Saturday, October 22, 2005


The technological revolution that never happened
Twenty years ago we were promised that the future would bring us a ‘paperless office’. Not so, we are using more paper than ever before, and not even the smug virtue of regular re-cycling practice can conceal the added expenditure of energy in production. Computers can be useful tools, although they absorb huge amounts of time, as well as having a huge energy footprint, in the making. I confess to my great shame, they are still my favourite toy, as well as work-tool – and I don’t even use them to play games! Just grappling how they work, diagnosing and solving problems when they go wrong is an intriguing but often useless diversion. I’m self-taught. As a result I don’t always find it easy to explain to my wife how to get the thing to perform the way she wishes. My approach is internalised, intuitive, and the way I use words in an unstructured way to describe highly structured routines would put a strain on the best of marriages. But back to paper.
The diocesan and provincial offices of the Church in
Wales produce a fair amount of official paper each month. Not nearly as bad as a Local Education Authority foists on to school governors. Enough reading material for a full time job, twice over, if you take governance seriously. Well, actually the weight of documentation and the sense of helplessness it generates leaves one taking it all less than seriously. It’s become a joke. A resource consuming, environmentally compromising joke. Resources are consumed on running teachers rather than on teaching. No, the Church in Wales is not quite so bad. It does publish everything on the Web, and parishes wanting to add publicity flyers to the diocesan mail shot, are now encouraged to print them as pdf files for Web publication, thereby saving paper and postage. Nevertheless, there are some worrying signs.

Bi-lingualism, dogma, politics
We are a bi-lingual church, and our liturgical books are produced in Welsh and English (on opposite pages, there are English only versions in addition, sensibly, since 70% of Welsh people are English only speakers. Some who don’t know or use much Welsh are proud and happy to have bi-lingual service books, but it’s a minority. The Governing Body of the Church in
Wales (its synodical form of Government) and committees and agencies answerable to it, publicise reports in Welsh and English. These are circulated without regard for people’s language preferences. A small document is published with texts back to back. No problem. Longer ones are published separately. xtra paper, extra postage. It is justified? A majority of mailing recipients will automatically discard Welsh documents they didn’t need which have added considerably to production costs. Nobody seems to care that we are in a financial, and environmental crisis.

Today I received six expensively desktop-published double-sided colour posters announcing a meeting in Mid Wales next March with a massive three decker title:

‘On earth as in heaven’
God’s creation and the environment
– Belief to action -

It’s an all day church jamboree on eco-issues. There’s a gratifying rise of interest and commitment within the Church in Wales on these matters, but still a lack of joined up thinking. The posters were not bi-lingual, they were identically produced in English and Welsh – three of each. I can use three English posters – in fact I can use four. I’d put up one in Welsh to exercise the principle, but I didn’t need three in Welsh, but there was no choice. How many Welsh language colour posters will be binned, and at what additional cost in terms of expense and the un-necessary consumption of coloured ink and paper? The message of the poster could easily have been edited below half length and bi-lingualised. Did anyone think? Every government communication here in Wales is issued in Welsh and English as a result of hard won political battles thirty years ago. Now the fruit of that important debate clogs up bins and consumes resources. We have technology that would easily allow people to exercise the choice of whether they wish to receive bi-lingual government mailings or not. Does anyone care?
In the same mail shot was a brief statement in black and white from the World Mission Committee to the effect that to save resources they would not be issuing the bi-lingual St Andrewstide prayer material in print, but that it could be found in pdf files on the Church in
Wales website. Just a whiff of being ‘more ecological than thou’ in the cloisters of power? Professor Hollenweger with whom I studied in Birmingham in the late 1980’s boiled down the essential purpose of Christian mission as being ‘to get people to think’ Nice to know that there are still people around in the church making that happen. I'd love to be one of them.

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