Monday, November 22, 2010

Worship, Mission and Trauma

The hours are stretching into days of waiting to find out whether the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River Coal Mine following a terrific explosion are alive or dead. Interestingly one of the features of the news coverage of the situation has been the focus on the work of churches in Greymouth and the spotlight has been on one Anglican church, Holy Trinity, Greymouth. On Saturday night a special prayer service was held in the church, and prayers and lighting of candles took place yesterday as well. One media report began, 'Greymouth went to church last night'.

I congratulate Anglican leadership in Greymouth in responding sensitively and boldly to the situation. I notice that one outcome has been repeated media interviews of clergy who have become part of the community leadership giving voice to people's hopes and fears. In the midst of trauma, worship and mission are being integrated as the church seeks to serve people in the name of Christ.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Preaching eternal truths

Courtesy of my colleague Brian Thomas my attention has been drawn to this old but everlasting advice re preaching, republished recently in the Guardian (UK):

"Sunk in their deep armchairs, 36 Anglican clergymen were told here today about the "weary Willies" of the pulpit by the Rev. D. W. Cleverley Ford, director of the Church of England's first college of preaching, which opened here today at Scargill House, the Anglican conference centre.

Mr Ford, who was listing his "tools of the trade" for the preacher, said a congregation first considered what the preacher was, secondly how he said it, and thirdly what he said.

A preacher was his own visual aid or hindrance. "His clothes, his hands, his hair, his beard or absence of beard, his robes ? all these are important. A man who starts preparing his sermon at 10 p.m. on Saturday and finishes it at 2 a.m. on Sunday might arrive in the pulpit looking like a weary Willie. What kind of advertisement is he for the Christian faith? Many members of our congregation are women; they see people rather differently from us. They notice that a preacher has a clean collar, or that he is wearing one that might be cleaner. They spend the rest of the sermon wondering about things that need cleaning at home."

Still talking of the "weary Willies," Mr Ford said: "At some of the sermons I have heard, I would like to throw a hymn-book at the preacher and shout 'Wake up, man!'"

There had been a decline in the amount and quality of preaching. In the Church of England, preaching could not be divorced from the pastoral office.

"Don't preach at Mrs Smith who has lost her husband," he said. "But knowing her need, and near that particular time, you could take the subject of life after death, or peace of mind." Such things should be brought in as a point in the sermon.

His other "tools of the trade" for the preacher were knowledge of the Bible ("all great preachers have been great Bible students"); theology: illustrative material ("you collect this from life"); and the use of the voice.

"Realise the difficulty of your task," he said. "It is quite wrong to imagine that most people in church are dying to listen to us." The best preachers, he thought, were those who knew what it was like to be flattened, to be hit by life: "It is disappointments, hardships, and suffering that make the man: a moved man who can move people."

From one of the deep armchairs came a question that was almost a heart cry: "All you have said presupposes a congregation?"

Mr Ford said he knew what it was like to preach to an almost empty church and to feel "all this for so few". "But we must not surrender," he said. "The increase will surely come." "

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preaching Matthew

The Gospel according to Matthew is coming up in the next RCL year (i.e. A). Over the weekend I was able to share some preparational material on Matthew's Gospel with preachers in Mid Canterbury and South Canterbury. Now I am working on a precis for Taonga's Advent edition. Here are some very, very brief observations about Matthew's Gospel:

Motivated by mission, from Jew to Gentile, from Israel to the world.

Setting out the Saviour at work, Jesus as his names says, saves people from their sin, through forgiveness and healing, and teaches a new way of life for saved people.

Adoring one who is more than a new David, Abraham, and Moses, Matthew draws his readers to worship Jesus as the Son of God.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Taking an opportunity

On Sunday evening I went to hear an advertised sermon on the theology and geology of the (Christchurch) earthquake, to be delivered by Matt Watts, Vicar of St. Timothy's, Burnside, Christchurch. Matt's first degree is in geology and second degree is in theology. Normally I do not comment directly on an identified sermon, but in this case I feel emboldened to do so for three reasons: it was a widely advertised sermon, some 120+ people responded (that's my personal estimate), many of whom were from parishes other than Burnside, and I will not be critiquing it per se (but let me assure you it was very good!)

From a general preaching perspective these learnings struck me as worth sharing here:

(1) Sometimes events provide an opportunity to do something a little different with our preaching. In this instance the difference was (a) feeling able to advertise widely (and this being an evening service, it was not particularly 'competitive' of what was happening in Christchurch parishes as most do not have an evening services), (b) transforming the sermon (as a talk within a service) into an extended talk which, with a extensive time for questions, constituted the whole of the evening programme.

(2) Some events are well worth engaging with in a direct, public, lengthy and extra well prepared manner. The content of Matt's talk clearly involved him in much more preparation than an ordinary weekly sermon: aside from the theological preparation, and the writing of a well structured, very thoughtful address, some excellent geological slides accompanied the talk. They would have taken quite a bit of time to find (I imagine) - some were taken from a recent lecture by a Canterbury University geologist, so some emailing must have gone back and forth re accessing those slides! The talk itself was some 45 minutes in duration - longer than many 'ordinary' sermons. What other events, similar in public impact to a destructive earthquake, would be worth engaging in with similar preparation and publicity?

(3) Presuming to advertise widely that one is going to preach on public matters of the day requires appropriate prior learning and/or experience. I felt drawn to attend because Matt was going to speak on geology and theology as a geologist and as a theologian. Frankly, if I had prepared such a talk (as a non-geologist), would I have bothered to go? Probably not, because the missing element of authenticity would be my inability to speak about the geology of the earthquake with authority. Ditto if say (to take another issue or two) I advertised a sermon on 'How the war in Afghanistan should be conducted' or 'What the Bible says about resolving the economic problems of the world today.' As a preacher wrestling with the meaning of the Bible today I am entitled to preach on such subjects, but I do not think I would be entitled to expect a larger than usual attendance from the wider public when I have no additional expertise to bring to the issues than any other preacher.

(4) Sometimes opportunities present themselves to say something urgent, relevant, and of great interest about a matter of the day. Let's not miss those opportunities!