I noticed this advice on dealing with worn-out missals this morning. It is an interesting thought - that things we invest much in, when they are beyond use, require disposal. Of the printing of different translations of the Bible there is no end, and when, at the end of some (normally evangelical) life we discover that the dear departed has collected about 130 Bibles, many of them falling apart from age - what do we do? Although we are not bibliolaters (if that is even a word), we may feel a certain reluctance to dispose of precious things. His Hermeneuticalness's suggestion of reverent recycling seems very sound. While our own method of dealing with the mountains of laser-printed service sheets that get produced every day - i.e. storing them up then burning them - is equally good for the environment.
After our experiences with the Hamster of Atonement, we have avoided the re-use of any worship-related material in animal bedding. In the case of poor old Rubbles, it was having bedding made entirely of shredded paper with sins written on it that upset him - causing him to become remarkably shifty and unfriendly before his brief career as an investment banker - but I'd be very wary of the impact of using shredded service sheets of any kind in future. After all, use the remnants of the Julian service we held the other week, and the new Community Hamster, Wiggy, might find she's got ideas buzzing in her head that her little brain can't cope with. Certainly I couldn't - especially when the "thing the size of a hazelnut" that got handed round turned out to be a pistachio. It wasn't the small size and fragility of the world I couldn't get my head round - it was the massive crack in the shell that worried me. Has the state of the environment really descended so far?
For more permanent objects used in praise and worship - hymnbooks and the like - most British churches recommend that, when they're worn out or hopelessly outdated, the best thing to do is send them to a church in Africa. This has the advantage of clearing our conscience and moving the problem to another country. What the African Church is doing with the wave of copies of Sounds of Living Water that must currently be breaking across the continent is another question. But thankfully it's their question. Drayton Parslow tells me that he has sent all the worn-out King James Versions in the Bogwulf Chapel (and the copies of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer he found in a cupboard) to a small village in Burma. There are rumours that when he sent a group from his church out on a mission visit, they discovered an entire community in the jungle speaking 16th-century English.
There is also the reverse process. This is where an item formerly used for commonplace household purposes - such as a sofa, or an old non-digital telly - is to be replaced by a new one. Recognising the sanctity that this object has acquired through long use, people often donate them for either the Church or Manse. Sometimes, bundles of newspapers can be donated "in case the Sunday School wants to make papier-mâché". In the Extremely Primitive Methodists chapel that I grew up in, this practice grew to such proportions that the minister had to build an extension just to keep all the old armchairs and bookshelves he'd been donated. And it became a squeeze getting into the chapel on a Sunday morning, because of the piles of chairs and tables laying round the place. On the bright side, since the Extremely Primitive Methodists eschewed all unnatural forms of heating, on cold winter mornings we used to burn the furniture to keep warm.
Finally, I'd like to observe that there actually appear to be laws in the US on how to dispose of their national flag. The site I found this on has an ironic side - the text itself is very respectful, while the adverts in the side-bar are for a series of waste-disposal companies. I like to think this is why America exists - to combine solemn patriotism with the profit motive.