Monday, July 18, 2011

The Uniqueness of Sermons?

Are sermons unique in our world today? Where else do we have opportunity for one person to expect a group to listen to a talk and, conversely, for a group to gather willingly to submit to the thoughts and ideas of one person? OK - I see those answers coming: Rotary dinners, school prize-givings. But are they not single focused? We would expect the speaker to concentrate on (say) their area of specialty or the immediate context ('the school and its successful past year'). In a sermon the preacher is free to range widely, from heaven to earth, around the globe, from subject to subject. Jesus is Lord of all, so his Word potentially on any given Sunday may speak to any topic under the sun.

The sermons I heard yesterday reminded me of another aspect of sermons, which, again, is possibly unique today: the preacher has opportunity to explore a range of possibilities in how her or his context is communicated. Literary flourishes, rhetorical strategies, tonal changes, theory and testimony, principles and pragmatics. As a listener we may have the experience of hearing the simple truths of the gospel expressed in the richest of imaginative language and illustrated by profoundly deep stories.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Neither Policeman Nor Examiner

I quite enjoy visiting church services in the Diocese of Christchurch which I have not been to before. It gives me an opportunity to experience for myself what is happening 'on the ground' in terms of content, structure, length, and leadership of services. It also keeps my eyes open to the diversity of services on offer across the Diocese.

One thing I am conscious of is that my presence in a service will be interpreted as some kind of inspection, perhaps as a 'liturgical policeman' (warrants for arrest issued afterwards if a word is out of place) or a 'worship examiner' (marks out of 10 given for the performance). No!! I go to experience, to understand why the service is done in the way it is (as best I can), and to be continually challenged in my role as a trainer and educator.

Yesterday I was at three services in three different parishes, only one of which involved me in a role (preacher and presider, as it happened). All three were different. Each was well put together and each had an integrity to it, honed out of different parish histories. Each reflected different worshipping traditions within the Anglican church. In the course of the day I experienced three different kinds of church music, each, to my mind, representing different generational tastes.

Funny thing, the age profiles of each service corresponded to the music genre present in the service.

In sum: if you want to grow a youth service, get a bass guitar.