Liturgical Language and Technology: One Priest’s Experience of PowerPoint Projections for Worship

Click here for Liturgical Language and Technology: One Priest’s Experience of PowerPoint Projections for Worship by J. Barrington Bates.


  1. Powerpoint Presentations as Liturgy

    During the last decade of my work in the public mental health system I regularly reviewed (e.g. every other week) tons of client data with the clinical managers of our system using Powerpoint.

    These meetings usually lasted for two hours. The first 90 minutes consisted of the Powerpoint projections at the rate of about one a minute. The participants received copies of the slides with space for their own notes. Frequently the slides had a brief comment or question from me, but not much verbiage.

    There was much about these presentations that made for good liturgy.

    I kept the pace going, never lingering too long on a slide. Everyone understood it was how all the slides fit together the big picture that really mattered; and that the name of the game was for them to figure that out for themselves (active participation). My role was to organize things well so that they could think it through rather than trying to convince them of my answers. Keep the focus on the slides and the data not on me or them. Let the data convince them. (My version of Ignatius instruction to the retreat master not to get in the way between the retreatant and their experience.)

    There was a great deal of repetition in the slides, highly similar tables and graphs showing first one variable then another. I would keep things simple, e.g. a series of tables then a series of graphs. There were indicators of significance, but it was usually easy to tell why from the series of tables and graphs which ones were significant. Typically I would choose a measure of significance like a correlation and keep to that measure for an afternoon’s presentation. It was easy to remind people at the beginning what the measure meant and illustrate it time and again in my talk.

    There was time with each slide for comments and questions but we didn’t get tied up with them. They knew at the end, or perhaps at several strategic breaks we would take time for discussion. Again establishing a pace, a changing rhythm and expectations for their participation were all important.

    But the biggest thing was keeping it simple. I did not use fancy slides, much color, decorations, etc. anything that would distract from the noble simplicity of my presentations and the primacy of the data. (I think of tables and graphs as two dimensional icons of the reality beyond them) Of course getting people out on time (usually held from 2:30 to 4:30 pm) with the feeling they had an enjoyable experience and something to think about were also important.

    Perhaps others have had experiences in using Powerpoint in a ritual like manner that might be useful for anyone considering it in an actual liturgy.

  2. I have experienced power point usage in both catholic and protestant(evangelical) services which I must admit did not take away from the “sacred” but enhanced it.
    In the evangelical churches, they primary use it to display music texts and/or project the “praise team'(musicians) during the “worship” part of the service. In this respect, i did not like seeing musicians as the focal point (vs a cross, a priest/minister, etc) although many of the assembly had their eyes closed or hands raised up in praise.
    On the Catholic side, i have seen screens used for music texts, Mass texts, still pictures or used prior to mass for announcements, upcoming events (a video parish bulletin).
    In the 21c, we have become a “visual” people whether we accept it or not. The use of images in the Church has been debated from the beginning, be it stained glass, statues, icons, etc.
    As a liturgist, i can see the use of multi-media as a powerful part of a catholic liturgy. Of course one must consider the design of the church/sanctuary to see how screens or the wall itself can be utilized so that the entire congregation can see the images without it distracting from the focal points of the liturgy (presider, ambo, altar and cross)…oh, and above all, GOD Himself! I must confess that in a traditional cruciform design church, this may be impossible to achieve.
    If I were preaching, I would definitly use it not only for texts but for displaying maps to give folks an idea of the places that are mentioned in the lessons of the day so they can get a sense of where these things are happening.
    A parish would need to develop a good “Visual Arts” ministry with computer, research and art skills not only to operate the system during liturgies but set up and maintain it as well.
    Anyone renovating or designing a new church should consider the visual arts as part of the over all plan.

  3. FWIW, I have to say I would simply leave a parish that implemented PowerPoint in worship. Without looking back one moment. (I am very familiar with PowerPoint; I don’t think the effort of baptising it for use in liturgy is likely to produce sufficient dividends in the Catholic context.)

  4. I found this article to be an oddly dyspeptic taking-out-to-the-woodshed of the particular parish under discussion. What was its original context?

    FWIW, it sounds pretty awful. Still, the only real criticism that went beyond the personal failings of individuals was the point about the way in which it turns the assembly into passive theatergoers.

  5. Worshippers’ digital distraction may not be all bad

    NCR recently reprinted an interesting Mormon article on modern technology during worship. Powerpoint is a rather old, cumbersome, one size fits all, intrusive technology.

    Tyler Woolstenhulme might be loath to admit it, but sometimes he’s not paying attention in church.

    The 31-year-old Mormon has more than once sat in the pew of his congregation in Sandy, Utah, and let his mind wander. When that happens, he pulls out his iPhone and sometimes plays his puzzle game, “1to50.” Or maybe he texts his friends across the aisle.

    “I take the time in church to catch up with people I haven’t contacted in a while,” he said. “I text friends or family.”

    The thing is, he says, about half the congregation also is on phones and tablets during a sermon.

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official policy banning the use of mobile devices during services, according to spokeswoman Ruth Todd.

    In fact, LDS mobile apps containing Scriptures, lessons, conference sermons and more can heighten rather than hinder the worship experience.

    The devices also can be a godsend for parents wanting to occupy their fidgety children. But sometimes, many can be seen accessing Facebook, checking sports scores, catching up on the news or playing a quick game.

  6. I attend a church that uses pointpoint – too much. It can be helpful but it shifts the focal point away from the altar. I think we could learn from opera, where the text is one line that one glaces at, not a focal point in itself.

  7. I’ve attended Protestant services that take advantage of modern technology, and I’m always torn between throwing up and giggling hysterically. One of the churches literally had the old Mitch Miller “follow the bouncing ball” words to their hymns.

    The last thing I need on Sunday is bullet points for the sermon, cutesy graphics for entertainment, and words taller than the speaker proclaiming them. I get plenty of those all week long in the office.

    Perhaps most grievously, I find myself doing the same thing as when I’m at work – proofreading the slides, looking for inconsistencies, and devising counter-arguments. And fighting to keep my eyes open. And focusing on the screen more than the presenter.

    None of these are particularly conducive to the idea of reverence I seek during Mass.

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