both Divine and Human, and the mix of those two cannot be separated. It is said that S. Athanasius likened the mixing of God and Man as not like the mixing of Oil and Water, which separate, the more divine oil floating on the top of the mundane human water; but rather like the mixing of water and wine where the two become innately mixed. This is why the priest adds water to the wine in the chalice as s/he prepares the altar “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ  who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” You may wonder how God, present from before all time, can be Mothered by someone born in time, yet this is the paradox of the Incarnation, that the timeless one was born at a fixed point in human history: the immense and challenging privilege of bearing God into this world should be recognized as it is and rightly celebrated with honour. Honour and worship are different things, and the latter does not apply.

Asking someone filled with God’s grace to pray for us, recognizing that we are sinners, is therefore a logical step, and seeking that prayer for our present life and the end of our life isn’t such a bad idea therefore is it? Pray for me… I need God’s help, and as we are told, if more people pray for it, then we are strengthened by that prayer. God hears and answers all prayer, and more people praying for something doesn’t force God to listen to any given prayer, for each prayer is heard and responded to; but knowing that others are praying helps us. When someone says “I’m praying for you…” does that not give us confidence and strength? So, Mary, model of faith and devotion, taker-on of an incredible task to bring the Son of God into this world, first apostle, pray with me to God Almighty…

The Embolism in the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.

I still say… new translation[1
Deliver us, Lord, from every evil
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy, keep us free from sin,
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ
Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil,
graciously grant peace in our days,
that, by the help of your mercy,
we may be always free from sin
and safe from all distress,
as we await the blessed hope
and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

For thine is the kingdom, the power,
and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

…But I’ve said the Lord’s Prayer all my life, learnt it off by heart and yet Fr Simon insists on breaking the prayer in two with a prayer of his own! How dare he! He’s messing around with the prayer that Jesus taught us and which comes straight from the bible!

Or is it?

There are two versions of the Lord’s prayer in Holy Scripture. They can be found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. You will note that the Lukan version is more succinct and direct, and the version we learnt at our mother’s knee is closer to the Matthean version. Luke ends with temptation and Matthew ends with delivery from evil. The Book of Common Prayer at both Mattins and Evensong (pages 79 and 88 respectively in my Everyman edition) ends also with the delivery from evil – so where did these other verses come from, and why do they feature in the BCP Holy Communion?

The lines are also scriptural, and form a doxology from 1 Chronicles 29:11, they are often used as offertory prayers also, and like all doxologies, are used as praises to God at the end of prayers or readings.

The reason for the juxtaposition of these two portions of scripture goes back to the ancient monks and their copying by hand of the gospels. It was common in the liturgy of the time to end the saying of the Lord’s Prayer with a doxology, and the 1 Chronicles one was often used. It is said that one day a monk was copying the Gospel of Matthew and (it is thought) came to the Lord’s Prayer and thought to himself “Oh, I know this” so started writing it out from memory rather than copying it, and he included the 1 Chronicles doxology from the liturgy in it by mistake. Over time, his manuscript was also copied and the error perpetuated.

There is a particular method of biblical examination known as Source Criticism which determines and debates the differences and varieties in manuscripts and so we can be quite clear about the approximate date that this crept into an understanding of the Lord’s Prayer. It also gave the use of the doxology greater weight so it became intimately linked with the prayer. The Authorised Version contains this error, but it will not be found in any of the modern translations.

However, for centuries, the Church has sought to restore a recognition that while a part of the worship of the church, it is two separate pieces of scripture, and so inserts an extra, and if you would read it once more from the top of this article and see, rather beautiful prayer to separate these two important elements of our worship at this point in the Eucharistic sacrifice

So this is why you may find yourself a little halted, as the priest draws attention to our purpose for making the Lord’s Prayer in what is known as the embolism and we are all then able to praise God in that wonderful Old Testament doxology.

Much of our prayer is drawn from the Scriptures, whether it is during the Mass itself, the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer (which an old monk once described to me as a pickling in the scriptures) which is required to be said daily in church and in the intercessions, where we might at times join our prayers with the angels and the saints, the prophets patriarchs and martyrs in heaven, in the vision of St John the Divine (Revelation 19), and also ask them to pray for us. The Book of Revelation tells us that when in heaven we will constantly be engaged in worship and intercession, so praying now might be seen as good practice!

In the same way, when we sometimes pray using the prayers often known as the Hail Mary, we are quoting directly from Holy Scripture (Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42) to pray alongside Our Lady. We do not ever pray to the Blessed Virgin, but using her as the model of faith and devotion to Christ, we join our prayer with hers. It is a common conceit of those who do not understand to simply write off this prayer which has sustained so many on their Christian journey as a prayer to Mary rather than to God, but there can be nothing wrong in praying with the Scriptures and using it as a tool to help us approach Almighty God in prayer.


[1 In 2011 There was a new translation of the Roman Rite from Latin into English. Admittedly it’s closer to the Latin, but it’s a far worse translation: stilted, less poetic. It’s almost as if it was written by someone who had access to Google Translate but whose language was not originally English. I therefore, as is my right as an Anglican, use the translation which suits the liturgy over which I am presiding: contextual is the key point.