Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Try to make sermons non-boring

This is a challenge. An easy solution to the problem of boredom and sermons is to not preach ... tell jokes instead ... show a film. But that is no real solution!

A joke or two can help; and certainly telling an engaging story captures congregational attention. As someone once taught me, tell it in the middle and not at the beginning!!

But somewhere in the sermon we will want to give a bit of 'decent content' - some teaching, some doctrine, some theological meat on the bones of the structure. How to make this not boring?

Here are two thoughts:

(1) Language itself can engage attention so choose good words. A recent sermon, for instance, reminded me of the power of contrasting words. Compare these two descriptions:

"Jesus was tough and tender" and "Jesus was able to be assertive as well as to feel sympathy for people and the difficult situations they faced".

The first statement is short (so less likely to lose the attention of its hearers), engaging (the use of contrasting words tough/tender captures attention) and (bonus) memorable. The second statement is none of these things!

(2) Relate content to life this week. If, as is often observed, our congregations are "aging", even "elderly", then there is a good chance that most have already heard the theological content of what we have to say. Nothing much is new to older Christians! But what is new is what has been happening in the past seven days: the economic crisis (which is not, by the way, exactly the same as the Great Depression of the 1930s), debate over global warming, concern over ever younger criminals, the Bishop's Walk. Most of our hearers will not have made connections between 'the world of the past week' and 'the Word of God'. If we can make the connection then we will have something 'new' to say.

That might be the difference between attention and slumber during the sermon!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

McPartlanization of the Church (?!)

John Drane once wrote a provocative book about how the church in the late modernist, early post-modernist period was being constrained by the culture of mediocrity - the culture that leads to the churning out of formulaic products, consistently of the same quality everywhere, such as ultimately boring hamburgers was churning out analogous worship services. It was called the McDonaldization of the Church. Hence my playful title, but this has serious intent. Dr McPartlan is a top Catholic theologian who might just come from the 'nowhere' of congregational ignorance (though he is not unknown 'to those who matter') to be the next Archbishop of Westminster. Ruth Gledhill has posted an excerpt of a book he has written on the Eucharist which is worth re-posting here on a site devoted to things to do with corporate worship:

"'The Eucharist renews the very gift that makes us to be the Church, and it follows that the community dimension of the Eucharist is of the utmost importance.

It is really communities, and ultimately the Church as a whole, that receives the Eucharist, not just lots of individuals. We should always be conscious of those with whom we receive; the Eucharist renews our life as brothers and sisters, caring for one another and working together to bear witness to the communion life of the Kingdom of God.

Our life in Christ begins, of course, with baptism, and people sometimes think that an emphasis on the Eucharist as making the Church detracts from the importance of baptism in making the Church. We must avoid any such impression.

Baptism and Eucharist are both given to us by Christ and therefore there can never be any rivalry between them. Rather we must understand how they fit together.

What baptism begins in us, the Eucharist renews, strengthens and sustains. For instance, in every Eucharist we are washed by the blood of the Lamb, as it says in Revelation 7:14; it is a washing that renews the washing in water that we received in baptism. We must never forget that there is forgiveness in the Eucharist, particularly expressed when we receive under both kinds and drink from the cup of the Lord. In a sense, the Eucharist keeps the grace of our baptism fresh in us until the moment when it is consummated at our death."

The book is The Eucharist: The Body of Christ (though I note that he has also written The Eucharist Makes the Church). Both available from Amazon.

For what it is worth, I think Dr McPartlan is right. The eucharist makes the church for it both defines and nurtures our life as a community in Christ. When some of us worry about the future of the church, do we pay too much attention to statistics, 'future trends', blah, blah, and overlook the eucharist: how we lead it, promote it, honour it's role in the life of the church, attend to its good ordering (finding priests, baptising and confirming people), challenging ourselves to (re-)discover and then maintain the highest possible standards of Ministry of the Word and Ministry of the Sacrament?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Theology and History of our Liturgy (3)

From one of the longer serving members of the Prayer Book Commission which produced the 1989 prayer book of our church, I recently had pointed out to me the reason for the beautiful lines (from Colossians 3:15a, 16a), on p. 408:

"The peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
The word of Christ dwell in us richly."

They provide a fulcrum or hinge in which the service turns from its beginning which concludes with confession and absolution, making our peace with God, to the ministry of the Word through the reading of Scripture, preaching of the Word, and profession of our faith.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Liturgical Resource from NZ

Doing Liturgy in Season’ is a collation of liturgical resources, formed by a specific community (Anglican Parish of St John’s Campbells Bay, Aoteoroa/New Zealand), with the intention of being prophetic and pastoral; building relationships and responding positively to God and to one another.

It includes worship services written and designed for special seasons in the church calendar according to the RCL (Revised Common Lectionary); Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, and thus is relevant worldwide.

Buy this book as a creative resource in designing your own worship services, and for use in personal prayer.

Cost NZ$20.00, plus postage ($2NZ/$5 overseas).

All proceeds go towards parish fundraising.

To purchase a copy:

email Carole Hughes: carole.michael@xtra.co.nz

or send a request to ‘St John’s Anglican Church, Campbells Bay’,
PO Box 65-029, Mairangi Bay, North Shore, Aotearoa/New Zealand
with cash/cheque enclosed (written out to St John’s Church, Campbells Bay).