October 24, 2011

Save the Shift Key

In Church Circles, we LIKE the shift Key. (I Would use the Heart symbol but Emoticons are Another topic). We capitalize ALL kinds of words to make them seem More Important. 

Church newsletters and bulletins are rife with over-capitalization: Church, Senior Warden, Vestry, Priest, Worship. We give these words capitals because they mean something to us. But that doesn’t make the construction correct. We should strive to follow the rules and best practices of grammar in all that we publish – both print and online – because these words are an extension of our ministry.

And, well-written prose doesn’t need capitalization to draw attention or set it apart: the words will (or should) do that. 

In my own work, I try to follow the style guidelines for the Associated Press. (Here’s the website.) We think church terms should be an exception – and occasionally they are. But most of the time, the stylebook offers the recommended usage. 

For instance: The stylebook says to “capitalize the proper names used for a sacramental rite that commemorates the life of Jesus Christ or signifies a belief in his presence: the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist.” We should not capitalize other sacraments, such as baptism, confirmation, and matrimony. Bible takes a big B; Sunday school uses one s of each. 

Titles in The Episcopal Church are a sticky wicket (note the capital T, E and C in the title of The Episcopal Church. If we were talking in more generic terms about Episcopal churches, we would use different capitalization). We like our titles quite a bit, but we should take heed about using them correctly. For instance, we should capitalize titles when they precede a person’s name: Bishop Joe Switham. But telling the story in another way changes the capitalization: the Rt. Rev. Joe Switham, bishop of the Diocese of Switham. For priests and deacons, use “the Rev.” before their names. In second and subsequent references, either use the last name only or determine the style for your situation (Fr. Switham, Mother Jane) and then stick with it. Consistency is a virtue here as well. 

The same rule applies to other titles: Senior Warden Jane Doe and Jane Doe, senior warden. 
Vestry and diocese also are frequent victims of over-capitalization. In my opinion – and the stylebook’s, vestry should not be capitalized. The word diocese should only be capitalized when it’s part of the complete name such as the Diocese of Switham. For other references, use a little d. For example: The diocese asks that churches refrain from over-capitalization.  

I suggest every congregation (and diocese) peruse the Associated Press guidelines and then create a stylebook of sorts that establishes grammar and punctuation guidelines. This is not the heady stuff of bringing people to Jesus, but setting standards will improve the quality of communication and the consistency of the message. 

And, it will save the shift key.