September 23, 2011

Episcopal Church Style Guide

The Office of Communication of The Episcopal Church has published what is being called a style guide, “Brand Guidelines for the Episcopal Church.” It is intended to facilitate the creation of more uniform documents. The introduction to “Brand Guidelines” declares that
One of the goals of these guidelines is to enable the development of consistent but flexible communications for use by dioceses, parishes, networks, provinces and other entities of the Church. Guidelines allow us to model unity while allowing for a wide range of expressions.
The document is interesting and helpful, though perhaps not as helpful as it could be. It is about consistent branding, but it says little about document design or conventions to use in writing about things Episcopalian.

“Brand Guidelines” is  a mere 27 pages long, and its landscape orientation makes it look more like a slide presentation than a booklet. This is something of a virtue, as it is easily read on a typical computer screen. Like a slide show, however, “Brand Guidelines” is a bit light on content. It is, however, attractive.

I was particularly struck by the “Brand Strategy Statement” on page 6:
 For those looking for more meaning and deepened spirituality, The Episcopal Church offers honest and unconditional acceptance, which removes barriers to Jesus Christ and permits belonging to an authentic church community.
Whereas this may not be the definitive statement of what our church is about, it is a well-crafted and appropriate declaration. In a very small font at the bottom of page 6, however, we find this disclaimer:
This statement is a reminder of our strengths. It is meant to help guide communication work, rather than be used as an external piece of communication.

More than a third of “Brand Guidelines” is concerned with the proper ways of displaying the church logo. There is probably more here than most people want to know, though certain dimensions are left to the imagination.

Spacial relationships in church logo from page 9

The font of the church logotype is Chronicle, and sans serif font Knockout-HTF29-JuniorLiteweight is suggested as an accent font. Whereas these are attractive fonts, they are expensive ones. They both come from the New York type foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones, which has some very high-profile clients, including The New York Times, Tiffany & Company, Nike, Inc., and Hewlett Packard. The complete set of Chronicle fonts, for example, licensed for a single computer, costs $499.00. A more modest package, again for a single computer, can be had for $199.00. I rather doubt that most “dioceses, parishes, networks, provinces and other entities of the Church” are likely to rush out to buy the suggested Hoefler & Frere-Jones fonts.

“Brand Guidelines” defines, at least in a general way, the format for PowerPoint slides. It fails to provide a source for the “stained glass background” it recommends using for title slides, however. Likewise, the guidelines do not indicate where one can find images of the Episcopal Church shield as used in “Brand Guidelines.” It is not available among the Official Graphics and Logos on the church’s Web site.

The document does sort of answer two significant questions faced by Episcopal Church communicators. First, what is one to call the general church, as opposed to the local parish or diocese? Everyone wants to call it the “national church,” but readers are warned against this on page 24:
Do not use the term “the national church.” The Episcopal Church is in 16 countries and 110 dioceses. The correct term is simply The Episcopal Church. In referencing the Church Center in New York City and its activities, the correct term is “denominational office of The Episcopal Church.”
Several things are interesting about these instructions. First, on page 3, the church is characterized as having 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 countries. Somehow, by page 24, the church gained a diocese and lost three regional areas. Go figure. Additionally, the cited instructions seem to admit that our church is a “denomination.” I have no problem with this—I consider the Roman Catholic Church to be a denomination—but I know that many seem to make a point that our being part of the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” (BCP, p. 359) somehow means that The Episcopal Church is not a denomination.

The other issue resolved on page 24 is the name of our church. “Brand Guidelines” advises
In copy, use an upper case “t” for The Episcopal Church.
This advice is curious, given the title of the style guide, rendered as “BRAND GUIDELINES for the EPISCOPAL CHURCH” on the cover of the booklet. This recommendation derives, ultimately, from the Preamble to the Constitution of the General Convention, which begins
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church) …
Episcopal News Service began insisting on the use of “The” in the name of the church just before the 2006 General Convention, but the practice was eventually abandoned. As recently as today, Episcopal News Service was still referring to “the Episcopal Church.” I suppose not everyone at the denominational office of The Episcopal Church has gotten the memo.

Postscript. The announcement of the availability of  “Brand Guidelines for the Episcopal Church” sparked a good deal of discussion on The Houses of Bishops and Deputies email list regarding the relative readability of serif versus sans serif fonts. The discussion uncovered a good, though inconclusive, discussion of the issue here.


  1. If we're not a national church, then why do we have a "National Cathedral" (which is officially dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul)?

  2. Well, I read it. --yawn-- Tell me, when did "The" Episcopal Church officially abandon the American use of the terminal quotation mark *outside* the period or question mark? But hey, what do I know? In my world, branding is for cattle...golden or otherwise.

  3. I had never thought about “National Cathedral” before. Of course, the cathedral was actually chartered by Congress in 1893. I’m sure this is relevant, but I’m not exactly sure how.

    I hadn’t noticed the two instances of right quotes followed by periods (on pages 7 an 26). The document is setting a bad example here.

  4. The concept of the national church is pretty foundational to our Anglican heritage. That the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction," etc. In this context the emphasis on the Episcopal Church as a multi-national body is I think rather new. The non-U.S.A. dioceses were generally missionary territories, and (until recently I guess) the assumption I thought was that over time they would work toward independence. That Ecuador and Haiti, in due season, would loosen the ties to their missionary mother ship and follow the paths, as per Mexico, say, and Liberia, toward status as Provinces in the Communion, true National Churches.

    Bruce Robison

  5. Certainly it is my hope that our church’s overseas units eventually will become independent. I doubt that many Episcopalians think of Ecuador when considering the trajectory of our church, and the analogous statement is almost surely true of Episcopalians in Ecuador. There is nothing sinister in this; it just is not easy or practical to do. That’s why “the national church is pretty foundational to our Anglican heritage.”

  6. I am entirely supportive of the often heroic missionary initiatives that have given birth to new Anglican Churches in Africa, Central and South America, Asia, etc., over the past 150 years or so.

    But just to say again, I do think it is, has been, the normative expectation in Anglican life that over time these Churches will move toward autonomous independent life in their own national contexts.

    They would exist as "dioceses of the Episcopal Church" in a transitional, gestational way, and I believe their continuing if transient presence in our midst should indeed be acknowledged and celebrated.

    However, it seems to me that this fairly recent level of hyper-anxiety about such fairly trivial things as a passing reference to, say, "offices of the national church," may indicate a sense by some that the Episcopal Church is not a "national church engaged in global mission," but instead in some way "a global church."

    That our identity is now to be understood as intrinsically not as the "Episcopal Church, U.S.A.," but more as the "Episcopal Church, International, with locations in the U.S.A. and a bunch of other places as well, equally."

    I just point out that *if* this is so, it marks a significant departure from our Reformation foundations.

    I wonder if in this context our General Convention will soon begin to take as great an interest, say, in the public policy issues of economic and social life, legislation, foreign relations, etc., in, say, Ecuador, as we do in those in the U.S. If we're not a "national church," after all, shouldn't our Washington D.C. lobbying offices begin to plan for analogues in other countries?

    Just wondering. Sometimes in recent decades I sense in our (you should pardon the expression) national church leadership a kind of 1960's-era spirit of alienation from what might be called American Culture. An estrangement from what Democrat Howard Dean once called the "NASCAR Dads."

    In any event, it seems to me this fundamentally is not an issue of "style," but of core identity, and it has and will have a real impact on the shape and direction of our mission in years and generations to come.

    Bruce Robison


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