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.