January 21, 2021

Liturgical Gangstas 13: Projector Please?!

Update: I’ve had some strange mail on this one. Let me respond to one: This is NOT a debate between churches. If you want to have that and you can’t find it on the net, your hands must not work.

Welcome to IM’s popular feature, “The Liturgical Gangstas,” a panel discussion among different liturgical traditions represented in the Internet Monk audience.

Who are the Gangstas?

Father Ernesto Obregon is an Eastern Orthodox priest.
We have a new Gangsta! Rev. Joe Boysel is an Anglican (AMiA) priest and professor of Bible at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, Ohio. (Ask him about famous alumni.)
Dr. Wyman Richardson is a pastor of a First Baptist Church (SBC) and director of Walking Together Ministries, a resource on church discipline.
Alan Creech is a Roman Catholic with background in the Emerging church and spiritual direction.
Rev. Matthew Johnson is a United Methodist pastor.
Rev. William Cwirla is a Lutheran pastor (LCMS) and one of the hosts of The God Whisperers, which is a podcast nearly as good as Internet Monk Radio.

Here’s this week’s question: Would you use projection technology in worship? How, why or why not? (Limits and reasons iows) How do you approach the overall use of technology in worship in a way that’s helpful, and not either use it willy nilly or oppose it for no reason other than nostalgia?

Father Ernesto/Orthodox: None of the major Orthodox jurisdictions allow the use of projection technology in worship. Most Orthodox parishes sing/chant a capella. The overwhelming number of Russian Orthodox parishes do not even have pews. Almost all Orthodox parishes have at least one candle that is a floating wick candle that burns olive oil. We still tend to used “dipped” candles (beeswax) for our “offering” candles rather than molded paraffin candles.

At the same time, our parishes will use amplification (mikes, amplifiers, speakers). Some of our parishes will use piano and/or organ. We will use some directed lighting and will use adjustable lights.

So, why do we use amplification, but not instruments? Why do we use so many icons but do not use overhead projection?

It may surprise you that the addition of instruments to worship is much later than people realize.
AQUINAS “Our church does not use musical instruments, as harps and psalteries, to praise God withal, that she may not seem to Judaize.” (Thomas Aquinas, Bingham’s Antiquities, Vol. 3, page 137)

AUGUSTINE “musical instruments were not used. The pipe, tabret, and harp here associate so intimately with the sensual heathen cults, as well as with the wild revelries and shameless performances of the degenerate theater and circus, it is easy to understand the prejudices against their use in the worship.” (Augustine 354 A.D., describing the singing at Alexandria under Athanasius, yes THAT Athanasius.)

ERASMUS “We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them. Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled. And for this end organ makers are hired with great salaries, and a company of boys, who waste all their time learning these whining tones.” (Erasmus, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:19)

The Introduction Of The Organ Among The Baptist. This instrument, which from time immemorial has been associated with cathedral pomp and prelatical power, and has always been the peculiar favorite of great national churches, at length found its way into Baptist sanctuaries, and the first one ever employed by the denomination in this country, and probably in any other, might have been standing in the singing gallery of the Old Baptist meeting house in Pawtucket, about forty years ago, where I then officiated as pastor (1840) … Staunch old Baptists in former times would as soon tolerated the Pope of Rome in their pulpits as an organ in their galleries, and yet the instrument has gradually found its way among them…. How far this modern organ fever will extend among our people, and whether it will on the whole work a RE- formation or DE- formation in their singing service, time will more fully develop.” (Benedict, Baptist historian, Fifty Years Among Baptist, page 204-207).

Clement of Rome stated that God much preferred the “strings” of the tongue to the strings of the lyre. That is, the Orthodox attitude has not changed from the Fathers of the East and the West, nor from the opinion of the Calvinist Covenanters, nor from the opinion of the early American Baptists. We see instruments as detracting from the much better sound of human voices raised in praise, even if those voices do not do musically as well as instruments. Instruments all too often detract from worship and discourage the congregation from praising God.

Amplification is OK, because it helps us to better hear the various leaders of the Liturgy and helps us to better hear the choir and to follow them (though most often choirs are not miked). Directed and adjustable lighting helps us to better see the service or to adjust the lighting in the church as is appropriate during certain times–for instance, the old directions were that candles were not to be lit until a certain point in the service, adjustable lighting can give the same effect.

Overhead projection seems to us to take our concentration away from the service and put it on a projected page. We still encourage people to put any liturgy books down and go by memory, just listening to the rolling words of the Liturgy and joining in as appropriate. Mind you, we do have Liturgy books, but they do not tend to pull the attention away from worship the way that an overhead projector does.

So, what is the rule of thumb? We can use those technologies that enhance our human voice, that enhance our understanding of the words of the Liturgy, that enhance what is present without turning it into a performance. It is performance art that we wish to avoid, not technology.

Matthew Johnson/United Methodist: The church I serve started using projection technology in our worship services before I arrived here and we continue to use it in both of our services – one contemporary and one traditional. Our worship space isn’t very big so we have one screen to the right of the chancel area that receives it’s image from a projector in the back of the room. Two weeks ago, I mounted another projector on our sound booth and it shines up on a white wall behind the booth so that the praise team and choir can see what was going on when we played video or displayed images. We will be moving into a new building in September and will have roughly the same set up.

My main goal in using technology in either service is to make sure people do not notice it. Sure, they know it’s there – they read announcements, they sing the words we project – but I try to make sure they aren’t thinking about it. The reasons people usually notice and think about the images on the screen are misspellings, out of order slides, upside down images, and other mistakes. When our images and the operation of the presentation are without error, people use the screen but do not notice it.

I’m probably the odd duck among preachers in my age group (I’m 32) as I do not use our presentation software (MediaShout) to it’s full potential in my sermons. I do not do slides of my sermon points. I do not use video. I rarely use images and when I do it’s usually a map or a picture I took while in Israel to help people see the places I’m talking about in a sermon. Some one will occasionally ask me why not and I usually reply like this: “I hope I’m not subtracting from what you might learn or experience in worship because I do not use video, text, or pictures in my sermons. My main reason for not using those things is because I grew up in front of the television. I grew up playing video games. I’m on the computer all the time. I watch movies, presentations, and all kinds of media. Almost all of my seminary profs used PowerPoint and I’m numb to it. I don’t use media in my preaching because it distracts me and when I’m distracted I don’t look people in the eye, I don’t engage in non-verbal communication very well, and I become a distracted communicator. That’s not what I desire.” Even if a person would rather I use media, they have respected my position and preaching is the only time during the service in which we do not use media. (I have our computer tech leave the sermon title on the screen).

As a short aside, I do project the Bible readings because the pew Bibles are NRSV and I have found preaching from the NLT to be much more helpful. And folks really do read the words while I read them aloud. Hopefully the Word sinks in more!

Although I do not find presentation helpful in preaching, there are a number of places in which our projection technology is helpful. Before a service starts, we cycle through the weekly announcements. Judging from the communication survey our church just completed, many of our folks pay more attention to that than they do our bulletin. Instead of waiting for every one to reach for their hymnals and turn to number 880, we can put the Nicene Creed up on the screen and everyone can make their affirmation of faith together. Since there is no hymnal of the songs we do in our contemporary service, the screen is the place our folks look to when singing our worship songs.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, we use projection for both services and while there isn’t opposition to it, I do sympathize with our choir director (who is a dynamic and wonderful person) who would rather people use the hymnal. His reason? The music. Even though most people cannot read music, they can tell whether or not the notes are going up or down. He’s right as even a clown like me can figure that out. That’s extremely helpful when we’re singing a hymn that isn’t all that familiar and because our choir director is such a great teacher I often see people take out their hymnals when we sing an unfamiliar hymn. I think ours is a success story in using projection technology in an unobtrusive way.

Joe Boysel/Anglican: To use video projection or not: that is the question.

My first observation is a theological one; namely, that I can find nothing inherently good or evil with respect to video projection. The use of video images to display words and/or art is no different than iconography, printed bulletins, or hymnals. It is an electronic page as opposed to a paper, canvas, or wooden one. A second observation reflects on the role video plays in the culture. Nearly all people in the West watch TV, go to films, link to viral clips, and use computer screens on a daily (even hourly) basis. Some might even argue that video has replaced print media as the primary source of information in our culture. (Sorry, Michael, I know you’re writing a book.) Thus, the technology medium remains almost as invisible to people as the church bulletin. In other words, the use of video technology hardly comes across as novel in the contemporary culture.

Putting these two observations together, I must conclude that video projection technology offers an amoral, convenient information and inspiration medium. For that reason, I would be open to the liberal use of it in worship – particularly since Anglican liturgy depends so heavily upon the written word. Songs, prayers, and Scripture – together with graphic arts – might just as easily be projected on a screen as printed on a page. In fact, video technology provides even the poorest churches with access to great art otherwise reserved for the rich. What’s more, there is no landfill waste from discarded bulletins.

Still, a couple pastoral considerations remain. One involves the deeply held religious sensibilities of some Christians. I can completely understand why, for some people, the use of video would cut against the grain of certain liturgical scruples. Especially in old church buildings, there is something about the historic nature of the worship space that creates a sense of connection with the ancient Church. Inconsiderate tampering with such sacred spaces through the use of state-of-the-art devices could create a significant and unnecessary distraction.

A second, and more serious pastoral consideration, involves the manner with which the prevailing culture typically uses video media as a form of amusement (i.e. thoughtless entertainment). Perhaps an argument could be made that people are used to “turning off their brains” the moment the screen comes on. Thus, careful consideration should be entertained regarding whether the church should stand against the culture through its use of retro-media.

Still, in the end, these arguments (and I can imagine a couple others, too) seem to lack any significant credibility. The use of video projection in church seems to me adiaphora – and a very minor form of it at that.

Alan Creech/Roman Catholic:OK, my first Gangsta reply on the new and improved Internetmonk.com! Woo hoo! Now – on with the show – did I say “show”? 😉 Projection technology use in worship. First of all, I have no say in what’s used in our worship, or in anybody’s worship nowadays, so keep that in mind. But if I did, I would probably tend away from using too much technology in worship at all, projection or otherwise, if we lived in an ideal ecclesiastical world that is.

That “ideal world” would consist, at least in part, of all local expressions of the Church being smaller units, no more than 150 people, even less if you really want my opinion – maybe 75. There would likely, in such a scenario, be even little need for microphones and a PA system in the building. That would be nice.

Also, in a liturgical setting, where the worship is, can we say, “pre-programmed,” quite a bit, the people involved would be learning the prayers, the liturgy, teaching their children and the new people coming in, etc. The songs would be fairly familiar and everyone would learn the new ones together as they were introduced. The worship setting for God’s People wouldn’t really be used as a setting for “evangelism” so any unfamiliarity felt by those who weren’t members would simply be seen as normal and relationally explained by those who invited them perhaps.

Now, I can see advantages in projecting certain things, such as song lyrics and certain prayers/responses in a liturgical setting. There are simply people who always follow a missal and aren’t memorizers. This could be helpful for them. But I’m not sure that the added expense and technological hassle required to get it and keep it going, running, working all the time, is actually worth what little help it could be.

I say, keep it simple, as simple as possible – and “possible” needs to start meaning exactly that. What I mean is that many simply assume they “need” these kinds of technologies to do worship well. We NEED microphones and speakers, right? We NEED overhead projectors, right?? Do we NEEEED the distraction of poorly functioning microphones every single week? I can tell you from experience – no, we do not. Again, I’d much rather be in a small building where everyone was fairly close and could hear a decently projected voice without the aid of electronic amplification. Why? mostly because of the distraction it often causes to have it and practically, the cost and the extra hassle of running it. I understand how things are now in certain instances, but the question was would I and why and I’m trying to back all my “answers” up as best I can.

So, the use of technology in worship, as I see it, should be as limited as possible, therefore making the logistical side of worship as simple as possible. Of course, to me, liturgy itself makes things simpler – not having to proverbially “reinvent the wheel” every week. There’s that. And however we can not add complications to that liturgical worship experience either on the front end or on the back, is a good thing, and can be seen as helpful to the members who are actually attempting to participate in worship.

I would use it, but only as much as possible. “Projection” was the main part of the question – that I would use hardly at all for the reasons already stated. Other technology – maybe microphones, are at this point in time, and with the size of many congregations, simply “necessary” – so there you go. Nobody’s going to listen to me and break up all the giant local churches into smaller units any time soon, so you gotta have ’em I guess. Along with that, I would probably go ahead and record the homilies/sermons/teaching sessions and save them as mp3 files for podcasting – making them more widely available for members and non-members alike for whatever reason you might want to do that (perhaps that’s about building up the wider Body of Christ or even, to some degree, a form of evangelism).

I think I’ve rambled enough. Inevitably I’m going to look back and wish I’d said something differently or something else, but that’s how it goes. Oh, and here’s a freebie: to all the Catholic churches I’ve loved before, and know of, and who’s websites I’ve seen before – HIRE ME to redesign your sites!!! They’re awful! Maybe that’s just my “simplicity” philosophy gone to seed. I don’t know. But, seriously people, if you’re going to have a website, have one that’s not ugly, that’s easy to navigate and use, and one that looks sharp – that does NOT have to be complicated. —rant, over. 🙂 Pax vobiscum.

Wyman Richardson/Southern Baptist: I suppose my attitude towards technology could best be summed up in the immortal words from Kip’s wedding song to Lafawnduh in “Napoleon Dynamite”: “Yes, I love technology.” And, in a sense, who doesn’t?

The question of the role of technology in the life of the Church and particularly in the life of the Church’s worship is an interesting and important question. As a Protestant, it’s particularly interesting to me. After all, who exactly was the greatest figure in the Reformation: Luther or Gutenberg? Regardless, there can be no doubt that technology has played a large part in the life of the Church, sometimes good and sometimes not-so-good. And, like any other tool, there is a right and wrong way to use it.

The church I pastor installed projection technology in the sanctuary shortly after I came here seven years ago. It was our determination at that time that we would use it only insofar as it aided and did not hinder worship and only insofar as it assisted in the presentation of the gospel without obstructing the glory of the gospel. That, of course, is a wildly subjective criteria, but we have tried to hold to it. For instance, early on we used it primarily for announcements and prayer requests before the worship service began. But, inevitably (?), we began to use it more as the years went on. Now I project my sermon outline on the screen along with the scripture text for that message. But weekly (this week included) I find myself thinking, “I’ll put that on the screen, but I feel uncomfortable putting that up there. They need to just listen and hear this part.” etc.

Has our use of projection technology been good or bad, overall? Well, I mentioned something in a sermon a few weeks back about people bringing their Bibles to church. After the service, a man that I greatly respect said, “Pastor, the only reason I don’t bring my Bible is that you have it all on the screen. It’s much easier that way.”

So that makes me uneasy, but then I ask myself, “Are more people reading the scripture now that it is on the screen that would if we did not project it?” And, in that sense, I’d say, “Yes, more people overall now read the scripture during our services.” (As an aside, don’t ask me why it is that I’m afraid to project the words of our hymns on the screen but not the words of scripture. Is it possible that the average Baptist is more offended by the idea that we won’t need our hymn books in church than that they don’t technically have to carry their Bibles to church now? Uggghhh…)

All of this is to say that our use of technology is probably as idiosyncratic and nonsensical as everybody else’s, but nonsensical does not mean a-sensical. There are good reasons, and foolish ones, and I suppose I’ll just have to say that each person and each church must search their motives, their intentions, and their uses of technology to say whether or not they are using it well.

In closing, I am fully aware of Neil Postman’s argument that “the medium is the message,” and I suspect one can be too naive about the dangers inherent in the electronic church. On the other hand, many who write screeds about the modern church’s infatuation with technology never think about the fact that they are sitting in air conditioned sanctuaries under the glow of electric lights listening to a voice being projected through a microphone and over a set of speakers.

But perhaps all can agree on this: technology must never become the focus and it must never become the message. If the integrity of the Church’s message can remain intact, I say go for it. If, on the other hand, we are relying on cheap technological gimmicks and tricks, I say let’s tip the electric idols over and refocus on what’s most important.

William Cwirla/Lutheran: Tech in worship. Ugh. I love tech. I have a science background. I own multiple computers, two iPods, and have a fully networked home. I blog, I podcast, I have a huge iTunes library; I do digital photography. I am a PowerPoint (Keynote) wizard. I am not a Luddite when it comes to tech.

That said, tech in worship is best heard and not seen. Especially those projection screens. Is there any place we can go where we don’t have to stare at the ubiquitous screen? My favorite sushi restaurant has screens, thereby ensuring the end of any meaningful conversation with my table mates. Can’t we sit and listen to a speaker without watching video clips or looking at pictures of kittens and sunsets?

Visible tech in church is like walking along a wilderness trail and encountering a cell phone tower. I want to see the works of man extol the works of God – meticulously written icon, well crafted stained glass, fine woodworking and craft elevating material to holy symbol. What I don’t need to see is another Samsung 60-inch hanging where a crucifix ought to be.

I know all the arguments about we being a “visual, post-literate” culture. How about training our preachers to be skilled, persuasive orators. How about having preachers speak forcefully and engagingly from the Scriptures, which are the very Word of God. It seems to me that so much of this “visual” tech stems out of our lack of trust that the homely Word will return void unless we give it a boost.

I’ve heard the “heads-up” argument in favor of singing from a screen, but I don’t buy it. I’m a musician; I need to see notes to sing confidently. Corporate singing is not the same as everyone singing along with the band. And besides, what is it about the guy running the projector that he can’t seem to be on the right stanza? Distractions, distractions, distractions.

“Faith cometh by hearing.” Can’t we train ourselves to shut up and listen once and a while? Can’t we preach with conviction? The Bible is full of rich narratives, some that would make Mark Driscoll blush. Why can’t we tell those rich stories without visual aids? “A man went out to sow seed…” Do we really need a picture? “Behold the Lamb of God….” Can a video clip do it justice?

Yes, I know this is largely an aesthetic argument, and I plead guilty as charged. Throw the book at me. But aesthetics are important. They confess something about what is believed. When you believe that you are in the presence of the true and living God and gathered around the very Body and Blood of Christ, it affects how you worship and how you design and define sacred space. Tech has desacralized the modern church to nothing more than a generic auditorium with screens, stage lighting and a mixing board. Today the holy things, tomorrow a rock concert. There is no beauty, no majesty, no reverence, awe, and mystery.

The modern tower of Babel is not build out of bricks and bitumen, but silicone chips and plastic. Tech is not art. Projecting a pixelated picture of Jesus on a screen is not the same as an icon painstakingly painted on the wall. Art deals in what is real, the priestly elevation of material into the aesthetic and sublime. Sacred art consecrates material for holy purposes.

As I said, I love tech. I use it in Bible class all the time. I love Keynote (PowerPoint). It makes for dynamic presentations when done correctly. (It makes for deadly presentations when done badly.) I love showing video clips for instructive purposes. Tech is the servant, not the master of the Word. A friend of mine, who is a chemistry professor, noted that the graphics of science talks has increased dramatically since my chemistry days, but the content has decreased proportionately. It’s all bells and whistles full of sound and power points signifying nothing.

Neal Postman, in his book Technopoly, warns us to be ever on the alert when it comes to technology, lest our tech tools enslave and master us. I have a rule in church: We ought to be able to worship even if the power goes out. It happened once. We didn’t miss a beat of the Sanctus nor a Word from the Lord.


  1. “But, seriously people, if you’re going to have a website, have one that’s not ugly, that’s easy to navigate and use, and one that looks sharp – that does NOT have to be complicated.”

    Alan – get on the blower to the Vatican pronto 🙂

    We had a projector in church a few weeks back! It was so weird to see it sitting at the back of the church, casting a projected image on the wall above the mosaic of St. Joseph. It was used to put the words of the – um, I suppose ‘worship songs’ is what I’d call them, since they’re not hymns as I think of them – that the children’s choir were singing, so that the congregation could follow along and sing.

    Didn’t work 🙂

    I just found it distracting and offputting. I hope we’re not going to go all technical, but I have a sinking feeling that in about five years’ time, we’ll be having PowerPoint presentations! (Seeing as how the wonders of what was the big cool thing only get discovered about ten to fifteen years later by the church).

  2. What I meant by “didn’t work” was not that the machine broke down – it worked fine. It didn’t entice people into singing songs they didn’t know, had never heard before, and weren’t comfortable with (the one and only time we all enthusiastically launched into a hymn was at the dismissal, when they broke down and let us launch into “Soul of My Saviour”).

    Technology won’t do a scrap without willingness on the part of the congregation and careful thought into what it’s supposed to be doing, what are the aims and goals to be achieved.

  3. All of you had wonderful insight and comments. Thank God for all of you. It seems to me that many of the evangelical churches that I have exposure to are in danger of overusing their various means of technology. Pastor Cwirla…you nailed it:-)
    Grace and Peace.

  4. Dan Allison says

    I’m the “PowerPoint” guy at my Presbyterian Church, and I think it’s great for two simple reasons. We project the words to the hymns, so the congregation doesn’t have to search through a hymnal and follow the small print there. I’ve had the experience of a song being half-finished before I’ve even found it in the hymnal. (The only dissent on this I’ve ever heard is from a musician who told me she “likes to see the music” as she sings.)

    I also create slides to accompany the sermon, with the Bible verses and the pastor’s bullet points. Again, people don’t have to search through their Bibles to find the verse he’s using. The other advantage is that in these times of distraction and attention deficit, if anyone has difficulty paying attention to the entire sermon, he or she can at last grab onto one or two bullet points and still come away with something of value.

  5. I love this quote from Bono: “My mate Gavin Friday used to say: ‘Roman Catholicism is the Glamrock of religion’ with its candles and psychedelic colours…Cardinal blues, scarlets, and purples, smoke bombs of incense and ringing the little bell.”

    To me, gothic cathedrals were giant projectors. They were the Word of God for an illiterate generation. The statues, icons, murals, and stained glass proclaimed the gospel. Gothic architecture is a form of technology – a lost technology at that! It is a good example of how technology can serve the gospel.

    There’s no reason projectors can’t serve the gospel, but the gospel is not served by ugliness and utilitarianism. As Os Guiness said several times, “the media is the message”; the media used to communicate the gospel colors and alters it. Churches unintentionally communicate volumes about the Creator by the sorry, uninnovative, unartistic, inhuman way they use technology.

    I was amazed by the article in the May issue of Christianity Today that showed pictures of Churches where art and beauty were incorporated into the architecture. A projector screen would seem out of place in most of those sacred spaces. Projectors shouldn’t push out other forms of communication, such as banners, stained glass, statues, etc. I can tell several stories of churches that moved or removed altar crosses in order to make room for a projector surface.

    • I agree with Dumb Ox–icons, liturgies, church architecture, vestments, and so forth are a kind of multimedia, even performance art (which Fr. Ernesto says the Orthodox avoid). Of course the liturgical churches hold many of these details to be specially blessed (I am tempted to say that they have magic power), and the fact that they are repeated gives them a certain added numinosity that a Baptist power-point could not have. Maybe that is the key issue–novelty vs. tradition. In that spirit, a projector used for projecting hymns or creeds would be received more favorably than one used to make a sermon more exciting.

      • The trouble, of course, is that this is a way of redefining the term “performance art” in such a way that everything is performance art. By that definition, anything done inside a church, the look of the pulpit, the suit of the pastor, etc., are performance art. You win the argument by re-defining the term.

        But, when one reads the church fathers and reformation fathers and anabaptist fathers, what comes across is not a concern over beauty in the Church, but a concern over things being done for the basic purpose of simply exciting the senses and focusing on that excitement, not over beauty itself. In fact, part of the subtext of the Seventh Ecumenical Council was precisely the whole theme of how the creation (and its beauty) fits in the worship. Icons were only a part of the argument and icons were defended as that which is proper in light of God’s Incarnation and God’s Creation.

        The fathers were not against beauty in worship, in building, in music, etc. They were against the re-direction of our attentions away from the worship of God to the pleasing of the senses and towards human beings in their performance. It is that re-direction that is performance art, not simply the presence of beauty in the Church.

    • Oddly enough, we spent a good bit of time at our music council meeting last night discussing the utilitarian look and architectural cover-up of our screen & projector.

      A concern was raised by a church visitor that the screen was covering up the cross in the baptistery, (which for SBC types is one of the allowable icons, along with a ginormous bible on the communion table and a US & Christian flag on the podium). Joking aside, I was glad to see that the committee (who would be labeled by some as being the perpetrators of all the flash that goes on in some churches) was genuinely concerned about the issue.

      We’re going to try and address the concern in a couple of ways – greater attention to having the screen up or projecting an image of the cross when not in use. Not ideal for some, but perhaps a decent compromise.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “My mate Gavin Friday used to say: ‘Roman Catholicism is the Glam Rock of religion’ with its candles and psychedelic colours…Cardinal blues, scarlets, and purples, smoke bombs of incense and ringing the little bell.”

      Now THAT’s a GREAT Line!

      I was amazed by the article in the May issue of Christianity Today that showed pictures of Churches where art and beauty were incorporated into the architecture.

      Don’t be amazed. That was the default option in Church architecture for centuries. If you had the budget, you incorporated the art and beauty. Even if (as in Spanish mission churches here in the SW) a lot of the art was locally-done murals and woodcarvings.

      Today’s minimalist warehouses (or worse, Trendy(TM) and Edgy(TM)) is a historical anomaly.

  6. I sometimes find it distracting, but, to a person who has never used hymnals, prayer books or Bibles (the printed-on-paper kind), all of these things we are used to might seem a distraction. I hate seeing churched put up a projector because its “what you are supposed to do nowadays”, but I have also seen them used in a very natural and beneficial way. We use music, some use statues, crosses, banners, paintings, the screen can be just one more “canvas” to express and focus our worship. I wonder what God thinks about it?

  7. joel hunter says

    Rev. Boysel: “The use of video images to display words and/or art is no different than iconography…”

    Rev. Cwirla: “Projecting a pixelated picture of Jesus on a screen is not the same as an icon painstakingly painted on the wall.”

    Since our Lutheran gangsta is obviously correct here, I’d be curious to hear the Anglican gangsta respond to the reasons Rev. Cwirla gives. I’m also shocked that Rev. Boysel would make such a claim in the presence of his Orthodox gangsta bruddah.

    Seriously, I’d be curious for the tech advocates to explain what kinds of limits they imagine for technology that they presume “offers an amoral, convenient information and inspiration medium.” For example, projection technique is evaluated pragmatically: does it efficiently convey written information? Very well then, suppose in 10 years it becomes possible to cheaply project the same information into a individual sets of goggles that the worshiper can wear during the service (if they can’t afford their own–let’s call it a v-pod–then the church can spare a few bucks to keep some loaners around). If it is a cheaper and more efficient method to convey written information to everyone, why not?

    The problem with giving a considered evaluation and judgment of projection technology is that it is, as many gangstas pointed out, already ubiquitous. You can’t get an objective perspective on an environment, because you’re in it, it’s too close to you to see clearly (this holds for both concrete and abstract environments). You can’t see what its effects really are. This is why I offer my little thought experiment for a technological device that does not yet exist (afaik).

    The serious question I have for the tech advocates is what costs (moral, spiritual, intellectual, etc.) they think attach to the liturgy when the primary value under which it is evaluated is technical; i.e., that ranked first in importance is efficiency, effectiveness, capital costs, etc. of the system to deliver the experiential-informational liturgical elements. Is there a theology of technology?

    • Joe Boysel says

      Joel, thanks for the input, you’ve made me re-evaluate my position. I haven’t changed it, but I like it when people make me think! Still, I have to ask, what makes our Lutheran Gangsta’s evaluation so “obviously” correct? I mean, perhaps he is, but there is nothing, so far as I can see, painstakingly self-evident in his opinion. It’s an opinion based on opinions. Besides, the fundamental question isn’t “all-screen-all-the-time” versus “no-screen-none-of-the-time”. So far as I understand it, the question relates to the use of video in public worship, perhaps even to those of us who would use it sparingly, right?

      Second, to be candid, I found Pastor Cwirla’s comment about needing musical notes a bit trite. (Sorry, but I did. Really?! Is that the best reason to defend a hymnal? Musical notes?! Bonhoeffer makes a great argument in “Life Together” that we should only sing the melody, anyway. Hey, he’s from your tribe! lol!) The fact is, I love the simplicity of low-tech worship as much as the next person. But my preferences have little to do with the viability of technology in worship. If you’ve got a musical instrument, a book of any kind, art, and/or a microphone (not to mention flying buttresses) in your church, you’ve got technology at work. Which makes the arbitrary line of “no video” utterly absurd. If you don’t like screens, that’s cool. A lot of people don’t like banjos (and they stay clear of Kentucky). You want to sing only Psalms, and you only want to sing them a capella at that? Man, I’ve got a church in Scotland for you! So, while making big deals out of little ones is something Christians tend to major in, it’s still adiaphora to me. (BTW, I wonder if I could set that last line to the Killers song, “Glamorous Indie Rock”? hmmm…you kids out there get to work on it!)

      As to my point about the iconography, I did not intend to offend (sorry if that happened, Fr. Ernesto), but rather simply to say that the plain fact of the matter is that icons (“images” in Greek) serve as VISUAL aids in worship; “windows into heaven,” if you will. And people “look” through windows. Yes, the veneration of icons in the East (still an uncomfortable theological point with some us Reformed folk) has led to an entire system of artistic orthodoxy. Nevertheless, the most basic fact of icons remains that they serve as VISUAL images. So, while I can understand the qualitative difference between virtual iconography and the “real” ones, arguments for the exclusivity of the latter falls a bit flat with me.

      As for your thought experiment, I’m not sure what you’re asking. Suppose the V-Pod was not like a pair of goggles but more like glasses without frames – maybe some cool ones like these [http://www.rtuoptical.com/image/rimless_6610.jpg]. In that case, yeah, I’d be up for it. A person could see the people around them and still have access to the song lyrics without the need for bulky projectors or white screens (or bifocals!). Hey, I think you’ve found a niche market!

      This much I’ll give you this much: Technology should not be “the primary value under which [the liturgy] is evaluated.” Still, once we get past “The Lord be with you,” someone needs to get the text to the people so we can all do our work. I say the easiest, most unobtrusive way, the better.

      Thanks again for the comments!


      • Eric Hentze. says

        As a Lutheran whose church has a “blended” service and a traditional service, I can say from experience, the notes do matter! You have to see it for yourself. One week the singing is decent (Hymnal). The next week nobody knows what to do (contemporary – no notes). Then again, if you’re singing 7/11 songs that have 3 notes, it’s not a big deal. However, our contemporary service is 1970’s hymns, the melody is so all over the place, its a train wreck.

      • Nope, I was not offended. I have a different view of icons, but . . .

        In passing, note the point I made two posts above in answer to Werther. There is also the concept of beauty to think about as different from performance art.

      • joel hunter says

        In spite of the glibness of your response, I think you have a very serious and rigorous theology about these matters. And it appears to be this: if it works, then the right theology can be given. One’s methodology must shape and determine one’s theology.

        Therefore, I find it curiously contradictory that you would agree with me that the technical should not be the primary value under which the liturgy is evaluated. For everything else that you wrote betrays the contrary: the technical concerns solutions to problems (the “problem” here is the delivery of information to people), of “getting results.” The technical virtues are efficiency, effectiveness, and innovation. The technical vices are waste, uselessness and stagnancy.

        You include yourself in the group “us Reformed folk.” I commend Jacques Ellul to you.

        BTW, I’m Anglican. But I am quite rightly mistaken for a Lutheran on my better days.

        • Joe Boysel says

          Joel, since you have misunderstood my theological process, it’s little surprise that you failed to see why I would agree with you. I suppose I should not have been so glib, as you put it, but sometimes I seek to build charity from understatement rather than the rancor that comes from direct confrontation in this medium. But for the sake of clarity, let me be more direct:

          My point was predicated upon a belief that technology is a part of what it means to be human, and God loves humans. In fact, being human is good. Technology is therefore also good, for it is a gift from the Creator to the humans. Technology is anthropology. Still, every advance in technology offers both promise and compromise. Deciding how to limit the technology so that it serves the creature instead of the other way around is the primary theological task (and the reason why I believe the liturgy precedes the delivery mechanism). BTW, this is where I think Ellul and Marva Dawn seek to go, but err in an overabundance of caution (or where I err in an overabundance of liberty, if you choose).

          When Scripture went from oral transmission to written manuscript something was gained while something else was lost. When flying buttresses allowed architects (arche+techne) to build larger cathedrals something was gained while something else was lost. When sound systems were invented to project voice further (and in some cases for the first time, e.g. the hard of hearing) something was gained while something else was lost. Surely you see this? So, the fact is I do not have a theology of projection (like Ellul and Dawn), I have a theology of humanity and with it a theology of technology (techne). Some see the trees (Ellul & Dawn), I see the forest.

          OK, is that pragmatism? Perhaps. But not of the willy-nilly-who gives-a-#@%!-type. Rather, it’s a type of pragmatism that enters the world with a robust view of prevenient grace (aha, I gave it away, I’m Reformed in the Wesleyan sense!) expecting God to act in the world God created and in the world humans have crafted with their skills and their sin.

          So, we all have pragmatic decisions to make. And while your decision against projectors may give you reason to delight in your piety, I think it’s going to be a short-lived celebration when you begin to evaluate what you are willing to allow and why, and what you have not allowed any why.

          With Blessings,

  8. I wonder if separating this question out by liturgical traditions makes sense. I know of some RC churches that use screens and some that wouldn’t touch them. Some Anglican that do, some that don’t. Baptist that do, etc etc etc. I think it may depend a great deal on the sensitivities of the specific congregations more than liturgical tradition (Orthodox aside).
    Regardless, the arguments the various folks above gave for and against are worth taking into consideration. One that didn’t show up that I always think about is the hypnotic effect that screens tend to have due to the digital refresh rates. Apparently men tend to be more affected than women, but it affects both similarly. When people look at screens, some part of the brain becomes fixed on it and thus that part of the brain is no longer present to whatever else is happening. That, to me, is something to consider when pondering the option of screens in services.

  9. I attended a Mass yesterday that used a projector. What struck me was how Catholics are pretty clueless about using it as an aid. The hymns and psalm were put up on the projector, but it was assumed that everyone would know the responses and when to sit/stand/kneel during the liturgy. It was a weird hybrid, neither here nor there. It struck me as most peculiar.

    Not that I have a vote in the Church’s practice any more than Alan does, but I agree with Fr. Ernesto.

  10. I’ve seen this done well and not so well. My “home church” has a retractable projector screen that goes over the cross and is quickly removed once we’re done using it. Some time before that I was at a church with a kicking rock-band college worship service whose pastor used the projectors to display the outline of the sermon a la college power point lecture, which was really the last thing I needed following a long week of classes. Back in high school we had a guy speak at our FCA group using projector slides of Bible verses in hip, psychedelically-colored fonts and backgrounds. That irked me.

    Later on I ended up being the “slide guy” at my college ministry and learned plenty of dos and don’ts the hard way. Mostly it was timing the switches slightly early and getting the verse order right. Still, it was a contemporary service. I couldn’t imagine doing that for anything liturgical, though. MAYBE for lyrics, but I think it would ruin the feel. At least at our liturgical services ashore, we have liturgies (per the Christian calendar) and weekly bulletins with the songs and notes right there. No hymnal fumbling required.

    We recently got a new chaplain aboard my warship, and he and some others proposed having the lyrics put out on projector once we restarted Sunday services for deployment following a long in-port period. I (the guy with the songs and guitar) quickly shot the idea down. Besides the logistical worries, it was simply going to be a distraction and unnecessary burden for such a small group. I print up 20 copies of lyrics in MS Word weekly. About half of them actually get used. It gets the job done with minimal distraction or geek-factor.

    The big thing here is that for the examples I’m using, we’re looking at very small congregations. The shore liturgical service has between 15 and 20 folks. The one on my ship usually takes gets eight or so. You could probably come up with some curve where publications or screens become better options at certain congregation sizes.

    Getting lyrics to the folks is the easy part. The hard part is finding the right balance among “too traditional,” “too contemporary,” “too unfamiliar,” etc. when you’re dealing with folks from all kinds of backgrounds. [insert CCM rant here]

    • Now see, here’s something I wonder about. I tend to take in information by reading, not hearing so when I’m exposed to the wonders(!) of PowerPoint in work situations, I find I’m reading the bullet-point slides and not listening to the speaker, and I’m impatient – ‘yeah, yeah, read that slide already, move on to the next one and stop droning.’

      If we did use those in church e.g. for sermons, I’d be lost. Because I’d be paying more attention to the screen than the priest, and while waiting for him to catch up with the points he was making and move on to the next slide, I’d be daydreaming (as it is, I often have to close my eyes in order to concentrate on listening).

      And I’ll never see twenty again except on a hall door, as the saying goes. Isn’t the danger here that the sixteen to forty contingent will be more susceptible to having their attention caught by the slideshow and be less able to participate in the service? Sitting there watching a screen – isn’t that like being at home watching TV?

      • Martha,
        Please describe this thing called “participation” in church. Other than a little bit of handshaking when the pastor says, “greet your neighbor”, I’m generally accustomed to seeing the back of the Youth Group’s heads. My church experience (before family/house churching it) has been a very passive one. So, you’ve intrigued me. :nod:

  11. I have a neurological disability that makes auditory processing very difficult. In fact, on those rare occasions when I watch television, I actually prefer to turn the volume off and just read the closed captioning. I don’t learn well when information is spoken to me, and my body/mind tends to regard most noises/sounds as irritations, intrusions, and sometimes outright assaults.

    That said, I also think that in the context of worship, the emphasis should be on the individuals within the worshiping community actually worshiping God with their voices, their minds, their bodies and their senses. Extensive use of media is probably not helpful in this regard.

    As for Powerpoint during preaching, I’d argue that it depends on the preaching. If the preaching is of the short “homily” type, a Powerpoint is unnecessary, though a transcript after the fact might be nice. If a “sermon” is, in fact, more of a “teaching”, then a Powerpoint might be appropriate.

  12. Father Ernesto…I love what Erasmus said: “Men run to church as to a theatre, to have their ears tickled.” Thanks for those quotations from the early Church Fathers. That was interesting.

    Lainie, I like what you said about transcripts of the homily being available after the fact. Sometimes I am very touched by the homily but can’t remember the words well enough to communicate it to someone else. I have been happy to find some great homilies online. But there are some ministers/priests who talk without a prepared “script” too and the congregation can be touched/motivated that way too.

    I have only been in a Catholic church once where there was a screen and a projector and that was to show The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein before the church started their Christmas project of people picking cards from a tree in the church which would indicate a gift to buy for a child. I do love that story and was not bothered by the presentation, though I would not want that happening often.

    Even though we have the booklets in the Catholic church that lets us follow along with the readings and the liturgy, I prefer just listening (even though usually I am someone who learns best by reading and not hearing) and since I know the responses by heart, I don’t need to read them. I do use the books to help me sing the songs. I like many of the songs but some are practically un-singable with the notes going every which way. I know I am not alone in that assessment because whenever we hit one of those songs, the singing is much quieter, less robust. Give us songs we can sing with gusto!

    I guess the main technology the Catholic churches I attend is amplication of sound. I think we need that in those churches. And of course we have a lot of lighting. But like William Cwirla above said, if we lost all the technology, the Mass would go on…just a bit quieter and darker.

  13. IMonk,

    I’ve managed radio and television stations for decades.

    I’ve noticed the more visible medium of televlsion tends to elevate the appearance, personality, and performance of the so-called worship leader and preacher above the substance or intent in worship.

    Soon theatrical elements of staging, lighting, physical appeal of participants, and production value, become the criteria for defining “effective ministry” in the visual relm. I’d suggest the big video screen in the sanctuary functions in much the same manner as televison or motion picture media exposure does for Hollywood stars.

    As Erasmus observed “men run to church as to a theater to have the ears tickled”. I’d add in similar observation that people run to the sanctuary video screen to have their fantasies stirred by the handsome and beautiful church performers! Bring on the praise babes! Bring on that youthful worship leader!

    There is a real place for so-called Christian entertainment. And who doesn’t appreciate a performer’s appeal and God given talent in a well choreographed staged production sequence?

    But should that Christian entertainment venue, with star appeal, be the focal point of the church worship service projected larger than life on the big video screen?

    But then again without those big screens I’d never get so visually intimate with all those beautiful eyes, smiles, and faces of the Christian performers, or I should say “worship team members”, at my church! And I really like seeing those new dance steps in their routines too!

    So maybe we’d better keep those media techniques in the church, and on the big screen, just to please the crowds who are, after all, a lot like me!

  14. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Good post and comments! Since I don’t write all that well I’m going to tip the hat to William Cwirla
    on this one – I could not have said it better. On thing that struck me was the comment he made
    regarding being able to go somewhere and not have to look a the screen….. here are the quotes
    from above: “Especially those projection screens. Is there any place we can go where we don’t have to stare at the ubiquitous screen?” / “Can’t we sit and listen to a speaker without watching video clips or looking at pictures of kittens and sunsets?” – and more….. re-read the Cwirla’s
    comment again it you need to – big Amen on it!

    I had made mention to my wife last weekend that you just could not get away from the tech stuff
    and contemporary music no matter what church you go to anymore….. I mean really folks, it is so bad to hold a hymnal or look up a scripture in your Bible (if you even take it to church anymore)….
    give me a break. Well, I’m quitting here list I get on a rant. Again, good topic and good comments!

  15. Printed hymnals, photocopied bulletins / orders of worship, electric sound systems, wireless microphones, electronic “pipe” organs, emailed prayer requests from the church office, air conditioning, incandescent lighting, video clips from a recent youth mission trip, online digital church directories and websites, cassette tapes / CD’s of services for shut-ins, Rick Warren videos for the 40-days Sunday School program, electronic fire and burglar alarm systems, and cell phones carried by pastoral staff for emergency access.

    Each is a form of technology that didn’t exist at some point in the past (very distant past in some cases) but that has over time been integrated into individual churches. Replacing and supplementing older worship aids with projectors and screens is to me just a natural progression of technology, and as one of the gangstas noted, amoral in and of itself. The argument perhaps should focus more on lousy content rather than the medium itself. There’s plenty of that.

    If my father were alive today, he would think that our personal addiction to computers, cell phones, twitter, new-fangled eeelectronic books, Facebook, podcasts, etc. was unnecessary and a time waster.

  16. Not to take anything away from Neil Postman, but he did not say “the medium is the message.” And if Os Guiness said “the media is the message” he was being neither original nor grammatically correct. It was Marshall McLuhan who said “the medium is the message.”

    I am a musician. One reason to prefer screens on the wall is that people are forced to look up instead of down and the sound of their voices carries better. One reason to prefer hymnals is that people can see what notes they are supposed to be singing. People who can’t read music are unfortunately part of the general dumbing down of society. Learning by rote is one method (Christ Church’s choir ir Nashville learns that way) but it seems to me that it’s better to know why you are doing what you are doing. Just doing it because everyone else is or because it feels good or whatever is unacceptable. Plus the hymnal may tell you who wrote the words and when, and who wrote the music and when. Not that it’s absolutely necessary to know, but it sort of goes along with that whole communion of saints thing.

    I really enjoyed this session of the Liturgical Gangstas, especially the quotations cited by Fr. Ernesto.

  17. Gosh, I can’t even spell my own name….

  18. Memphis Aggie says

    Is that comment all you have to offer? Nothing about the tradition of liturgy, focus on the Eucharist or the lack of reverence comes to mind?

    [MOD NOTE: One thing I can be sure of sir: Unless I can get Pope Benedict himself to show up and issue encyclicals, the Catholics who read this discussion are going to disagree with one another all the while telling us that they all agree.]

    • Jenny Bluett says

      No offense meant towards Alan, as I do LOVE his wit and insight, but I must concur.

    • There’s supposed to be a Chesterton quote to the effect that “Catholics agree on everything; it is everything else they disagree on.” 😉

  19. (This is to replace a comment that went off into the void)

    Not to take anything away from Neil Postman, but he did not say “the medium is the message.” And if Os Guiness said “the media is the message” he was being neither original nor grammatically correct. It was Marshall McLuhan who said “the medium is the message.”

    I am a musician. One reason to prefer screens on the wall is that people are forced to look up instead of down and the sound of their voices carries better. One reason to prefer hymnals is that people can see what notes they are supposed to be singing. People who can’t read music are unfortunately part of the general dumbing down of society. Learning by rote is one method (Christ Church’s choir ir Nashville learns that way) but it seems to me that it’s better to know why you are doing what you are doing. Just doing it because everyone else is or because it feels good or whatever is unacceptable. Plus the hymnal may tell you who wrote the words and when, and who wrote the music and when. Not that it’s absolutely necessary to know, but it sort of goes along with that whole communion of saints thing.

    I really enjoyed this session of the Liturgical Gangstas, especially the quotations cited by Fr. Ernesto.

  20. Regarding distractions – I’m far less distracted by a video screen than by a wailing child.

  21. Memphis Aggie says

    “Unless I can get Pope Benedict himself to show up and issue encyclicals, the Catholics who read this discussion are going to disagree with one another all the while telling us that they all agree.”

    We won’t agree even then sadly, but that’s another issue.
    I’d be happy with a distinct voice that wasn’t simply an echo.

  22. i’ve often wondered about the logic of “distraction.” I’m a pastor and worship leader, so I have a foot in both camps of the “battle” but so many comments betray the fear of “distracting” the congregation. While I recognize that the sunday morning (or whenever yours is) service is designed for us to worship God together, why is it we believe this place should have no distraction when that’s what makes up the vast majority of our lives? Why not have wailing children and clanging cymbals and instead of being afraid, simply teach that life is made up of distraction and our focus on God needs to incorporate, rather than eschew, distraction. This is an almost unformed thought in me, but it’s one i’m hoping will germinate well 🙂

  23. Yep, that’s all I could come up with. Sorry to disappoint, but that was inevitable, of course. I was asked a specific question and I answered it from my perspective as best I could. Personally, I blame Michael – dude, ask more intense, doctrinally thick questions next time – geez.

  24. Memphis Aggie says

    “why is it we believe this place should have no distraction when that’s what makes up the vast majority of our lives? …Why not have wailing children and clanging cymbals and instead of being afraid, simply teach that life is made up of distraction and our focus on God needs to incorporate, rather than eschew, distraction”

    So embrace the distraction rather than teach basic respect? Is that what you’re saying seriously? Just go with it? At that point why go to Church at all? Praying effectively in the presence of distractions is an advanced state, very few are capable of it, I’m certainly not. Further why contribute to the distraction rather than imbue the church with a prayerful atmosphere? The choices a pastor makes say something about his or her priorities. Is this a show or a worship service? But go ahead turn your service into a circus, but don’t be surprised if the people tune you out rather than the sideshow.

    • Let me state plainly i have no desire to turn church into spectacle. my thought was more along the lines of my own church, where we do so much to try and quiet our kids and make sure no one has any sort of distraction. I enjoy the sound of children chattering in the service because it reminds me that to such as these belongs the kingdom.
      I’m reacting to a general sense where the sanctuary is such a special place (i’m an evangelical baptist pastor, in the interest of disclosure) that we can’t actually bring our messy lives in. We cover, we smile, we hush, and adopt a false holiness that consists mostly of whispering in hushed tones and being bored.

      I am not, as you assert, a fan of spectacle. I am a proponent of people worshipping God together, with instruments and yes, even with powerpoint once in awhile (though i prefer keynote) because this can, but does not always, allow people to actually be people in worship and not some sort of pseudo=self that only shows up at “church”. Hopefully this clarity makes my comment less odious. if not, so be it.

      peacefully yours, mike

      • Memphis Aggie says

        It does make it more clear. I’m was only responding to what you wrote and it’s implications so that you would offer clarification. As for “false holiness” that’s an internal state and therefore a presumption. A little quiet place apart is not asking much at all, that’s what “sanctuary” means in fact.

  25. what a great post.

    But can’t we like start attacking each other over this issue? I mean really, no one has called someone a heretic or made snide comments or anything. Where’s the entertainment?

    On a side note, our church, SBC (500 plus attendance per service) uses lots of technology. All music is projected on the screen, all bible verses the pastor is reading, maps to demonstrate where we are, occasional video (gasp, even Nooma on occasion) usually to set up the sermon

    But we don’t use all the stupid bells and whistles in power point – pretty much use it as a slide projector so whatever is up on the screen does not distract anymore than reading from a hymnal or your bible during the sermon.

    • Sorry, dac, had a sudden image of a big sign saying “You are here”.

      Maps? Why? Or rather, in what way? Because do they really need to say “This is Fifth Street and we’re six miles east of the Post Office”? I kinda think you might have figured that out if you’re sitting in the pew already 🙂

      • well, actually because our Pastor has the silly belief that sometimes where a bible passage is taking place has something to do with what the author is saying. And seeing it on a map, in relation to other other known areas helps in that understanding of the congregation

        At least for those visually inclined. Perhaps your differernt

  26. I have emailed both Creech and Boysel in order to call them heretics.

    • He did, honest. All this made me think of a photo I took standing inside the Catholic Cathedral in Killarney, Ireland in 2006. Beautiful old cathedral and fairly well restored – check the photo out here and look carefully. 🙂 As far as I know, there is no established or worked-out theology in the Catholic Church concerning this issue. Again, as long as it’s not a major distraction, I’m sure it’s used here and there, and you’ve already got my opinion on it. Peace.

      • Ah, yes, Alan, I see an electronic thing at the back of the church, maybe giving some info. And I see some monitor-looking things throughout the church, maybe to show more clearly what is happening up front or maybe to show the numbers of the songs or passages being read. Plus, I can’t tell, but is there some kind of projection at the very front? I can’t tell what I am seeing there, or I may be seeing nothing.

        • There are big, flat-screen monitors on the main pillars throughout the cathedral, possibly for a camera angle, closer to what’s going on in the liturgy up front?? Not sure. It’d be interesting to see how they use them.

    • Joe Boysel says

      I’m a heretic because I believe in personal salvation (Anglican infighting, not pretty). But that’s a discussion for another day!

  27. Our (congregational) church has utilized projection of images and words since the sanctuary was first built in the 1930’s – back then they called it “stained glass”.

    Over the last 15 years, we’ve gradually switched from printed music (hymnals or songsheets) over to projected lyrics. It definitely makes things easier, and people raise their heads and voices and hands as they sing.

    There are a couple of downsides:
    1. When we’ve tried to sing these same songs (many of which we’ve sung for a decade) around a campfire, no one but the musicians can remember the order of the verses or lyrics. It’s as if having them spoon-fed via video or overhead projector meant they never learned the basic structure of the song… and these aren’t lazy people, they really love to sing these songs!
    2. The younger generation (for the most part) no longer knows how to read sheet music. They’re not being taught music-reading skills in our local schools (budget cuts, etc.), and they’re not getting that training in the local church. That skill is joining cursive writing as a lost art.

    • I was just thinking about that sheet music issue – however I don’t know how many kids in school actually have the opportunity to learn to sight read music, so perhaps it is unimportant. But I miss that part

      • There are now devices (I think “momentum” is the brand name) that will replace sheet music with an LCD touch screen mounted on a stand for a musician. They are marketed towards churches.
        And so the projection system comes to full circle, projecting sheet music.

  28. Since encyclicals were mentioned, here is a quote from Pope Pius X from his encyclical De musica sacra, 105 years ago:

    15. Although the music proper to the Church is purely vocal music, music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted.

    19. The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.

    I think having a projector that disappears into the ceiling and not using it during Mass would be fine. It might be appropriate at Eveningsong or at some special event. Hymnody, generally speaking, has no place at Mass and lengthy sermons are an abuse, so there is no good use for projection. Lastly, the Roman liturgy is built on three pillars: austerity, brevity and solemnity, and I fail to see how a projector achieves or enhances any of these.

    In medieval times, they did not have projectors, but groups of choristers did refer to giant music books, which sometimes were as big as a small projection screen. But I think the line must be drawn when the screen is placed in the sanctuary, which really is in bad taste. The sanctuary is consecrated to God and to holy things – nothing utilitarian or commonplace should enter it, certainly nothing large and garish.

    On the other hand, here is church-related light projection that I do enjoy.

    • Curtis, I’m going to have to prove iMonk to be a prophet. 🙂

      First off, your quotes are from Pius X’s Motu Proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini, not Pius XII’s Instruction, De Musica Sacra. Neither is technically an encyclical. For the sake of readers less familiar with Catholic liturgical practice, some of the things completely forbidden in this Motu Proprio are allowed under the current law. For example, women may now join the parish choir. Whether or not pianos can be used is argued back and forth since later documents were a bit more lenient, although none, to my knowledge, mentioned the piano.

      Second, hymnody is allowed in the Mass, see the GIRM. I would agree that it’s not ideal nor is it traditional, but saying that it “has no place at Mass” is incorrect under the current liturgical laws.

      Third, when did lengthy sermons become an abuse? And what qualifies as lengthy? I’ve read a lot of liturgical documents -it happens when you’re a parish music director- but I can’t remember anything about that.

      • Hi Alice,
        1. Well taken… I actually knew better but was sloppy. And I didn’t mean to imply that it has the force of law. It’s just a more recent example.

        2. Perhaps it is better to say hymnody is exceptional. I believe the GIRM says something like “another suitable song may be chosen”. I meant hymns are not an organic fit, like they are at other services like Benediction.

        3. I meant having the complexity that would require PowerPoint, like presenting photographs, charts and figures, headings and sub-headings, which one might find in a business presentation. I agree there is no legislation as to a specific length.

        • OK. I just wanted to make sure that nobody got the wrong idea. 🙂 I think that saying hymnody at Mass is exceptionally is pretty accurate as well. Traditionally, hymns are part of the Divine Office. The only time I can see having PowerPoint is during a mission or a retreat or something like that. If PowerPoint became part of every Sunday sermon, I can only imagine how many technical difficulties we’d have to sit through. The Baptists and the Non-Denominational Christians would practice and have the technical difficulties worked out and flawless, but Catholics just wouldn’t. Half the time, a visiting priest can’t even figure out how to turn on the wireless mike!

  29. Somewhat disappointing that so many ministers believe that the morality of technology consists merely in how technology is used. See the Canadian political philosopher George Grant’s essays on Technology.

    • I would hope they base morality on what the bible says. Or doesn’t say

      I am greatly amused on this issue

      Surely the use of technology, absent direct teaching, is a matter open to different usages

  30. I was a tech coordinator for a couple of years at a church of 1000 people. I now go to a larger church and do projection a couple times a month. The first church uses notesheets for the sermon with fill -in the blanks typeformat. They also project the same thing. i hated this. The people, especially the older folks were obsessed with “the blanks” and waited gleefully for the point to come up on the screen and write it in to the note sheet. No fair listening right? it was like digging through a box of cracker jacks for the prize. I always felt like the projectionist was playing the vanna white role by flipping the letters for the blanks.
    My new church uses projection for music only. it is growing by about 200 people a week so it seems useful for the new folks to learn the words. If they do a new song it helps with that as well. At times i find it a little strange that we sing the same songs, alot and we still need the words every time. maybe we could get used to retaining information. noooooooooooooooooo!!!!

  31. I’m not against technology in worship. But part of its danger lies in its evolutionary nature, tempting us to make the medium of techology the message by thinking we need to continually improve/upgrade, its quantity/quality as essential for the gospel to stay “relavent” for our culture. Perhaps, periodic “fasts” from the use of technology in worship would keep us mindful of its proper place and use.

  32. In an Orthodox Church, where would you even put the screen? Whose icon are you going to cover up? In many Orthodox Churches the entire room is covered with iconography so where could you put it? It’s not like there’s a special time at the beginning of the service where we sing hymns and the screen could be rolled down and then received back up into the ceiling when the singing is finished because we sing throughout the whole Liturgy, so the screen would have to be left hanging there, obstructing the image of a great Saint, the entire time.

    • Projected icons :)? Yeah, that would be tacky to the point of blasphemous. Sorry. I also realize that there’s a whole theology behind even just the writing of icons. Projection screens just don’t seem as organic as a holy person fasting and praying as they lovingly dedicate their whole talent to the writing of an icon.

      • Ever watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation”? (Another thread, I know.) They have this thing called the “holodeck” which is basically perfect 3D virtual reality. They seem to use it primarily for recreation, but if any of the crew are Orthodox and want to have liturgy, wouldn’t it be okay to “project” an Orthodox church–complete with icons–onto the (presumably) blank walls? Of course the priest would have to be real (unless an artificial intelligence can be ordained!), and the communion elements, but everything else is negotiable, no?

    • Well, what if you tried a nice rotating screen? 😛 That way you can cover up EVERY icon equally with no biased treatment. 😉 (although, in instaling all those screens… I think it could get a bit expensive!)

  33. Larry Geiger says

    William’s response was fine for himself, but did not answer the question in general like Father Ernesto did. Many LCMS churches use projectors and video monitors regularly. It is certainly not forbidden or discouraged by the LCMS as a whole.

    • I sincerely hope that it’s clear from the piece that I wrote entirely in the first person singular that I was speaking for me and my house and not for the LCMS as a whole. It is indeed the case that many LCMS churches use projectors, screens, monitors, and all sorts of stuff and that there have been no convention resolutions, CTCR documents, or CCM rulings to date forbidding or otherwise discouraging the use of said stuff.

  34. I wonder if it might be helpful to make sure all our readers know that, although all the Gangstas are a part of different Christian traditions and as such, bring a certain perspective to the game from those traditions, even so – we are not acting as some official representatives of our respective faith traditions. So, although, I for instance, bring a certain perspective as a Catholic Christian, I am not here to try to somehow represent all Catholics or the Catholic Church as an institution, nor Cwirla, the whole LCMS, etc., etc. Maybe we should add that as a disclaimer or something – just a thought. Peace.

    • I’m sorry, Alan, that no one informed you that the blogosphere is the official organ of information for the world. If it’s said on the blogosphere, it pretty damn well better be true.

      • “…true…” hmmmm 🙂

        • Alan, you don’t seem to have any idea of what blogging entails.

          Not only are you An Official Representative Of (Your Tradition Here), you are the One, the Only, the Last Orthodox/Progressive/Enlightened/Traditional (delete as applicable) person who is Getting It Right, and everyone else in the blogosphere are idiots at best and limbs of Satan at worst 🙂

          • Well dang! If I’m all that, I need to ask for a raise! Michael? 😉

          • Cute, Martha. I love you!

          • Alan – would that be simony? What does the “Catholic Encyclopaedia” say?

            “Simony is usually defined “a deliberate intention of buying or selling for a temporal price such things as are spiritual or annexed unto spirituals”. While this definition only speaks of purchase and sale, any exchange of spiritual for temporal things is simoniacal.

            …The various temporal advantages which may be offered for a spiritual favour are, after Gregory the Great, usually divided in three classes. These are: (1) the munus a manu (material advantage), which comprises money, all movable and immovable property, and all rights appreciable in pecuniary value; (2) the munus a lingua (oral advantage) which includes oral commendation, public expressions of approval, moral support in high places; (3) the munus ab obsequio (homage) which consists in subserviency, the rendering of undue services, etc. ”

            Hmmm – now, is giving your opinion as An Official Representative of the Roman Catholic Church in the blogosphere a “spiritual favour”? If it is, then looking for money is definitely simony. Even getting the praise, approbation, and gratitude of the masses is simony (“munus a lingua”). And it’s definitely simony if spiritual favours are being exchanged by you for recognition by the Internet Monk himself (“moral support in high places”) 🙂

          • Holy cow, Martha – that was a long way round the bush for a joke – I hope that was a joke. And if I’m looking for high praise for what I said, I’m not gettin’ much, so I don’t think I have to worry about being idealistic “roomates” with Simon Magus anytime soon.

            For the record, we Gangstas don’t get paid for our responses…. unless I’m gettin’ stiffed because I’m Catholic!! SHOW ME THE MONAAAAAYY!!!

          • Alan, a generous contribution to the Vatican has been made on your behalf by an anonymous donor who spends a lot of his time “high above the evangelical circus”. Additionally, your name is now engraved alongside said donor’s at the entrance to his box seat.

            Now wave down to the clowns. 🙂

    • “Your mileage may vary. Void where prohibited by law. Not available in certain states.”

    • Some days I am not even sure I have represented myself correctly. Especially if I forget to read something before I post it. LOL.

  35. It seems to me that most of the arguements against the use of projection technology come from an asthetic standpoing, not spiritual, moral, or practical. It doesn’t look “ancient” in the cathedral. I almost feel that the best answer on appropriateness depends on the building in which you worship. It seems out of place in a cathedral, but a light industrial area rented sanctuary space would seem somehow incomplete without it. Also, it depends on the style of worship. Liturgical churches have books from which all their needs are met. More trendy/modern churches simply can’t afford to keep up the printing on all the latest songs they are constantly adding, and so it just makes economic sense to project song lyrics.

    What I’m not seeing, too often, is a compromise on this issue. Why does it have to be either/or? I am all in favor of projectin “356” onto the screen in order to let people know what number to turn to in the hymn book, only to be followed by a contemporary chorus with the entire text projected. I think it would be fun to combine the old and new approach in that way, and mix it up, as a way of saying that the forms of worship are not ends in themselves, but simply means to an end (sacraments aside, of course). Or even doing both. Have printed and project lyrics so as to give the participant his/her choice of style. Heaven forbid that in an evangelical context we even make the congretation sing from memory!

    • Ancient. I’ve got a few friends in London and scattered around Ireland and Scotland. We “Yanks” have no idea what “ancient” is when we talk about church architecture. Ancient to us might be 150 -200 years old. These guys have cathedrals and churches and abbeys that date to the Crusades, some of them.

      The accoutrements of our version of “ancient” churches might make those in more mature nations cringe and cry. I think some “SOME” of the liturgical churches in America might carry more weight as their architectural technology (and it IS technology) was imported from the churches of Europe, regardless of the tradition.

  36. Time and time again, I’ve heard people complain about the lack of music notes on screens. Why can’t they be projected up there for those who need/want them? I’m Catholic and I really don’t want to see a screen in church (unless, of course, it’s the icon screen in my Mother-in-Law’s Byzantine Catholic church), but this argument has never made sense to me.

    • Better yet, shape notes 🙂

    • Because the displays/projectors don’t have the needed resolution. It would look ugly at best, and like a jumbled mess most likely.

      Projectors typically have a resolution of 1024 or 1280 dots across the total width of the screen. Printed books are typically well over 1000 dots per inch which leads to 7000 dots of resolution over a 7″ wide page of information. (Margins don’t count.) And you’d be hard pressed to find any 300 dot per inch printers for sale these days. Most are 600 or 1200.

      What this means is that fine details don’t transfer well from printed page to a display of any kind unless your budget is well north of rediculous.

  37. I’d like the powerpoints better if someone would proof them and catch the typos that show up nearly every time. At least with books, that’s usually been done by professionals.

  38. Meh.

    We use a projector, heck I even went to the BibleTech conference in Seattle to demonstrate how I use the projection screen for preaching, but I keeping telling people, “This is not , ‘what God is doing today.'” I hate stupid statements like that.

    I have a friend who is a Roman Catholic priest who was interested in sermon painting. I asked him, “Why would you be? Look at the imagery already present in your sanctuary that is intimately integrated into your liturgical movements – you don’t need this – we’re coming back to you.”

    He joked that the Catholic Church had stood still so long it go lapped – which might be the case – in the use of visuals in worship, however, I think low church folks just eventually had to say, “Whoops.” Though it is too bad that so much that’s put on the screen is unthoughtful and anti-reflective.

    Here’s the thing, I’m in a Baptist context where liturgy, the seasons of the Church, and the use of our 5 senses to worship has all but been expunged from our culture. If I put a book or pages in people’s hands, they have been acculturated to reject it out of hand with no discussion. When I put it on the screen people have tended to accept liturgy, and even full blown “prayers of the people” – things that have been rejected in other contexts. We’ve even had a family start coming to worship which had been practicing Roman Catholics until several years ago, they told me, “You know, you’re congregation’s worship is the most catholic that we’ve been to since departing from the Roman Catholic Church.” You have no idea how happy that made me.

    The projector, in all but the Orthodox setting, really is adiaphora. You can see this in the key that show the presence of projection is a matter of personal preference – “ugh.”

    Use or don’t use projection – who cares. What you have to do is intentionally lead worshipers to worship God with all of their being.

  39. I don’t have the link but I read an interesting blog post the other day about sermons in this age of technology — as in why we need them.

    If the focus is the Word, I can sit here at my desk with access to study materials, online references, different video sermons on the same topic, and hundreds or thousands of blogs and bloggers to help me learn.

    Do I need to haul myself into church to hear someone talk about the Word in a lecture format that may or may not be the right format for me? Going there for community, sacraments, mutual prayer, those kinds of things – yes, by all means.

    I could tell you more about what I’ve learned on this blog than I could from the last two months of sermons I’ve heard. Way more. You see a lot of blank faces during a sermon, but there are none right here right now. Everyone is actively engaged and thinking.. not reading the bulletin, or daydreaming, or thinking about lunch.

    Maybe the issue is not how technology inside the sanctuary will make worship more or less effective, but how technology outside of it will.

    • Good call, Joe. I’d so far as to say, I don’t recall seeing blank stares as much as the back of the heads of the Youth Group sitting in front of me. 🙂

  40. Once again Father Ernesto puts it perfectly. Unfortunately here in the Catholic west, under the “spirit of Vatican II” have been screwing around with the liturgy to the point that abominations such as the Cathedral in Los Angeles (Our Lady of the Angels) have appeared in which not only screens are used but also so called “liturgical dancers.”

    • Liturgical dancers you say?!! What an outrage!

      And er, at what time is this abomination performed? In case I happen to be in LA, and wish to denounce them in person, you understand. (Woo woo!)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Don’t bother, Werther.

        Not only is the LA Cathedral in the running for “Worlds Ugliest Cathedrals”, but “liturgical dancers” are definitely NOT “Woo! Woo!”. They’re usually pretty lame, consisting of several females in long full-coverage robes slowly turning around and rhythmically raising their hands in unison. More a distraction than anything else.


        At least Clown Masses are a thing of the past. “Spirit of Vatican II” was used to justify a LOT of general flakiness, to the point you got the backlash of the Lefeberites et al. who claim every Pope since Pius XII is a Satanic Antipope. Tridentine Latin Mass, “penguin” nuns, and hyper-strict Lent are just the Catholic version of the Evangelical obsession with the 1950s (filtered thru Ozzie, Harriet, and Donna Reed) as THE Godly Golden age.

        • I certainly would not call it a golden age and of course there is a reason that Vatican II was called and yes the Lefeberites went too far starting with their founder.

          Yet Cardinal Mahoney has no justification for spending over $200 Million building that monstrosity while at the same time hiring PR firms and all sorts of Law firms in order to protect his failures at handling the pedophile priests scandal.

          It does seem to me that more often than not Liturgically orthodox priest tend to make and teach orthodox Christianity. It is as close to a litmus test as you can have in the Church.

  41. Its a moot point to project or not to project. . .as a theological topic it’s a rabbit trail.

    i attend several churches now and some have them and some dont-i find it makes little difference to the worship setting. the minister leading worship makes the difference, the church im in the most could just set a metronome on the podium and still have the same effect of spiritual leadership as his halfhearted attempt to direct the congregation.

    ever notice that noone smiles when singing hymns, or is that just in the churches i go to?

  42. Well, I’m just getting to these comments and I note, with sorrow, that I have not been attacked in any way shape or form and have not been called a heretic by anybody. (Of course, I just skimmed these.) I’ll certainly have to do better next go around!

    The only correction I personally received is Bob Brague’s point that it was Marshall McLuhan, not Neil Postman, who said “the medium is the message,” a point I heartily acknowledge here with infinite mea culpas! But then, I’ve never read McLuhan, and Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death I have read, and Postman’s assertion that he “would not disavow the association” between his thought and McLuhan’s and that he, Postman, has “remained steadfast to his [McLuhan’s] teaching” means simply that I learned that truth from Postman and associate the thought with him! Which is to say that Postman did in fact say it, only not first.

    Postman also said that the medium is a metaphor, which, of course it is, and what exactly our metaphor is saying seems to be the rub.

    Here’s another thought: my daughter and I went to see the Braves play the Giants last night. My attention was torn between the action on the field and the various images on the unbelievably huge screen over the outfield stands. So perhaps Michael can explain what exactly technology has done to the act of watching baseball. Now THAT ought to get the feathers flying.

    Regardless, I’ve got to go update my Power Point, so later.

    • I just read an article about how injuries to the spectators from foul balls are up because people aren’t watching the game as closely anymore. They’re looking at the big screen, or texting, or surfing the web from their seat.

  43. Say it’s not so – so many of you have had to suffer through the use of projectors at church now? The “words” of the worship songs? Power point notes during the sermon? Projected pictures of kittens and sunsets? That so distracting!

    sounds like the minor leagues to me

    Some people go to churches where the especially cool graphic artists there design moving animated images (exploding ink blots, swirling lines, fading and floating assortments of colors, etc.) that represent the current “theme” of the Sunday. These cool moving images continue to play behind the pastor as he tries to preach his sermon. I’ll never forget one church I went to that played a never-ending loop of trees in the forest blowing in the wind (with sound affects) during prayers in their church. But hey, at least they’re hip and with it, right?

    all you people think you have it bad – but it’s only just begun

    • Hmm, what about people having rating modules, a la CNN, where for each phrase they give a thumbs up or down and a running graph runs behind the preacher that shows how many people approve, disapprove, or were interested in that particular point?

  44. For me it boils down to a perception – and that is I don’t want my Liturgical Service (Mass in my case) to look like a business meeting or self help seminar. I get enough of it at work and I surely do not want to be reminded of it in worship.

  45. If the electricity went out in your church, could you still continue the service or would everyone have to be evacuated? Many modern churches that are designed to accommodate multi-media projection don’t even have windows in the assembly hall so if the lights go out, it’s pitch dark in there.

    • Goodness, I went to a church with no windows! It was out in the country in a nice setting, but the pastor who had built this church decided he did not want people distracted from the sermon, so no windows. How creepy is that?

      • Anne,

        It doesn’t have to be a church in the country for that kind of thinking. Southeast Christian in Louisville, KY designed their main church without even stained glass windows to avoid distraction.

        I’ve never been there, but I read about it in the Louisville paper

  46. Some personal observations.

    First off as a medical friend likes to say: “We are all wonderfully and UNIQUELY made by our creator.”
    To me the simple version is “One size DOES NOT fit all.”

    I’m deep into technology. I earn a living being deep in it. Very deep. But I still carry around 3×5 cards in my pocket to make quick notes. There are just times when a stylus, keypad, keyboard, display, etc… just don’t work. So …

    As a recent and somewhat ongoing church shopper I’ve been in multiple settings over the last year. All but one used projectors/screens. Here’s my take.

    Put up the pastor or whoever is in front on the screen most of the time. This is the single best use of the technology when a sanctuary gets to a size that will seat over 500. It means the folks in the back half can see the face and expressions of whoever is talking, singing, etc… It really helps most of us keep our brain in gear.

    Step hard on the impulse to make it look “cool” or even “neat”. Serifed light beige text on a linen background with a cross image watermarked in the background is very hard for most folks to read. Looks cool but hard to read. And time spent concentrating on reading the text on the screen takes away from the worship. Stick to simple / plain non-serifed displays on a plan background. Maybe putting things like bible verses up on the bottom 1/3 while keeping the pastor on the top 2/3s. And LEAVE IT UP LONG ENOUGH for those of us who are not staring non stop at the screen to make a note.

    Fill in the blank sermon notes drive me crazy. But on of my favorite pastors does this so go figure.

    One useful thing I’ve seen with projected displays is notes like “Parent 4321 come to the toddler room NOW! 🙂

    In keeping with the theme that things like this should not distract from the worship service I absolutely hate the hand held camera used during the music at one large church to give you those close ups of various folks playing or singing from odd angles. It almost makes you HAVE to watch the screen instead of the live people to keep from being distracted by this guy running around as if it’s an American Idol set.

    And to repeat a theme I mentioned earlier, graphic artists tend to be a select subset of people. There are many of us who can’t appreciate their “cool” stuff. I’m a perfect example. I have color vision issues. So does 10% to 20% of the US male population with northern European heritage. Black letters on red or the other way around is a disaster for us. We can read it if we stare at the letters and then spell things out but in general we’re blind to it. And finally after 10 years of being a hip way to present things it is starting to loose it’s luster. Thank Goodness.


    And the one church we attended for a while that did not use anything like this was a 500 seat sanctuary of an AMiA congregation. Everything was in the bulletin including the words to the songs. Worked well. But it was small enough that you had a clear view of whoever was “up front”.

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