Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Ok, first question:

Would you be happy to have this Gospel book sitting on the altar from your church, and have the Gospel proclaimed from it, week by week?

I'm betting most of my readers would like it fine.

Second question:

What if I told you this"book" was a laptop, with a very nice removable decorative plastic cover of an old cover of the book of Kells?

I'm betting we might, at this point, have a lively discussion.

I'm going to hold out on my third question for a minute.

Let me tell you about an interesting discussion that happened on one of my Facebook friends' pages. I am going to respect privacy here and not name names. She posted on her status today, "(Facebook friend) is honored (name of church) will debut today a laptop gospel book. On the altar. Carried in gospel procession. God bless Deacon (XYZ)!"

And then the sparks flew.

Some people thought it was cool. Some were puzzled. The deacon in question posted and said that the bishop of (some state) thought it was a good idea. Some were flat-out offended. Some whipped out the Canons and the BCP to side on the notion that it was not um, "kosher", and that the bishop of (some state) had no authority to change this, that this was a matter for General Convention...

Page 406 of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Additional Direction (for the celebration of the Eucharist, "It is desirable that the Lessons and Gospel be read from a book or books of appropriate size and dignity."
Canon III, Sec. 5. a) (1) Rectors and Priests-in-Charge and Their Duties. The Rector or Priest-in-Charge shall have full authority and responsibility for the conduct of the worship and the spiritual jurisdiction of the Parish, subject to the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the Constitution and Canons of this Church, and the pastoral direction of the Bishop."

It got downright mean and hot.

I'll tell you what I was thinking, while I was reading this. I realized THIS is what keeps the unchurched away from the doors of the Episcopal Church. Not the female primate, not a gay bishop, not the whole "gay thing", not any of this hot button stuff. It is that we are arguing about laptops vs. books and whether little kids should get blessed wafers. Now, I'll be the first to tell you I hate PowerPoint. I work with it all week long. I would cringe if we had PowerPoint in church. But if everyone else wanted it, I would learn to live with it and I would deal with it somehow.

As for the "Gospel laptop," well, I was far less worried. I could think of a few reasons why this might be desireable, and as it turned out, I was right with my guess. So now for the third and final question...

If I told you that the deacon who used this laptop had been
legally blind since birth, and cannot read the text in the Gospel book without holding it very very close her face, and CAN read it on the laptop as a 500% Word document, now what would you say? If I told you it was, in her opinion, the best way in that she could clearly proclaim the Gospel without struggling or distracting her parishioners, now how do you feel about it?

Hmmm...are some of y'all feeling a little sheepish now? I hope you are.

(I did have one big eye roller. One of the most incensed in this discussion continued EVEN AFTER the deacon in question dropped the spoiler, continued to hold his ground, even to the point of telling this person HOW SHE COULD DO IT with a book. I was thinking, "Yeah, you go look through her eyes and get back to me, okay?" Oy vey.)

Now for my .02 worth...

You know what? It's the WORDS of the Gospel I come to hear every Sunday morning. I don't come to admire the cover of the damn book. We start getting all weird about the book, that's biblio-idolatry in my opinion. Yes, the BCP says it's "desireable" to use a "dignified book". I agree. It is desirable. It's reverent. But when we did our Liturgy at the Lake last fall, it was read off a piece of paper. We didn't want to expose our nice Gospel book to the elements and possibly icky weather.

If that laptop helps this deacon proclaim the words of Jesus in a full, clear, joyful way, I'm all for it. I don't care if the Gospel is read off scrawlings off the back of her hand, or a printed roll of Charmin, if it makes her all the minister God wants her to be and people hear the Word, it's good by me.

Would I hear the Gospel if someone had to read it from Braille? Sure.

Would I hear the Gospel if the priest or deacon had throat cancer, and lost his/her larynx, and had to use one of those mechanical talking boxes held to the throat or built into the throat? You bet.

Would I hear the Gospel if the priest or deacon had to sign it and some lay person had to read it? Uh huh, no problem.

Then another thought creeped in, reading the naysayers, reading the implied anger and expectations that things be a certain way...

I came to MY church today in jeans, Henley, and denim shirt. Would these people speak to me at THEIR church? Would they hobnob with me at coffee hour? Or would I have been dismissed as too undignified? That I was not respecting the traditions of the church? Would they include ME? How would they feel the day I wore my Big Dogs Hawaiian shorts and the flip flops?

I started feeling very, very EXcluded.

I think the moral of this story is perhaps we ought to remember the BCP and the canons were written before a lot of modern things we take for granted. Just as the Old Testament and the New Testament were written before a LOT of things in our world came to be. Hmmm....


In a blog filled with brilliant posts, this is one of your best.

I am so with you, 100%.

And I so love that Macbook. I just saw the photo on FB!

My first reaction to it being a computer was "Cool!"

What is WRONG with people?!?!?!?

And you can wear whatever you like to church, AFAIC, Kirk. I would just be glad to see you there.


Great stuff here-- thanks -- we should use it for an EfM discussion starter. Wow.

At some point in history, the Bible in a book was a new technology.


I followed this on FB, but didn't comment because I couldn't without getting too worked up.
Talk about a tension between the spirit and the word of the law (canon).

Amen, Baby! Absolutely the WORDS.

My friend used to be a curate at a church that projected the words of the BCP onto a screen. Oh boy, did they catch sh*t for that.

God help us.

Thanks for this Kirk. I followed the discussion on Facebook yesterday throughout the day and just couldn't believe that anyone could be so upset by the use of this laptop by a blind deacon. I was thinking that anywhere outside the church, it would have been taken for granted that OF COURSE a legally blind person would use a laptop to read from. In fact, in most workplaces, it would be a given that the employer would supply one for a legally blind employee.

Bravo to the Deacon for being so gracious even to the one commenter who kept up the negativity even after she (deacon)revealed the reason for the laptop use. I care not what vessel encloses the Scripture; it is the Scripture itself that is holy. I would be honored and privileged to hear this deacon proclaim the Gospel.

I appreciate the anonymity offered by this blogger, but I'm happy to say who I am. My name is Stephanie Shockley and I'm a member of the M. Div. class of 2009 at the General Theological Seminary and a very recently ordained transitional deacon.

The use of the laptop began in preaching class my middler year. The pulpit at GTS has very little room for notes, and a 10-15 minute manuscript in a font I could read while still attempting to have some sort of eye contact with my listeners used dozens of pages of paper. It was frustrating and difficult to preach like that. I always had this nightmarish vision of losing my grip on the stack of paper and having the pages scatter over the people in the pews below! My stress and frustration with the paper option showed in my preaching. My preaching professor and I decided to try my laptop, and it worked. Since it's small (a 13 inch Macbook) it fit on the small shelf on the pulpit. I was able to scroll as I talked and I even had a hand free. The first time I used the laptop in preaching lab my classmates noticed a significant difference in my comfort level and effectiveness as a preacher. Since then I have used my laptop for all manuscript-based sermons, including my senior sermon at GTS and the Easter Vigil sermon at my field parish.

It might be interesting to note that I do indeed, as far as I can tell, proclaim the Gospel with clarity and conviction. I am one of four students that will be lectors during the various commencement events at GTS later this week precisely because of my skill reading Scripture in public.

So back to the Macbook as Gospel book. I was rather astonished at the, er, strength of the opinions expressed on the facebook page. The decision to use the laptop was made with thought and care, and represents the approach my supervising clergy and I feel works best given my limitations and our context. My thinking in using the laptop was to use something that I knew would work well and unobtrusively. I knew it would allow me to proclaim the Gospel without struggling or distracting my parishioners. It worked incredibly well, and the torchbearers in the Gospel procession even told me they were delighted to be able to read along. Frankly, as a brand new deacon I was more stressed about remembering to turn my wireless mike on and off at the right times and remembering all the details of setting the altar for the Eucharist!

The use of the laptop as a Gospel book does point to larger questions about the symbols we use in liturgy, what it means to proclaim the Word of God, and how technology should or should not change our Church. The strong negative responses on the facebook page, including one by a clergy member who actually questioned whether I understand my ordination vows raise an entirely different set of questions. When we claim to offer welcome to all people, do we really mean it? How do we demonstrate that in the lived realities of our parishes? Why do we struggle so much with access for those with disabilities, whether it's helping people get into our church buildings in the first place, or accepting that there is a place at the altar for priests and deacons with disabilities? I wonder what all of the ruckus says about our understanding of the Incarnation, and whether we have some trouble believing the Christ died to redeem each and every one of us - regardless of our physical limitations, our flaws, our sinfulness, or our differences.

On a lighter note, I wonder what sort of controversy might ensue online in 6-9 months when God willing and the people consenting I'm ordained to the priesthood - and the laptop as Gospel book gets changed to the laptop as altar book with tasteful cross cover, set so a deacon or acolyte can scroll for me so I can raise my hands in the orans position? I guess we'll all have to stay tuned to find out!

Well said, indeed! And hooray for Stephanie!

Thanks for all the comments on this. Also, thanks, Stephanie for stopping by and "decloaking". God bless you as you work towards ordination...and congratulations for weathering your first firestorm! I will most certainly "stay tuned!"

"The strong negative responses on the facebook page, including one by a clergy member who actually questioned whether I understand my ordination vows raise an entirely different set of questions."

Yes, it does. It raises questions about whether people actually pay attention to the baptismal vows they repeat several times a year.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?I am shocked--stunned might actually be a better word--that "Christians" who make those vows could say something like that to you. I still cannot understand what their problem with the laptop is---but I understand they have a deep spiritual problem that requires some humility and a lot of prayer.

And their hostile reaction makes me wonder what my own un-Christian responses are in similar situations? For instance, I have an instinctual distaste for "liturgical dance." I do not consider it to fall under the rubric of "decently and in good order" when it comes to worship. I find it downright embarrassing, to be honest.

But what if other people find it spiritually uplifting? Can I put aside my tendency to sneer at it so that other people in my community of faith can find a way to connect to God?

Stephanie, thanks for your comments and for pushing me to consider my own prejudices. Congratulations on your graduation and best wishes for the future!


I like the detective-style of writing. Along the way of reading the evidence, I anticipated an internal trigger. When no trigger emerged to alarm what little sense I had acquired, I came to your conclusion. Then, I wondered, would I have reached the same end if the deacon or presbyter were Orthodox the Church to which I belong? Blind? No problem. Woman? No trigger for me.

I prefer the iPod touch /iPhone as a liturgy book. It offers a decent, legible font, scrolls easily and takes up very little room. And does away with the need for extra lighting. With Wifi, almost every liturgical book needed is right at my fingertips. Most are downloadable and able to be ported into the device. It does away with the need for paper and that most disruptive of noise: turning pages!

If Apple would make a tablet computer, I'd be right there with a decently sized Altar book. Or what's to prevent the use of the Amazon Kindle?

As a deacon, charged to deliver the Good News to the people of God, I say "All the better to see you with, my dear..." If I can read the words without straining my eyes, I can inject more feeling, immediacy, context to the words. I, too, say AMEN to this one!!!!



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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