Save the book!
There is no doubt that for many people digital and information technology have been a blessing in the past three months, for those able to access it. It has enabled families, friends and churches to stay connected. It is hard to imagine how this period of ‘lockdown’ would have been without it. Our own household has particularly valued being able to participate in the live streaming of Evening Prayer every day, and like many other readers ‘Zooming’ has become a regular and important activity. Who is able to predict the consequences of the experience; positive and negative?
It is possible that church life, particularly worship, may never be the same again. It is likely that the use of prayer books and hymn books may become very rare indeed. The trend away from the use of books and towards ad hoc sheets and booklets is well established. In some communities all the written material for worship has been displayed on screens for some time. The same is also true for individual prayer. This magazine has, in the past, featured articles extolling the virtues of daily prayer apps that provide convenient ways to pray the Offices, and offer a pocket sized library of spiritual resources.
There are numerous advantages to these developments, they are practical and cost effective, and they also open up the possibility of using a huge variety of sources. In addition they are more hygienic than the use of traditional books, as recent guidance has shown. There are however, disadvantages that ought to be considered before all the printed material is recycled into newspaper print and before all breviaries and prayer books are sold on EBay.
Digital technology, as used for praying the offices, has one huge disadvantage: it atomises the experience. In praying the offices by using the traditional books there is a sense of both progressing through the liturgical year, and also an awareness of the context of all that is read and prayed. There are huge benefits to using a printed Bible rather than a digital version. It is quite possible in using a digital version never to know the context of the readings or the sequence of the books. The digital pray-er is robbed of the important opportunity to read around the lectionary provision.
In congregational worship the use of prayer, service and hymn books has similar advantages. A traditional hymn book is a collection of the most eloquent devotional material; it is also a library of Christian spirituality with contributions from a range of traditions and eras in the history of the church. There is so much more to be gained by using a prayer book for Evening Prayer rather than a sheet, which has fillets appropriate to the day. In holding a traditional copy of the Book of Common Prayer one is holding prayer and praise, teaching and guidance for every aspect and experience in life. In addition it is a physical reminder that this faith is shared by others and has been handed down from past to present. All these profound truths are present in the simple action of receiving and holding a book. Church and prayer is not the same without them.