In the beginning was the Word

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Alison Baverstock reports on how the Church of England is managing the production of its new liturgy</p><p>
It may not receive quite the phenomenal press coverage bestowed upon young Harry Potter, but one of this year's biggest publishing projects will be launched by the Church of England in November, with the publication of its new liturgy,</p><p>
Common Worship. The scale of this enterprise is enormous: around one million people go to Church of England services every Sunday, and many more attend at Christmas and Easter.</p><p>
Background to change</p><p>

The Church's intention to change its liturgy - the words that make up the services - was announced back in 1980, the year the Alternative Service Book (ASB) was launched. The ASB was always seen as a temporary measure. It was originally given a 10-year life expectancy, although its licence was subsequently extended for a further 10 years in 1990. Work has been progressing on the new liturgy since 1994, and key stages have been approved by the General Synod. At the end of this year the authorisation period for the ASB will cease, and parishes will have to choose between using the new services and the traditional Book of Common Prayer (in use since 1662), which remains permanently licensed by the Synod.</p><p>
Why do we need a new liturgy?</p><p>
Language is not a static thing, nor is the way services are organised. The past 20 years have seen significant changes in thinking and new material written. Some of the ASB services, such as the funeral service, are seldom used without substantial changes. The language in the ASB has come to seem flat and unpoetic to many, and there was a definite need to make the wording more up to date and inclusive.</p><p>
Who has dealt with what</p><p>
The words have been produced by the Liturgical Commission and heavily revised by the House of Bishops and the General Synod, not only in large-scale debates, but also through specially appointed revision committees. The Church decided that rather than asking those handling the text to look after the process of publishing as well, or leaving it to be dealt with by a huge committee like the Synod, it would appoint a special body. The Liturgical Publishing Group was set up to handle all aspects of the publishing of the book, and I have been the lay member of that group for the past five years.</p><p>
Decision on who should publish</p><p>
One of the group's first decisions was who should publish the book. The ASB was handled by a consortium of publishers, and that was again an option here, as was the appointment of a single external publisher. In the end, we opted for an inhouse solution, after handling a series of interim publications in this way. Church House Publishing is the official publisher to the Synod, and we felt that its experience was hugely relevant. By using CHP we also kept the price of the new materials as low as possible, so as to make it affordable for all churches. An added benefit is that any resulting profit will return to the Church rather than go to the shareholders of a commercial company.</p><p>
For two years the committee met to consider the publication of a project with no name. Eventually we each produced suggestions, pooled them and mulled over the ideas. The title chosen, Common Worship, had both a pleasing ring to it and emphasised the universality of worship. This is a project to unite the Church; to bring together lovers of both the old and the new services and to get them all to sing from the same service sheet.</p><p>
A massive consultation exercise</p><p>
The clergy has had information on the process inserted in pay advice slips for the past three years. The new materials have been tested in more than 800 parishes, and detailed feedback has been obtained from many interested parties. Questions of format and quality have been particularly important - with issues such as what kind of book sits best in the hand, what typeface is easiest to read (the light is often dim and the eyesight of older members of the congregation may be poor), and what kind of paper is most suitable for damp churches. A questionnaire was sent to all clergy to establish what sort of materials were needed and in what quantities. A 200-page sample booklet of the new services, using the final design and paper, was sent out just before Easter (a print run of more than 30,000 copies), along with suggestions on how to manage the process of change at a local level. Copies of a short leaflet explaining the change to parishioners are also available to all churches, so far 200,000 have been requested.</p><p>
What happens to the old books?</p><p>
Publishers of a new edition of a title do not usually have to consider the fate of the old one, but given their use in religious services, the Church has a responsibility to handle the stock of ASBs with delicacy. It is particularly difficult when parishes have copies of ASBs given in someone's memory. Some copies will need to be kept for archival purposes, and an information pack to clergy includes suggested prayers to honour those in whose name ASBs were bought. A solution adopted by one parish was to offer the newly bereaved the option of having their loved ones buried with a copy of the book that they had used in church. Others have made a book of remembrance from the presentation plates or used them to make a framed wall memorial.</p><p>
The process of change</p><p>
From my point of view, as a publisher, this has been a very interesting project. I have seen publishing industry jargon in a new light. We had an amusing discussion when the idea of a "dumpbin" to hold the new stock in bookshops was mooted. Was this where parishes would put their old ASBs? I have also seen a variety of articulate letters from publishers explaining industry "standard practice", which curiously always seemed to be to their benefit rather than the Church's.</p><p>
I have, too, witnessed, from the Bishop of Guildford, chairman of the Liturgical Publishing Group, the best technique I have seen yet for opening a meeting. He would always begin with a prayer, which had the benefits of clearing the minds of all those present, focusing us on the job in hand - and of ensuring that everyone arrived on time. Saying Grace at the end of the meeting sent us out with a feeling of well-being and unity, even if debate during the meeting had been less than harmonious.</p><p>
A thing of loveliness</p><p>
Overall, I have been hugely impressed by the Church's determination to get it right. Committees are not widely acknowledged to be a successful path to producing beauty, yet one objective, stated early in our deliberations by the Bishop of Salisbury, chairman of the Liturgical Commission, was to produce a book of which we could be proud.</p><p>
We decided early on to appoint an external designer to work with Church House Publishing. We formed a design sub-group, headed by Professor Christopher Frayling, rector of the Royal College of Art, to interview would-be designers. The amount of detailed thought that went into the process was impressive. There were practical considerations (can you hold the book and a baby in christening robes at the same time?), atmospheric ones (a general rustle as everyone turns the page in the middle of a significant prayer can destroy the mood), and aesthetic ones (what should the person holding the book feel from looking at it?).</p><p>
The winning candidate, Derek Birdsall of Omnific, produced a design of quiet loveliness. His uncluttered layout is wonderfully simple. There are no section numbers, and the headings are ranged right rather than left so as not to interrupt the flow of the service. Occasional full pages of a bright red divide up the sections and lift the heart ("for joy", as Derek says). We stuck to our guns and insisted on a black cover, countering criticism that it was funereal, with the firm belief that it was both timeless and stylish. The end-papers will be printed in a deep purple that provides a striking contrast with the black. The inspiration for this was a paper napkin Derek Birdsall had used in a Turkish restaurant the night before our meeting. We all agreed it was the perfect shade, and Cambridge University Press, which is printing the books, was sent the napkin to match.</p><p>
Everyone loved it. The design was launched at an official reception at the House of Lords in April, and the response from the press was a resounding thumbs up, with feedback from the parishes equally positive.</p><p>
Let's hope that the media do not get tired of a good news story about the Church before November, when, it is hoped, the very first copy will be presented to the Queen.</p><p>
Alison Baverstock is a marketing consultant and author of HOW TO MARKET BOOKS ( Kogan Page 3rd edition).</p><p>
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