Improving prayerbook typography

So, last time I said I was putting off a post about improving prayerbook typography to focus on the times. Then I started writing it and began to grow into a sermon. No thanks.

Here’s the deal. I nicely arranged the 1894 Universalist prayerbook with proper small caps and the rest for my own use last year. Then I shared a copy with a minister who I thought could use it, and now I’m sharing it with you.

  1. To learn more,  fead PracticalTypography.com “Typography in Ten Minutes” by Matthew Butterick. If you find that useful, keep reading and seriously consider buying the book. (It’s on the honor system, but it sends a message that the work has value and that others can be created by the same model and without advertising.)
  2. Download LibreOffice.org, the leading free and open-source office suite. In its last big update, it started supporting advanced OpenType features. This means using the real small caps and old-style numerals often embedded in typefaces.
  3. I use the Linux Libertine font in the prayerbook, and many of my projects. I think it’s included with LibreOffice.org, but if not get it here.
  4. Download the prayerbook file here. (ODT file, 9.5 Mb) Even if you’re not interested in the contents, you can see how I styled it. I’m not a designer, but I think this works pretty well. You should be able to open it in Microsoft Word. (Let me know in the comments.)
  5. Or a PDF of just the Morning Prayer section (80 kb) to use or to see the concept. Print double-sided on U.S. letter paper and fold.

That’ll do for now. Again, the  comments are open.

New Effective Altruism guide to download

I mentioned the concept of Effective Altruism in the last post. I think it’s a helpful framework for making life decisions about charitable work and giving. Maybe because I’m an American, I tend to see it as useful through the lens of pragmatism, to be held gently and carefully like one would hold a baby bird. Some actions aren’t worth funding, not only for their inefficiency, but because the outcomes are untested or the same outcome would have happened anyway.

But I won’t try to explain it, or even suggest the 2015 book Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference by William MacAskill (which I just finished) when you can get the same concepts free of charge in a PDF or e-reader formats from the Effective Altruism site.  This is a new, second edition and while I’ve not finished it, it looks like it would take you from initial concepts to intermediate action.

It may be unrelated, but I also find Effective Altruism sites to be well-designed and easy to use, for those who care about that kind of thing. Animal Charity Evaluators, for instance. And note how they report on their past mistakes. That’s worth emulating alone.

Making the most with what you have

This brief blog post exists to frame the one that will follow in a day or two. It will be a tutorial to use newly-released features in some free software to make print items — I’m thinking orders of service and newsletters — more attractive and professional-looking.

I’ll do this because there’s so little cost (time or materials) difference between something that looks ratty and something we can be proud of, and this tool can make one step closer to pride.

But ratty too often wins. I can’t do anything about over-long announcements or pointless minister’s columns written out of necessity on deadline. Or grammatical errors that appear seemingly out of nowhere. (Actually, I could have, because I have done all of these.) But when a task needs to be done, sometimes the only good thing you can say about it is that “it’s done now.”

As churches have to make do with less money, fewer people and less cachet in the community, this tension between “must do” and “it’s not great” will become more pronounced and painful. Surely, some customs may vanish, perhaps the print newsletter. Others may be helped by outsourcing and automation. (Churches are not immune to this, and volunteer time has value.) And some will be improved by better tools and training to use them.

But the goal is not so much the better appearance, say, for print pieces; but greater pride for those who produce and read them.

“Ancient History of Universalism” is ready

Later: I’ve already made one fix to a note, and created a pretty hacky PDF of the book — ignore the title page and how the chapters are numbered at the top — by request. Again, better asthetics later.

Download the PDF at http://universalistchristian.org/books/ancient-history/ancient-history.pdf.

I’ve also created an ePub — to download at http://universalistchristian.org/books/ancient-history/ancient-history.epub — and I’d appreciate feedback on its readability.


Two days ago, I mentioned how I was processing the Ancient History of Universalism for the web. I’ve gotten to a good stopping place and would like to share the work with you.

It’s on the site I use for my Universalist Christian Initiative, at http://universalistchristian.org/books/ancient-history/.

A fascinating read, but a slow start so you may want to jump into the middle. Chapter nine is a story of intrigue with a vivid mental picture of what is now the West Bank. I imagine it would have been thrilling to those who would have had no other way to “see” it.

And be sure to dig into the footnotes, which in several places show the progress of scholarship in the generations after Hosea Ballou, II, particularly this note on whether Theodoret was a Universalist and whether Universalism was condemned at the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Other notes, apologies from Ballou, for works he could not afford to buy or borrow to consult leave a twinge, particularly since they can be looked up online in scanned reproduction today.

Like this … A Latin and Greek text condemning Origenism. (extract)

As you may note, it’s a very basic design; the whole book with notes and index (no internal links, I’m afraid) is a mere 162 kb. My goal is to make bulky resources like these easy to download on the fly, with aesthetic improvements later. If you see typos — I couldn’t have gotten them all — send me a note and I’ll make periodic fixes.

Some process notes. I got the messy text from https://archive.org/details/ancienthistoryof1872ball, I edited the text with the Atom editor, in Markdown, and processed it with pandoc. (If you’re comfortable with the command line.)

pandoc -s -S --toc -c basic.css inputtext.md -o output.html

I was inspired by a set of very vulgarly-named and written websites promoting simple web design, the names of which are outside the standards of this blog. Search for the most vulgar words you know, plus “website” and you’ll surely find one, but there’s a competition of imitators. I also consulted Practical Typography’s section on websites for confirmation.

I’ve worked up the outline of a style guide for this book, which I learned years ago helps maintain consistancy and easy for modern readers. I really should type that up.

New WordPress theme might be good for churches

There’s been a flood of new Bootstrap-y sites for churches made over the last couple of years, and I’m sure that’s the kind of thing that some other churches would want and cannot afford.

I’m looking at the new default business-minded WordPress theme — Twenty Seventeen — and it pushes some of the same buttons that those other sites push. Cutting edge design? Hardly? But it might what a church needs to refresh its look, and it has features that should make it easy to manage by non-pros.

For a week or so, I’ll have the default Twenty Seventeen theme up. (I’m not selling plants now.)

A “what I’d like” for order of service design

It’s not the most important thing in the world, but churches could do a better job with printed orders of service, which is keenly felt on Christmas Eve, when churches often get their largest congregations all year.

I’ve written about this over the years, and I’m far from convinced that that the two- or three-column theatrical program style is the best option, even when every last blessed word is printed out. (Such is the irony in too many Episcopal parishes, with an ignored prayerbook in the pew, and a veritable book published for each service.)  And there’s unlikely to be one solution that works everywhere. And, as before, it’s not the most pressing problem…

But, in any case, I’m always glad to see others join in.  Like David Schwartz, senior co-minister at First Unitarian, Chicago, a church with a long history of liturgical standard-raising, who presents the beginnings of order of service style guide. Good on him!

Read it on his own Tumblr blog. (Memory and Hope)

Thinking about church style

This is a first thought, because it will make my next blog post — about communion ware — make more sense.

When we think about what it means to be “churchy” we’re often — but not exclusively — talking about tastes and norms set by “the Ecclesiologists,” meaning that medieval-focused, Romantic movement that overwhelmed the Church of England in the nineteenth century. For them, there was one correct style appropriate for Christian churches — in a word, Gothic — whether that meant fully expressed in stonework, or vernacularized into the carpenter style. Think of pointed stained-glass windows. Why did this style cross the Atlantic and denominational lines? The prevailing taste, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and the perhaps nothing so pedestrian as who the church architects and suppiers were. (This isn’t an original thought, and I’ve seen it in a few places, most recently in chapter two, “Capital Ideas: Building American Churches, 1750-1860.” of James Hudnut-Beumler’s In the Pursuit of the Almighty’s Dollar.)

There are noteworthy examples of Gothic Unitarian and Universalist church buildings, but so as not to lose the point: the creation of a common vocabularly of taste that’s hard to buck, save with variations, like the engrossed domestic style the Universalists seemed to favor, or the (later favored) colonial revival the Unitarians of Boston imposed on the Western churches who wanted financial support. And the less said about the post-war community centers hiding in their own private parksor forests — the  newer UU norm — the better.

This clip, from a 1922 issue of the Universalist Leader, shows that advertizers thought we might buy stained glass.
This clip, from a 1922 issue of the Universalist Leader, shows that advertizers thought we might buy stained glass.

Of course, those days may be declining: not a particular style or fashion, but the ability of churches to chose the shape of their buildings at all. I can all to easily imagine borrowed, rented or shared spaces being a part of the survival strategies of Unitarian Universalist (and other) churches in the all-too-soon future. Consider how many newer congregations meet in office parks or retail space.

Is short, design will have to be expressed in ways other than the building, and without the influence of an eccumenical community of tastemakers. It will be interesting what we come up with, and if we appeal to older and more humble models.

Fun midcentury Universalist Church logo

Still not quite ready to resume blogging, so combing through my “I should post this” pile.

This is the Universalist denominational logo, undated here, but probably from the 1950s. Not used for many years, but I’ve seen it on signs, pamphlets and here on letterhead — always this shade of blue, too.

universalist-church-midcentury-logo_rotated

Black Metal Universalism

My attention was drawn yesterday to a site called Black Metal Universalism, the only obvious purpose of which is the sale of t-shirts emblazoned with “All Souls” in a design that is a bit too daring for this 45-year-old to wear non-ironically.

So is it “our Universalism” or not? There are certainly independent Universalists, but most (any?) aren’t so culturally edgy and the success of the Universalist Christian t-shirts at the UU Christian Fellowship table at General Assembly suggests this comes from within “the family”.

I looked up the domain registration. The site was registered the day before yesterday, but no name! Naughty, naughty.

But all is forgiven. I approve of this kind of material culture; it helps reinforce a sense of belonging without depending on real estate….