Sunday, December 26, 2010

Liturgically Happy Christmas?

Not really! Not all bad, by any means, but not uniformly of a high standard either. Christmas is hard to get right liturgically. I myself have been vicar presiding over an attempted 'high standard' of liturgy, only to see the numbers drop in successive years. Tempting (in hindsight) to go for more non-standard items: drama, (these days) film clips (had a few at one service I went to), chirpy songs, more and more candles, etc. Rather than grizzle about what disappointed me, or compliment over what pleased me, it would be better to raise some questions of principle - questions which I find relevant to many services I have shared in over the last few years here in Kiwiland:

(1) Are the congregation spectators or participants? "Both" could be an answer, in which case the question becomes, "how much spectating is good for the health of the body of Christ?"

(2) How do we offer friendliness and warmth as worship leaders and as presiding priests?
(3) What is the role of the Sharing of the Peace? (One answer, more and more experienced all over the show, I am finding, seems to be that it is a liturgical version of half-time in a game of rugby: a chance for a break, a conversation, etc. Is that a good answer? Why, or why not? Is there a case in a special service (e.g. Christmas, Easter) for dispensing with the action of sharing the peace?)

Did you have a liturgically Happy Christmas? If so, why? If not, why not?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting the max out of the words we use

I do not think one has to shift one's personal judgements as to the faults and foibles, or successes and victories of controversial politicians such as the recent sequence of US presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, when recognising particular abilities each has. In the following citation, written after an unexpected moment in the White House press room in which Bill Clinton was at the podium in the absence of President Obama, note the astute, clever, and exemplary communication abilities of Clinton. The background story is huge controversy over whether extending tax cuts to the rich or not would be good for America mired in recession, associated with continuing concern by Democrats as to whether Obama is communicating well, his decisions and the reasons for them:

"The contrast wasn’t as great as I might have expected, because we got the wonky Clinton, who somehow wound up talking about wind turbines in Nevada, rather than the feel-your-pain Clinton. But the body language was instructive. Obama tends to stand straight, as if addressing a law school class; Clinton kept putting his hand over his heart, as if to signal he’s speaking with sincerity.

Clinton instantly personalized the debate, saying that as a rich guy, he would benefit from the GOP’s insistence on tax cuts for the wealthy. “You know how I feel,” he told reporters. “I think people who benefit the most should pay the most—not for class-warfare reasons, but for reasons of fairness and rebuilding the middle class in America.” He made the case right there, in one sentence.

Clinton thanked the Republican leaders for their concessions, appearing gracious rather than grudging. “There’s never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan,” he said." (My italics).

The exemplary notes here, in respect of preaching, are these:

(1) Finding a way to personalise doctrine.

(2) Minimising the number of words which 'make the case' for the theological argument which drives our sermon along (or, in other words, finding the shortest, most memorable way to state the message we are bringing to the congregation).

(3) Acknowledging human failings and the painful realities of life with grace (rather than, as the case may be, with complaint, condemnation, or self-pity).

(4) Doing all the above with body language that works with, not against, the tenor of what we are saying.

The preachers we judge to be 'great' will almost certainly exemplify the same great communicative traits that Bill Clinton demonstrates here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What to preach at a wedding or an ordination

This Sunday evening coming I am preaching at the ordination to the diaconate of a particularly fine set of candidates for admittance to that order of ministry: Jolyon White, James Ullrich, Chris Spark, and Spanky (Joshua) Moore. Recently I took part in a wedding at which I did not preach. Between the two events I am thinking a little about the intent and purpose of sermons at such occasions.

One line seems to be 'last minute advice'! Weddings are prepared for with marriage preparation; ordinations are preceded by training, education and, finally, a retreat. Each can have a sermone which, effectively, is 'last minute advice.'

Another line seems to be 'definition.' What is marriage all about? Why do we ordain people? What happens when we ordain someone? Some such sermons answer such questions. Quite useful this can be too, since weddings and ordinations are not regular, weekly events for the congregations, so some kind of renewal of our minds on these matters can be helpful.

What line will I take this coming weekend? I will let you know ...