Sacramental Mission: Pushing Pixels for Jesus

There are lot of videos in my presentations, and these do not export well from Powerpoint, but I hope the sense comes out. Please forgive also, the bizarre formatting resulting from importing my script into WordPress.

Exeter FCP Study Day: 29th October 2012

We gather in the name of the +Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. TITLE


I have been asked to come and speak to you, my brothers and sisters about Sacramental Mission and Catholic Evangelism. This is probably best explored through the telling of our story, the story of Blessed (so far in its many and varied guises) 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. PUSHING PIXELS
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, based originally in the Diocese of Portsmouth where I served my Title and my first Incumbency and now on the North-Eastern side of Plymouth: a 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. TRAVERS
This seminar seeks to build on our shared anglocatholic 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. EUCHARIST
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? LITURGY etc




I am simply a parish priest: Team Rector of a group of parishes on the North Eastern Edge of Plymouth “From the Airport to the Moor” sounds like a great strapline until you realise the Airport won’t be there for much longer. Prior to that I was Vicar of an urban parish in Gosport in the Diocese of Portsmouth for seven years where much of this work began, and now seeks to become established in this Diocese.

I am concerned with real-life Mission: the drawing of souls towards the heart of God, not because I am doing this as part of an academic process – which is why there won’t be many complex words (or much theology), simply because I don’t understand it. I gave up theology in my third week at Mirfield…





So, I suppose the key questions you want to have answered in this session are: REVEAL
  • Why should I do creative liturgy? Does it make a difference?
  • Can I do it in ways which are authentic to our Catholic tradition?
  • How can I do it when I don’t have any technological expertise?
  • Do you have any good advice on using technology and social media in our Church’s witness?
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. TRINITY
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. QUOTE
The experience of Blesséd firstly in Southsea, then in Gosport and now in a small mission-hut church just off the Airport 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. VENERATION
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) GREENBELT PARABLE
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, they talked just 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. BLESSED AD


I explored this in a chapter of the book published in 2009 on Ancient Future: Fresh Expressions in the Catholic and Contemplative Spiritualities

and in a book specifically on Creative Sacramental mission: Creative Ideas for Alternative Sacramental Worship (2010). Last year I produced a Creative Ideas for Sacramental Worship with Children  – both of these are available for you here today from me – SHAMELESS PLUG and I am currently working on a book on Frontline Evangelism with Young People which should be published by Summer 2013.





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. FONT
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! AMEN
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 Plymouth. These creative, expressive ways are as real to these missional communities as were the first Eucharistic prayers of Hypolytus. BLESSED EX
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. QUOTE
In the V&A Museum is this work by Jonathon Barnbrook. 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, what works for the Blessed Community will not necessarily work for you. As I travel around to speak about mission and creativity, I am constantly surprised by how people are willing to accept something that comes off the shelf, to plug into your community, regardless of whether it is culturally, socially or theologically appropriate: Children=Messy Church, Evangelism=Alpha – just as no two churches (thank God) are the same, so nothing can or should be implemented without inculturation into your own community – start with Messy Church, or Alpha or Transcendence or Blessed and then use it to make something of your own… Children=Messy Church, Evangelism=Alpha
We should be careful: 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 one finds, creativity starts to infuse and cross-fertilise:  St Thomas in Gosport must be one of the few anglocatholic parishes to use a projector at each Parish Mass, and they benefit from the flexibility and cost-effectivness of projecting the entire liturgy and hymnody on screen each and every week.

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 or TVs.
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!) ST ALDATES
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 or a TV 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. SUCCESS


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 teacher and the very worst powerpoints ever are made by educationalists) – the worst thing is the templates: they distract: fonts, backgrounds, animations (oh! Lord have mercy, animations!). POWERPOINT
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. CROSS




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. WORDS(BLACK)


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. IMMORTAL…
An example: (to the tune of St Denio) (Let’s sing)
Verse 1 REVEAL
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.
Verse 2
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 GREETING
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 the Exeter DAC is lovely, I have not yet had the experience. The solution lies in the moveable: In Gosport, they created an 8ft high tressel upon which a standard [and very cheap projector screen is G-Clamped. No faculty is required. These days as good quality large screen TVs can cost less than £400, they are a good investment and a good solution where columns get in the way – the hint is to put them where the hymn boards currently are! TVs don’t have to be mounted either, and pulpits also make an excellent position for them. SCREEN at STE

TVs in SMV (to do)

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 BLESSED 1



(for this Advent worship we build a womb inside the church)

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, everything points to the altar: 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. DARTH VADER
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 OpenLP through to very effective commercial applications such as MediaShout or my personal choice Easyworship
Product Cost Comment
OpenLP FREE Open Source, Multiplatform (Mac, PC and Linux). Difficult Interface. Not great at video
WorshipExpress FREE Open Source, Cloud based (ie requires Internet connection). Very inflexible.
SongView FREE Very basic
Presentation Manager Basic: £250

Pro: £300

Popular but complex
MediaShout 4 $429

Express: $249

Very comprehensive, popular but a bit complex
Easyworship 2009 $399

Upgrade $99

Powerful yet simple interface, needs an upgrade as hasn’t changed since 2009
a more detailed list can be found at URL & QR Code
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. EASYWORSHIP 1


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. EUCHARISTIC PRAYER


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. But you don’t have to use any technology at all… handing round postcards, or images cut from newspapers can be just as effective in a small group. Ten minutes played from Beraka or Koyannisqaatsi or Powasquatsi on a DVD can move souls… POSTCARDS x 6



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. Pray as you feel called.
These days the tools of simple video making come shipped as Standard with every PC or Mac. TABLE
Product Cost Comment
Windows Movie Maker – PC FREE Comes as free download. Basic but easy
VideoPad FREE Pro Version available. Basic Multi track editor (we will use this in a bit!)
iMovie – Mac FREE if your Mac is bundled with iWork package Comes as standard. Basic but easy
Adobe Premiere Elements 7

Premiere CS4



Mix of complex and wizards to help home users. Limited video layers.


Sony Vegas

Studio 10

Pro 10



Only 4 layers of video but very powerful still.


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… COPYRIGHT
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 5 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. QUOTE
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 PRS
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. PUBLIC DOMAIN
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.

A good example of this would be the excellent Jamendo music site where unsigned artists and musicians make their music freely available for non-commercial (ie worship) use



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. £100 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. YOUR OWN STUFF
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. LITTLE CHILDREN
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… GOOGLE
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 SaveMedia ( 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. YouTube



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 VideoPad… DEMO
Social Media
Look around you and the current thing is social media. If you’ve barely got to grips with eMail, Twitter and Facebook can appear daunting, but be not afraid… remember that scary moment when the printing press produced the first Scriptures and some said that monk-copied vellum would never fade away… social media is a range of tools for communicating with individuals and … and this is where it is truly innovative… providing them with a platform for communicating back. TWITTER




Facebook is not only useful for finding out what your teenagers are up to (I have two of my three children at University, so this has been our main form of communication for years, even whilst they lived with me), but enables the creation of an easy window on the life and witness of a community. A fully public page on Facebook at the very least is a necessary internet presence alongside an up-to-date entry on A Church Near You which for most people outside of the existing church is the first point of entry. Most of the initial contacts I receive are via email from ACNY or a phone call taken from that site, our FB or webpage RTM FB PAGE


The secret to an active Facebook page, or the next step up, a blog page (another easy, idiot proof mechanism for a web presence) is keeping it current:

  • This week’s services
  • This week’s noticesheet
  • Last week’s homily
    • Which can be recorded on your phone in your pocket and uploaded to a site such as
  • Last week’s social event
    • With pictures of people, not buildings nor those “in a long line with the Bishop” posed pictures
  • Lots of information about baptisms and weddings and WHEN YOUR SERVICES are

The key is keeping it up to date. It doesn’t take long and ensures people will use it and often. Likewise, your ACNY data should be kept up to date.

Twitter is an altogether different medium of communication: a 140 character message which can be broadcast to those who choose to receive (or follow) it: useful for the sending out of reminders, prayers, scriptures, rituals and meditations (the Blessed Texts are  a good example of this), but the new innovation is that it encourages dialogue, response, reaction and sharing: good ideas, comments and other things can ripple out massively, welcoming responses, and the opportunity to dialogue, sometimes with people already committed in faith, but equally often with those who have little a priori faith background.

It is the dialogue which makes Twitter interesting: see @stephenfry or @amandapalmer but not  @David_Cameron







However, if you are not prepared to deal with such dialogue, then Twitter becomes just another dull one way broadcast medium and its potential is lost.

Concluding Remarks

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: FE
  • 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. MASS
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. BOOK
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. QUOTE
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. GOD IS HERE
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. MISSION IS MASS
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. MASS IS MISSION
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. ITE MISSA EST
So, Go and make mission, and proclaim the Gospel afresh to each and for each generation!     Thank you. THANK YOU