A Brief and Incomplete History of the Praise Screen

Calling this a history is inaccurate and false.  Actually I’m just trying to make a few points about historic worship in the church and perhaps tweak some of my more conservative friends.  So here we go.

The first praise screen was probably a prehistoric cave wall illuminated by torches or shafts of light.  Cave painting.  Yep.  Before the printing press people had limited ways of participating in corporate worship.

Memorization was a big part of worship throughout history.  It still is important as anyone who goes into an Alzheimer’s ward and begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer knows well.  But before the printing press and post cave painting there was a long time of corporate Christian worship that relied on the first worship praise screens.  You know, the screens the printing press put out of business.  Anyone who has worshiped with words written on a flip chart knows how this works.  That likely dates me as projectors are so cheap and flip charts increasingly expensive that most organizations try to go digital as soon as possible.

Before the printing press life was more organic in churches.  Choirs did not sit in neat little pews, let alone in choir stalls.  The choir would gather around a large hand written book seated upon a stand. As seen in the illustration to the left and above, each page would have 3 to 5  lines of plainsong.  The choir would sing guided by a choir master.

Then of course came the disruptive technology of the printing press.  Choirs suddenly had access to far more books to sing from, and they could sing from their own copy.  Public worship was forever changed.  Was it changed for the better?  This is a hard question to answer.

My simple point is that the Praise Screen is in fact an older concept than the hymnal.  Of course now it is digital and often used in ways that distract from worship by dipping into a Hollywood-esqe style of presentation.  But every technology can be used well or poorly.  The technology is not the problem so much as the implementation.

For the past 2.5 years of so St. James has used a praise screen as a portable church.  It worked really well.  It was cheaper then printing the worship service in bulletins and easier than carting in books every Sunday.  It worked great and people enjoyed having their hands free during worship.  Parents of young children especially appreciated this new freedom.  Now we are in a building with no obvious way of using screens.  It looks like we are going to go with books or service bulletins.  This is not a problem.  We will flex into it unless we find another solution that works.

One thought I had was to put stands like the ones in these illustrations among the pews with monitors on them!  This is not a serious consideration.  This is not a trial balloon either.  It is just a thought that brings the medieval praise screen to the present.

A Brief and Incomplete History of the Praise Screen

Calling this a history is inaccurate and false.  Actually I’m just trying to make a few points about historic worship in the church and perhaps tweak some of my more conservative friends.  So here we go.

The first praise screen was probably a prehistoric cave wall illuminated by torches or shafts of light.  Cave painting.  Yep.  Before the printing press people had limited ways of participating in corporate worship.

Memorization was a big part of worship throughout history.  It still is important as anyone who goes into an Alzheimer’s ward and begins reciting the Lord’s Prayer knows well.  But before the printing press and post cave painting there was a long time of corporate Christian worship that relied on the first worship praise screens.  You know, the screens the printing press put out of business.  Anyone who has worshiped with words written on a flip chart knows how this works.  That likely dates me as projectors are so cheap and flip charts increasingly expensive that most organizations try to go digital as soon as possible.

Before the printing press life was more organic in churches.  Choirs did not sit in neat little pews, let alone in choir stalls.  The choir would gather around a large hand written book seated upon a stand. As seen in the illustration to the left and above, each page would have 3 to 5  lines of plainsong.  The choir would sing guided by a choir master.

Then of course came the disruptive technology of the printing press.  Choirs suddenly had access to far more books to sing from, and they could sing from their own copy.  Public worship was forever changed.  Was it changed for the better?  This is a hard question to answer.

My simple point is that the Praise Screen is in fact an older concept than the hymnal.  Of course now it is digital and often used in ways that distract from worship by dipping into a Hollywood-esqe style of presentation.  But every technology can be used well or poorly.  The technology is not the problem so much as the implementation.

For the past 2.5 years of so St. James has used a praise screen as a portable church.  It worked really well.  It was cheaper then printing the worship service in bulletins and easier than carting in books every Sunday.  It worked great and people enjoyed having their hands free during worship.  Parents of young children especially appreciated this new freedom.  Now we are in a building with no obvious way of using screens.  It looks like we are going to go with books or service bulletins.  This is not a problem.  We will flex into it unless we find another solution that works.

One thought I had was to put stands like the ones in these illustrations among the pews with monitors on them!  This is not a serious consideration.  This is not a trial balloon either.  It is just a thought that brings the medieval praise screen to the present.

How God Gave St. James Two Buildings

In a technical legal sense, St. James bought two properties in Willow Glen.  Such a simple statement of fact fails to convey the amazing way the Holy Spirit has acted.

St. James Anglican Church was formed in 2009.  Our initial members left local Episcopal Churches.  We left everything to the remaining members.  In California the case law leans heavily this way and we wanted no scandal.  Every effort was made to leave peacefully and well.  Our reputation and character were more important to us than anything we might have taken with us.  We hoped that one day we would have a new building to call home, but were prepared for many years of being a “portable church”.

As we were preparing to leave an Episcopal Deacon told me of a church on Lincoln Ave in Willow Glen that she thought might be available.  I stopped by and left a voice mail on the answering machine.  Thelma called me a few weeks later to let me know that they didn’t know what they were going to do with the building, but would call me when they made up their minds.

Inside the building

Six months later I was driving home from a meeting in downtown San Jose when I felt God nudge me to go by the church again.  It was unchanged.  I called the phone number in the window again and this time spoke with Joanna, the principal pastor.  Joanna was caring for Zev, one of their pastors who was dying of cancer.  Their church, Christian Assembly, was ready to sell the property and we began discussing the possibility.

We toured the property and everyone from St. James who was able to be present felt the same desire to care for the church and keep it as a church.  We were also dumb stuck by the similarity between the half Fleur-de-lis on the front of the church and our logo use on both our business cards and power point template.

At the time St. James had no building fund and no immediate plans for a capital campaign.  Still we had the building inspected and appraised.  Land is very expensive in San Jose.  Willow Glen is a highly desirable location.  The church sits on a single housing lot, has no parish hall, kitchen, or outdoor play area.  There is parking for about 6 cars.  The church seats 70 – 80.  It needed a great deal of work.  Our estimate was that it was worth $400,000 – $500,000.  Unfortunately they thought it was worth $800,000.  Zev died and I suggested we resume discussions in a few months.  At that time, Christian Assembly decided to resume services in the church and attempt to rebuild the congregation.  We prayed for their success and kept looking for a more permanent home.  We were quite content as a portable church.  We did not feel a pressing need for a permanent building.

Some of our members decided to make contributions to a building fund.  They knew what they wanted to give towards a building and desired to get out of the way of the activity of The Holy Spirit by giving the money without knowing what would eventually be purchased.  This generosity resulted in a $311,000 building fund.

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.  (Malachi 3:10)

About 9 months ago, Joanna emailed me to see if we were still interested in buying the church.  By this time they had undertaken many of the necessary renovations identified in our building inspection.  The ceiling was repaired, a new Handicap Washroom installed, new electrical, and a new heating and cooling system installed.  The building was move in ready.  It still needs further renovation to suit our liturgical worship style, but the building was usable now.  Still there was a question of price.  We were still far apart on what we considered the value to be.  We ended our conversation graciously, and St. James Property Team kept looking for other possible properties and began discussing a capital campaign.

Cottage on Nevada St.

In late July Joanna emailed me again and asked if we would be interested in buying the church for $500,000.  The price was right and within our reach, especially if they were willing to hold a mortgage for us.  The limitations of the building remained however and after some discussion our Property Team decided to ask for a “Right of First Refusal” on the cottage.  The cottage is on a contiguous property along the back of the church property.  The cottage is fully renovated with a lovely kitchen and adjacent great room.  It provides space for an office, as well as social spaces for gatherings and meetings.  In the past two years Christian Assembly has spent $110,000 in renovations on the two properties.  A few days later Joanna replied saying that they wanted us to have both properties and believed God wanted us to have them.  After some back and forth discussion we agreed in principle to a total price of $900,000 with a $311,000 down payment, a 0% mortgage with a minimum monthly payment of $2,500 and a total balance due within 10 years.  Nearly everyone at St. James was amazed by the generosity of these terms.  The properties are actually worth around 1.1 million. We can not qualify for a mortgage with any bank due to the fact that we have only been in existence for two years. We were overwhelmed.

On Tuesday August 23rd, God blessed St. James big time.  Pastor Shirley (now working with Joanna and Christian Assembly) called me to discuss the final terms.  They had spent the prior weekend praying and felt called by God to do several things.  They felt directed to wind up and close down Christian Assembly.  They felt that carrying a mortgage was not an ending.  They believed that God wanted us to have these buildings.  They believed that The Holy Spirit was directing them to sell St. James both properties for the $311,000 we had in our building fund.  They did not want our ministry hampered by a mortgage.

God’s economy is not ours.  Still I felt compelled to tell Pastor Shirley that this was too generous an offer.  She laughed, agreed, and said that this is what The Holy Spirit was telling them to do.  And so on Tuesday September 6th I signed the title documents for both these properties and accepted the gift that God is giving us.  Joanna and Thelma were overjoyed to see these buildings come to us and believe that this is God’s will.  Our sense of call to this place mirrors their conviction that God wants us to have these properties.

There is no one in St. James who does not understand that these buildings are a gift from God.  Although we own them in a strict technical sense, we fully understand that we have been given stewardship of these properties for this season.  We pray that our work of ministry will build upon the rich foundations that Christian Assembly have laid down and given to us.  We thank God for this amazing gift and encouragement and pray that our ministry will be fruitful in this place.