Yes, projecting words (and images) onto screens can be used well in some worship, but it is not a panacea for bad liturgy – it can even make things worse.
Screens are inherently about being passive. Your only action: look at them. They are part of a passive culture – we don’t go out to participate in nature, we watch it on TV. In a culture that thinks the real action in liturgy is what happens up front, that has to bring people to do things up front for them to get any sense of participating, screens can reduce rather than increase the sense of liturgy being something we all do together.
People complain about the layout in the Prayer Book, that it presents too many options within the text, that this is a reason we clutter our services with too many words. In practice I see communities that use screens use just as many words if not more.
Screens increase the destructive tendency to reduce liturgy to words. Instead of gathering around God’s table to give thanks and break bread, we stare at words on a screen, waiting for our next words to say. Instead of gathering around the font to be part of baptising someone into Christ’s Church, we stare at words on a screen, waiting for our next words to say. [Our NZ rites are particularly detrimental – there’s regularly yet another pile of unmemorised words that we are directed to say just when we should be participating in action!]
I was recently at a service where, during the readings, it was not the words of the reading up on the screen. During the time of the reading an introduction and commentary to the reading was up on the screen. Was the intention for us to read the screen’s commentary, or hear what the Spirit was saying to us, the Church, in God’s Word, or somehow both at once?!
Screens regularly hide art and symbolism, and disrupt beauty. Children, especially, but also all of us, are enriched by images in stained glass, and the beauty of many of our buildings. I see beautiful stained glass, that a not-yet-reading child could find a focus, covered with screens to turn liturgy even more into words, words, and more words.
I have been present when, half way through a service, the projector just stops. Have you got a contingency plan? [We’ve all been present when the person projecting gets confused, or what is projected isn’t what we are supposed to be seeing].
I have often stressed that we have a tendency in liturgy to attempt to replicate big, successful services and churches. You see people trying to clone cathedral worship in little parish churches – in robes, processions, rituals, etc., rather than contextualising worship to this group of people in this particular space at this concrete time. And screens are often like that. We see mega-church worship in their auditorium with a band and screens – and we clone that, however passive our band makes the worship, and without thinking of better ways than screens that might fit our particular context.
How much training and study is done about screen size to space ratios, font types, colours, size,…?
And you might want to read this as well. [Link added after comment below].
- Church Projector Screens
- Luddite liturgy
- What is Liturgy?
- Stroop Effect
- The Day Church Singing Stopped