Friday, 6 January 2017

Letter in the Church Times: Readability of the Common Worship Collects and Post Communions

Today I have a letter published in the Church Times (see below). That's because, in my other blog, I've been exploring questions of readability of Collects and Post Communions among many other topics related to accessibility.

An article (behind a paywall) by Geoff Bayliss on 23rd December in the Church Times focussed on readability of Common Worship texts. He has been working with readability tools, similar to the Gunning Fog index I use as a guide in my re-writes. In his article he says;
If the intention of the 2004 set of collects was to make such prayers more accessible, and to pitch them in the language of those outside the Church, we discover a journey yet uncompleted. A further set of col­­lects is required, aimed at those who have limited vocabulary and ex­­perience of the Church, or who have English as a second language. [...]
If we turn to more recently pro­duced liturgy, there are two euchar­istic prayers (Common Worship: Additional Eucharistic Prayers: With guidance on cele­brating the eucharist with children, CHP, 2012, available at [...] It becomes clear that we can be successful producers of liturgy that is more accessible. (Church Times 23/30 Dec 2016)

I have written a reply about this topic area that is published in today's Church Times (Friday 6th January 2017). Here is my text that was put under a Church Times heading of "Accessibility of the Language of Liturgical Worship" :

Dear Editor [converted to "Sirs—," in the CT]

I am pleased Geoff Bayliss’s article "Speaking the Language of the People" (23 / 30 December) has sparked much debate—on social media at least—about the readability of part of the liturgy. Common Worship’s 250 or so Collects and Post Communions have a peculiar place. That’s because, typically, they only get wheeled out once per annum or less.  Almost every Collect has an alternate and the Post Communions are only optional. They also seek to sum up the theology of the Church for a particular moment in time, in one sentence!

I believe readability can be only one factor in making these prayers more accessible. In the last four years I have written and published (online) 200 suggested inclusive adaptations of the existing Collects and Post Communions from Common Worship. I have found in any adaptation of existing prayers that there are some gains and some losses in the following areas: the beauty of the language; conveying the Church’s theology; introducing contemporary themes including care for creation, urban and other liberation theologies; and achieving more frequent gender neutrality in our prayer.

What stands as an even more fundamental challenge for making Collects accessible is in asking who these prayers are for: many of the existing stock of prayers are for those who see themselves to already be part of God’s church and kingdom. The diverse self-understandings of those who come to our church services—seekers, the un-churched and those of different beliefs—means all too often the ‘us’ in these prayers contributes to the “othering” of too many attending worship.

Revd Dr Jeremy Clines
The Anglican Chaplaincy, University of Sheffield

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