The Plague of Bad Typography

Remember the Plagues of Egypt? Well, I bet you can’t actually. Indeed, there is a reasonable chance that if you bet any mildly inebriated bunch of divinity students a pint of something nice that they cannot name all the plagues in order you will have a pleasant evening. (Next week go back and ask them to name the 12 apostles).

Anyway, one of the plagues which the Lord visited upon his people, which is often forgotten, but which affects us terribly to this day is the Plague of Bad Typography. In this aspect of our common life, I must genuflect to those many Evangelicals who have been healed of this plague and produce excellent publicity material for their church. So very many of us who are not known Evangelicals struggle in this area. As for me, I must testify before you all, that I am a born again font geek.

Indeed, it has always seemed to me that if we could only format all our documents properly once and for all and put the right font in the right place, then all would bow the knee and be welcomed at last into the Kingdom.

Of course, I am not always believed.

My frustration over these things can lead to trouble. Picture the hissy fit that erupted when I looked earlier in the week at the Scottish Episcopal Church’s website and found the Word files that had been uploaded which contain our version of Daily Prayer.

They are horrid. They do not use styles. If you don’t know what that means, then repent, even though it is not Lent and go, go now, and find out. If more of God’s people did that, then we would have fewer documents released with 17 tabs per line, bad page-breaks, inconsistent formatting and so on. You want people to come (back) to your church? Go and learn about styles in Microsoft Word. Bizarrely these things are not taught in theological colleges as they are short of time, having to teach us how to heal the sick and raise the dead.

The most important change in our mission at St Mary’s that I have introduced is putting the whole liturgy (hymns, music, notices and the whole bang shoot) into one bookie. Every part of the liturgy is in the right order too. No odd page turns. No scraps of paper. It makes a difference. And yes, I know it is not green. Neither is running churches that are empty because all the people have fled in confusion and bewilderment.

Anyway, when the hissy fit died down, I decided to see how I would format Daily Prayer.

You see the trouble is, people come along to Morning Prayer and then just get lost. They have to turn to the right page, then find the right psalm then turn back to the first bit, then turn to the Benedictus which is in three different places, then they don’t have a collect and it all ends in tears. They don’t come back. They are the Lost.

So what would save this situation? Well, here is my offering of Morning Prayer for next week.

Compare and contrast

My version, with the official version.

My version is a large file. No apologies, it needs to be. There may be some inconsistencies, and it may display differently on your computer to mine. But it uses styles, which means that you can reformat the whole thing to your satisfaction yourself. Can’t you?

Can you do better? If you can, do.


  1. The official version is dire isn’t it. Still: at least is uses tabs and not spaces.

    Are we sure it wasn’t done on a Mac? Anything that crosses from Mac to PC seems to be full of random tab marks.

    It strikes me that your version is very screen-friendly. If I were printing it, I’d prefer a darker heading colour — though not the blood red that drips all over the new C of E liturgies.

  2. I was quite excited at the thought of meeting a new font (Calibri). But as much as I like it, I don’t think it’s worth the $200 that they are charging for those of us who use Windows XP/ Word 2003.

  3. But you have still used paragraph breaks rather than line breaks within paragraphs. There’s picky!

  4. kelvin says

    Yes Paul, quite so. Perhaps I should have taken a bit more time over the styles. paras breaks within paragraphs is far from elegant.

    I was a little surprised at the complexity of the styles needed for this. Did you see how the psalms are done in four styles. It could be done differently. Done the way I did it, there should probably be two more styles ones for mid-verses, odd and even.

  5. Are people put off church because of confusion over prayer books and liturgies? I can see it happening because of tedious sermons, an out-of-tune choir, a dreadful organist, a diet of Victorian hymns … but not wee books. Maybe we’re not thinking of the same kind of people.

  6. kelvin says

    Yes Chris, they really are put off. Last Sunday I sat next to people in church who could not find their way around the four things that were put into their hands as they entered the church. (Hymn book, Liturgy Bookie, Music Sheet and Homework Sheet). Good people that they are, they kept their views mostly to themselves, smiled and nodded like professional Christians and did not bring it up on their blogs.

    Don’t misunderstand me, the service was excellent, the preacher/celebrant was spot on and the people were very friendly indeed. I’d go back anytime because I enjoyed it so much, and my friends would readily go back too.

    However, even with all that, one of the comments afterwards was, “Sorry Kelvin, I could just never go to one of your churches regularly, it is too hard to find your way around the service books”.

    Bad typography in liturgical churches costs them members.

  7. I agree Kelvin.

    But those of us with no money and no photocopier have to cope as best we can.

    The rule is: major festivals, special services, weddings, funerals & (God willing) baptisms get booklets. Other weeks, good luck to you.

    I wish it were otherwise.

  8. kelvin says

    This is not just an issue for local congregations. It is an issue for us as a national church. For example, I don’t understand why the 1970 liturgy is still printed as though it was put together on a typewriter.

    The other thing is that we have a culture of investing in strange things. People will raise all kinds of money for stained glass but not in machinery to support weekly worship.

  9. kelvin says

    The question really is whether or not my thesis is true.

    To be precise, what I’m saying is that if people cannot find their way around our worship, then they don’t come back. Bad typography is a significant contributing factor. It is not the only thing, but it is up there with the quality of music, if you ask me.

    Anyway, if it is true that good quality worship materials will keep people coming, how many regular giving members would a small church need to attract in order to pay for lovely bits of paper? Not that many. The bigger cost that has to be factored in is the cost of the time taken in preparing them.

    Let me also ask, as an open question whether these things appeal more to people of different generations. I think that Generation X (which is what I belong to) probably cares much more about this than some other age/culture groups.

  10. Though we are in danger of this thread becoming ping-pong…

    It think the last comment is hugely relevant.

    I first learned that we didn’t have a photocopier after accepting the post. The priest who had been here, and several of the people I spoke to said, ‘why would we need a photocopier?’

    After a year of booklets (albeit occasionally) I think I’ve convinced a few people. But I suspect even then, it goes into the category of ‘something nice for a holiday’ rather than ‘essential aspect of hospitality’.

    The question of cost isn’t really ‘how many would it take to pay for pew sheets’, but ‘do we pay for this or for safety lighting? paper and ink, or wood to replace the dangerous church floor?’

    You are right, too, about the time. Producing the text would be manageable. Week after week of manual-two-sided printing on my laser printer would be exhausting.

    Can I ask — is there anyone out there who is in a linked charge with small and poor churches who is managing weekly booklets? How do you do it?

  11. And (to leap in to the ping-pong game) I think the priest really does have more pressing things that only s/he can do – so the question of setting up an office situation arises, with someone skilled in the black arts of typography and DTP, as well as all the horrors that a photocopier can throw at one, who is prepared to see that as their ministry (and is not made to feel bad if they don’t bake cakes!)

  12. Yes, though we Gen-Xers would probably say that the final say over style and content needs to rest with the rector as the person who oversees the mission strategy of the church.

    (happy for people to print, fold, and staple though! And even to delegate drafts if someone has the relevant skills and technology)

    For all that booklets take a huge amount of time, the process of creating the booklet overlaps with planning the liturgy — indeed, it is often how I plan, how I anticipate the flow of things and make sure hymns, prayers, words, silence etc are balanced.

  13. You’ve gone and stirred a train of thought, dammit. I shall perhaps consider it further chez moi.

  14. kelvin says

    Just as a matter of interest, what are the things that priests should find more important than preparing for worship? What are the things that only they can do?

  15. Whether we/you like it or not, there is a sizeable number of people who want the priest to bring them the sacrament, to name but one. This, I imagine, takes a lot of time for a priest – especially one with more than one charge and a large area to cover. That’s the thing that comes into my head right now.

    I know what you’re getting at, but knowing how much time layout can take if you’re a fussy soul I think that personally I’d have given up thinking about worship and be thinking about widows and orphans, typographically speaking. But I’m not a priest and don’t really know how your day pans out, so could be talking nonsense. 🙁

  16. Sorry – back again. Your version of Morning Prayer is lovely and yes, the book drives me nuts ‘cos I don’t use it often enough to feel at home in it. But how long did that take you? Is this the end of the book as we know it, Jim?

  17. kelvin says

    Well, it took about three and a half hours, but most of that was designing the styles and having a hissy fit. Formatting text when you have the styles done is fairly easy and quite quick.

    You do a basic template, then for each day, just change the psalm, the benedictus antiphons and the collect and Bob’s your auntie, as they say.

    Perhaps I should do another week and time myself.

  18. kelvin says

    It might be argued within the mainstream Christian tradition, that taking the sacrament to the sick is a task more suitable for delegation to someone else than the planning and preparation of worship for the wider community.

    Anyway, taking communion to the sick is changing. These days the sick are more likely to be out shopping than gagging for the sacrament at home.

    I once took communion to someone who was supposed to be shut-in at home only to find that no-one would answer the door. On checking with a carer or social worker or someone that she was OK, I learned that she had gone swimming.

  19. I think Chris is referring to the 16 or so home communicants spread out over Cowal who I simply cannot manage to visit every month (none of whom would be out swimming). Which is why I’m in the process of selecting and training lay people to help. But these things take time.

    One of the perpetual challenges is choosing between serving the needs of the existing community and trying to build a future.

    We have moved a long way from fonts — but it is still a question of styles and priorities.

  20. Mike G says

    Well, as a regular GadgetVicar reader and self-confessed technophile (AND a Presbyterian – how bad a confession is this?!?), I have to say scrap the booklets and get a digital projector. Spend some real money to get a sympathetic installation of a screen or screens that can be tidied away. Stop people having to find their way round pieces of paper or books, and put each bit up when you need it.
    However, if you’re not going down that road, keep printing the sheets! Occasionally one of our Presbyterian sheep wander. I’d much rather they found a new home with you guys than no home at all (it’s no loss what a friend gains). But they will be completely lost with multitudes of books and flicking back and forwards for collects of the day etc. Explain the kneeling to them as well!!


  21. Entirely agree with Kelvin I am afraid
    The problem is very widespread and to do with clerical staff not realising that computers are not typewriters – this is not anyone’s fault but those that employ them not training them correctly. In the NHS this is standard – how many forms have i seen done laid out with space bars. Indeed the new UK Gold Guide to tell us how to train junior doctors is laid out entirely with tabs so if you pluck text to put on a slide you are showered with unwanted gaps. And the people that produced it are funded in the millions.
    However in terms of the SEC surely we should be ensuring that clear and attractive and editable format is available for the core liturgical texts. Diversity awareness demands that we cater for those less able to read English due to poor sight or language including large print (or in for one person in St Ms giant print).
    Kelvin’s editing session wasnt needed: it should have been done properly in the first place and probably would have taken less time overall.
    For the less-well ‘churched’ and less literate multiple books are a real turnoff; the only loss is not being able to browse and marvel at the westminster confessions or the hymns we never dare sing if the sermon is dull which of course never happens at St M’s.
    As for the aside about Mac’s = anyone using a Mac would be using styles, wouldnt they??

  22. Kennedy says

    I see that Imagine on BBC1 tonight (6Nov) has a film about the typeface Helvetica.




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