A simpler way to manage church document-writing

Quite a while ago — years, really — I thought there must be a simple way to write a document for church (or NGO or what-have-you) that is easy to share and once complete could be easily transformed into different products, like a print publication and webpages. I have found such a tool, and am learning it for my use at home and work.

It’s actually two tools. The first is Markdown, a simple markup language. Anyone who has edited a Wikipedia article knows the concept, where a grammar of oddly-placed punctuation creates links, makes text bold or italics and so forth. Preachers who started on typewriters can certainly understand this, for as much evidence I have seen with random asterisks, underscores and dashes added to shape a sermon manuscript. This itself seems to be a modification of earlier proofreaders’ marks. But Markdown is so stripped down that I actually prefer one that’s been extended a bit. Which brings me to . . .

Pandoc, “a universal document converter” that takes a flavor of Markdown and can make it into the different kinds of document I mentioned. And it can be matched with an external template or style sheet. So now that document can be made into HTML (the format behind websites), a file for an electronic book reader, a rather clever kind of slide show (that also might be useful for non-manuscript preachers; it even includes its own clock), a word processor document, a TeX document for a rather sophisticated kind of typesetting or encoded to be added to Wikipedia and others. It can be installed into just about any kind of computer, and because the input files are plain text they can be easily stored, read by human beings in their own right and — provided the file isn’t corrupted — be read by future generations indefinitely.

Nice ideas, but now I’m trying to come up with some real-life applications for smaller churches that rely on volunteer work groups.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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