Oct 272013

Today was our family harvest thanksgiving services in both churches. It was also communion in one.

I had chosen some familiar harvest hymns. We had a short video from our Messy Church – Messy Harvest morning from a couple of weeks back. I’d even dropped one of the hymns to make the service a little shorter – my earlier service congregation has an auction of the harvest produce offerings, the proceeds going to a particular charity; and since it was communion in the other church, I didn’t want the whole thing to run on too long, especially as it was a family service.

And so I didn’t want to do a full sermon either, and sat down yesterday to write up a harvest reflection. I took a lead from the Spill the Beans harvest material and wrote a reflection based on Psalm 8.

And I never delivered it.

Not that it was rubbish (at least I don’t think it is), but that after it had stewed in my brain for a few hours afterwards, I realised it was entirely inappropriate for a family service. No bad words (or even long words). Nothing like that. Just that the tone of it was a bit ‘serious’.

And so, as I was heading to bed last night (and looking forward to the extra hour) I realised that I would not be delivering that reflection, but what I would be saying was something else entirely.

Actually, I did ‘borrow’ from it as I did an ‘off the cuff’ all-age talk instead. It wasn’t entirely spontaneous – I did have a ‘framework’ in my head, and a handful of veggie props to talk about harvest.

Don’t know if it was better or worse for that, but it was certainly more suited to the overall tone of the service, so in that regard it can be considered better.

But what of the sermon I didn’t preach?

Maybe it’s something to file away for another time. Or maybe it’s something I had to hear for myself.

A little while ago I commented on Facebook that it was sometimes frustrating that the sermon I should have preached was the one going through my head after the service. Maybe this time I got the message early enough (and was listening).

Aug 012010

This little stint of pulpit supply has offered me a more interesting reflective opportunity than I first thought it would. As previously mentioned, I’m ‘optimising my time’ by using the same service in three different places (albeit with some revision of hymns and sermon duration).

The first one was delivered today and I wasn’t entirely happy with it. Too long, to overstuffed with information and didn’t flow very well. The main issue was that I now have a very different theology to my home church and I felt I needed to explain and ‘justify’ some of what I was saying and proposing, so there was more padding than absolutely necessary. But such is the main pitfall of one-off services. I feel the need to cram too much in rather than just delivering something that’s to the point but ‘lightweight’ (in my opinion). Today’s sermon should really have been delivered over no fewer than four or five sermons. Which says (to me) that it was the wrong sermon for the occasion.

When I got home I decided to ‘polish it’ from the thoughts I had as I was preaching. It now flows better but is still too long (certainly for next week). But then next week’s pulpit supply is the lectionary-following place, so some of the background will already be there. Mind you, I still need to sort out their dodgy theology (not really, just poking fun – a little). It means that I need to whittle down the sermon and can probably remove some of the explanatory padding. It’ll be interesting to see how that one ends up and how much, if anything, is ‘lost’ because of that.

The third one will be similar to today, albeit with the more polished version. Again though, I’ll be curious to see how it changes in the two week gap.

One thing I did notice today was that my voice is out of condition, not having been used very much for a couple of months. Too much time spent typing and not enough time chatting with real people. Unfortunately, until the dissertation is done, I can’t do much about that. I’ll maybe need to put some music on and start singing along.

Jul 242010

Many moons ago (well, it seems like it anyway) I agreed to do three pulpit supply dates in August. My thinking was that by the end of July my dissertation would be progressing well and things might be easing off a little. Aye right!

Now, one of those churches uses the lectionary and the other two don’t so that sets the agenda for at least one of the Sundays. All three churches are geographically diverse and so there is virtually no risk of ‘being followed’ from one to the other. So, given that it’s unlikely that the lectionary passage is going to crop up in the two other churches any Sunday soon, why not make life easier and use the same sermon and order of service for each church?

It’s probably what I’ll end up doing (with variations to allow for the different length of sermon anticipated at each), but part of me still thinks that it’s ‘cheating’. Mind you, a few years ago we were on holiday and happened to catch a visiting preacher in the church we went to. Soon afterwards we heard that same person in another church and, surprise! surprise! heard the same sermon.

Maybe I should look on it as way of reflecting on how the same text/message is received differently in different contexts. Or maybe it’s an opportunity to present the same text in different ways and so experience the richness to be found in scripture. The next question though is whether I start with the short sermon and pad it out or do the long one and trim it down.

Anyway, as I was saying…

Jan 042010

Apologies up front – this is very much a ‘thinking out loud’ blog entry and may well descend into a bit of a rant. You have been warned! Even so, I’d appreciate your thoughts.

On Sunday I was leading the whole service and the choice of hymns, reading, sermon, etc was entirely mine. Over Advent we have spent a bit of time in Luke’s gospel and finished off towards the end of Luke chapter 2. I decided to pick up from that point and deal with a passage that isn’t (in my experience) covered very often – the incident of Jesus, as a boy, doing a bunk from the family group and being found in the Temple. I felt it fitted well with a Ne Year start as I believe the passage does a number of things, including giving a glimpse of Jesus’ future life, ministry and purpose but also leaving us with a challenge also very appropriate for the beginning of a new year and a new session – where would we expect to find Jesus if we went looking for Him?

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Nov 162009

Yesterday I had the opportunity to lead the whole service in my placement church. Not a big problem – it’s something I’ve done many times. That said, being somewhere new has the added pressures of not knowing what they know, not knowing how recently they may have covered the chosen passage (an advantage of following the lectionary), whether you are about to utterly contradict previous teaching or whether you’re getting too close to personal/pastoral issues. On the plus side, such pressures do help focus the mind and maybe force you to take that bit extra care of how something is worded.

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Apr 192009

I was taking the service this evening in my home church and it was a very odd experience. I’ve not preached there for quite a while and I was surprised at just how ‘different’ it felt from my placement. The evening service is a slightly different format anyway, but that’s not the issue. There’s a lot more input from the worship group (there is a worship group, even) which is great because I have a bit more freedom on the choice of music. The pulpit, normally used in the morning, isn’t used in the evening and the service is generally conducted from the communion table. And that’s the difference. Not that I would have preferred the pulpit, but that I was working from behind the communion table.

In my placement church the pulpit is never used (unless some of the kids are especially adventurous and make a beeline for it – and can get past the barricade of chairs that’s now in the way) and the service is conducted from the communion table. Except the sermon. That’s delivered from out front using a music stand as a lectern.

And it’s amazing the freedom that brings. I really hadn’t appreciated it until tonight. Now. it’s true to say that I am only just beginning to feel ‘relaxed’ enough when I preach to feel free to move around a bit, but I was conscious of just how restricted I felt in the small gap betweeen the chair and the communion table. Now, perhaps I should have moved out from behind it anyway, but I didn’t think to do so, because I didn’t fully appreciate what a difference it would make. And I was also conscious of falling into the same habits of mannerisms and style that I’ve been working hard to break away from. When my movements restricted I don’t know what to do with my hands. When I don’t have the room to move, I don’t gesticulate, and anyone who knows me also knows that I tend to talk with my hands as much as my mouth. And so my delivery suffers when I can’t move.

One thing that my supervisor has been encouraging me to do is break free a bit more from my notes and that’s tied up with being free then to move around a bit more. I’m not talking about dancing around, but simply being free to be more expressive. Now there are issues about too much movement. It makes it more difficult for anyone who is augmenting their hearing with lip-reading to follow what you are saying. It can become distracting if movements are repetitive. But these are also bad habits that can be removed with awareness and practice.

So, next time I’m preaching in my placement church I’m going to try and be much more aware of the space to be used, more familiar with my notes so that I am comfortable about moving away from them and make an effort to be as ‘natural’ as possible. So, no biggies there, just become the perfect preacher overnight.

And here’s hoping for a charge that doesn’t have a pulpit., but can afford music stands.

Mar 012009

I was preaching today at my placement church and it was one of those times when you really wish it was someone else in your place. Everything started off well enough but one young lad had been brought back in from junior church by his mum a little earlier. That was fine until about 5 minutes into the sermon he let out a loud and very obvious yawn. It was all I could do to keep a straight face especially with the ripple of laughter that went round immediately after. I suspect he knew what was coming because this sermon is probably one of the longer ones I’ve done. To be fair, I was doing a bit of editing on the fly, giving only a couple of examples of scripture where I had three or four and so on. Nonetheless, it was longer than usual.

It was also fairly warm in the church and one elderly lady fainted and, rightly so, there was a bit of concern about her. But what to do? Keep going or stop and make sure everything was fine. Stuart, my supervisor, was signalling to just keep going and I did. But it was obvious that people’s attention had been lost and I expect that my ‘punchline’ ended up falling a bit flat. I suppose that that is when we pray that it is not our words that are heard, but what God wants to communicate that is heard.

Ah well, all part of the learning process.

If anyone wants to read the sermon (and I cannot take responsibility for the consequences of doing so), then it’s now in the downloads section. The sermon is the first (barring an introduction) of a series on the Apostles’ Creed. The theme was “The God I believe in”. Because it’s a follow-on, there may be bits that seem to come from nowhere but I’ve tried to edit these to make better sense in isolation.

Sep 232007

Following on from today’s other blog entry, I was thinking about the lectionary. Today’s readings from Amos, 1Timothy and Luke were kind to me. There was a connection that could be made between them and, more importantly, one that could be used at today’s Harvest Thanksgiving service.

The thing I struggle with about the lectionary series is that you can hit those times when there is simply no obvious connection to be made and even a contrived one is a struggle. From speaking to a friend, I know that their view is that there doesn’t need to be a connection and it’s perfectly legitimate to have a reading with no further reference to it. The purpose of the lectionary is to expose the hearer/reader to parts of scripture that may otherwise be ignored. I don’t have an issue with that and can see the validity of the argument.

However, there are times when a reading just sits there, on its own, in splendid isolation. Should it have its own exegesis and application ‘slot’? Or should it be left to stand alone. I think the danger of the latter approach is that if it’s a difficult reading then there’s a risk of people ‘turning off’ and, rather than it being given the exposure it merits, it contributes to an overall sense of ‘I’ll stick to the bits I understand’. The risk of the former is that the service appears ‘bitty’ and disjointed or, if a contrived connection is made, there is the possibility of being open to the, perfectly valid, accusation of distorting scripture to make it mean whatever we want.

There is, of course, one over-riding influence which can come to bear and perhaps needs to be borne in mind more. When scripture is read in an open and honest way, its meaning comes not just from our own comprehension but through the intercession of the Holy Spirit as well. So, when that piece of scripture is sitting in splendid isolation, the reality is, it’s not sitting on its own and its capacity to ‘speak’ to someone is, in no way diminished.

It’s just frustrating when your eyes are opened by something you’ve heard or read and the preacher goes off down an entirely different avenue, ignoring your exciting revelation. Still, take a moment to enjoy the presence of the Spirit, leading, guiding, teaching.

Sep 232007

Well, I did it!

I created a 15 minute sermon after a bit of judicious pruning. Could I have said more? Probably. Should I have said more? Probably not. What I delivered I think worked but I suspect it was a very different style of sermon from usual. Hard to say since I’ve only heard David a couple of times and that’s too little information to ‘categorise’ someone.

I’ve been thinking a bit of what my ‘style’ is. Not sure if I really have one but what drives me is twofold (and that in a cycle of interconnectedness) – theologically-sound exegesis and biblically-sound application. I like to explore the meaning of a passage: its genre; its context; its history; its culture; its ‘story’. I then try and relate that to our present circumstance and draw out a lesson for us to follow. This means that I tend to spend more time on what might be considered the academic side (the exegesis) than on the anecdotal (the application). I struggle with anecdotes. Some people work them in naturally, with others it can sound horribly contrived. I dislike looking for an anecdote that ‘fits’. Generally because they’ve probably already done the rounds on the internet and, for me, lose their impact. That doesn’t mean I don’t use them, but only sparingly and only when they really fit. The other thing is that I tend to use only personal ones (for the same reason as above) but my wife complains that that I’m then turning the attention on myself. It’s a fair criticism even it that’s not my intention.

All this means that there is a risk of my preaching style being a bit ‘dry’ and ‘academic’. To a degree that’s a reflection of ‘me’ – it’s what I like to hear. But not all the time and that, I suppose, is where a balance has to be struck. That’s when I enjoy doing the ‘powerpoint thing’ and throwing in the odd video or sound clip – because there are others who do the inspirational, uplifting, thoughtful ‘thing’ so much better than I do.

Hmmm…. maybe 15 minutes of my style is more than enough.