Automating orders of service with

One of the most frustrating, time-consuming tasks I had when I was in parish ministry was getting the order of service printed right. Not written, but printed. Either I did it myself or with an assistant with rounds of edits. And still there’d be typos or skewed margins. I’m working up a robust solution and working out the process in this blog. Why show the messy details? So you can adapt the results when I’m done and not passively use what would work for me, but perhaps not you. (Indy Catholics and other full-text-in-hand traditions: press me for details that pertain to your needs.)

Because this is a bit involved, I’m releasing it in chunks. Which is fine: so many of my readers are either at General Assembly or at the beach. (It’ll be done by the time you’re back.)

For this, you will need your church’s liturgy or an assortment of recent orders of service and a computer with 2.4, the most recent update of a popular free and open-source office productivity suite. It’s available for Windows and Linux, and a less-than-glorious version for the Mac. (All should be well by September when a 3.0 version is released for all these operating systems.)

Here’s what I’m doing to automate a liturgy for variant uses as an order of service. I think this could be useful for a church at many different size levels, though not all churches would use all options. While this is based on the Universalist 1894 morning prayer service, the process could be adapted to any number of services, including those which (from the outside) seem much “freer.”

  1. If you have a rite, cut and paste, or type out, the liturgy into Writer, the word processor; clean up any gremlins that appear.
  2. If you have orders of service with headings dominating, insert these. Add names for liturgical elements, as suggested in the rite like Prelude, Hymn and Sermon, where missing but logical. Include all options, each in their own line in the case of directions or customs like “After that shall be sung the following Psalm, or a Hymn, unannounced.”
  3. Mark headings with tags: Heading 1 for the name of the service, Heading 2 for elements, Heading 3 for parts of an element, where applicable. Say, names of particular prayers in a sequence.

Detail from

You can see all your options for headings and other style features by pressing the F11 key.

Save and name your work, and we’ll start adding sections next time.

By Scott Wells

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


  1. FYI — so far, the only beta version of OpenOffice for Mac OS X is for Intel-brand CPUs. If you’re using an older PowerPC-brand CPU, you can try the NeoOffice fork from the OpenOffice project:

    Unlike the current X11 version of Mac OS OpenOffice or the public beta Mac OS “Aqua” version that require Mac OS X 10.4 or higher, NeoOffice will run on Mac OS X 10.3 or higher. This info may be useful for Mac users who are running older hardware and/or older versions of Mac OS X.

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