Francis Gardom applauds a useful piece of retrospective technology

An imaginative venture launched by the Prayer Book Society and developed by Churchill Systems of Tadcaster in Yorkshire has resulted in a computer software package in which the Book of Common Prayer, the King James Version of Scripture, a hymnal of over 300 copyright-free hymns and programmes which enable the user either to study the material for academic purposes or compile it (for instance as pew-sheets or wedding/funeral service forms) with the help of a really simple word-processing programme called ScriptSure (about which more presently).

The Age of the Pew-sheet

Pew-sheets were surely an “idea waiting to happen”. Without them congregations quickly become divided between those who “know their way about” the various books used in the course of a service, and newcomers whose ignorance of such matters is painful, if only to themselves.

Secondly, pew sheets give people “something tangible to take away with them”. Judging by the very small number of such sheets which are left behind after the services in our church, this is something which really does happen. In the past it was the (rather optimistic) hope that everyone coming to church on Sunday would read up the lessons beforehand. Few ever did so; but now it is at least possible to re-read what was heard in the service.

Or heard with difficulty. One of the drawbacks of the otherwise commendable practice of having wide variety of laypeople reading the lessons is the problem of acoustics. With a pewsheet it is possible to follow exactly what is read, both during and after the service.

The Means of Production, Distribution and Exchange

Until now, the problem has been the difficulty of producing such a sheet, involving as it has done, extensive typing of the words and considerable skill in getting them to fit on a page.

This package makes it very simple indeed. A “marriage of tradition and technology” as Anthony Kilmister, the Chairman of the Prayer Book Society described it at its launch means that now anyone with a Personal Computer and a copying machine can produce high quality service sheets for most occasions in a fraction of the time and effort that it would otherwise take.

The Heart of the System

At the centre of the package is a service-compiling programme, based on the 1662 Service of Holy Communion, the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer and the Occasional offices, Marriage, Baptism, Confirmation, Burial of the Dead and so forth.

Using this framework it is possible to compile as much or as little of the service in question as required, and then, through the use of a suitable windows-based word-processing of desktop publishing package (like the inbuilt ScriptSure whose use is nevertheless entirely optional) to make it look as desired.

The compiling programme is based on a calendar which comes on the screen immediately the programme is launched. You simply go on the calendar to the particular Sunday/Saint’s Day/Weekday for which you want to compile the service, indicate which service you are compiling, and the appropriate readings, collect and a suggestion for suitable hymns is at once loaded into the programme.

It then becomes possible to remove those elements which are not required. Since the programme is intended to be comprehensive, nothing is omitted: for instance the three Exhortations in the Communion Service are always available, though all three can be excluded by the simple expedient of “dropping it into the bin”. The Bin is a small picture down at the bottom of the screen representing a WPB and, appropriately, when anything is dropped into it, a tongue of fire emerges and consumes it!

300 or more copyright-free hymns have been chosen which can be inserted at any point in the service. Suggestions are made for appropriate hymns but the user is in no way confined to them.

The programme has been designed to make the compilation as simple as possible. More elaborate editing can then take place when the compiling has been completed and what has been selected is “handed-on” to the editing programme.

ScriptSure – the Text Editor

ScriptSure is the default word-processing programme of the bundle. It can be used to print out not only the compiled service but also any passages from the bible or the prayer book as “standalones”. The other day I was able to find and print out six copies of the first chapter of I Peter in less than five minutes for a bible study group.

Once again the keynote of ScriptSure is simplicity. The files produced can however be edited on much more sophisticated Desk Top Publishing programmes like Microsoft Word, Pressworks, Pagemaker and others. The only limiting factor is that such programmes must be able to read files in Rich Text Format (RTF) – a sort of computer Esperanto which not only preserves the text but also such details as line lengths, indentations, font sizes and styles, but which makes them interchangeable between the various programmes.

Holy Scripture for Windows

The third part of the package is the complete King James Bible with facilities for searching for words and phrases, going to particular chapters or verses, but also contains a feature Insert Verses which becomes available in every other Windows application when it is run (always providing it can read RTF). This means that it is possible to be in (say) Microsoft Word and to “pull in” any verse or verses from any currently loaded version of the bible without coming out of one programme and going into the other.

More to Come

If the package proves popular, then it will no doubt be extended to ASB and other rites. Priced at £89.00 it represents very good value for money.

The Prayer Book Society and Churchill Systems are to be congratulated on their enterprise in producing such a comprehensive and user-friendly package.

Further details about the Book of Common Prayer Programme may be obtained from N.J. Inkley, Vice Chairman, The Prayer Book Society, 6 Knot Lane, Walton-le-Dale, Preston PR5 4BQ

Francis Gardom is Assistant Priest at St Stephen’s Lewisham and operated the Trushare Bulletin Board