Three out of Four

I mostly like church.  As a stipendiary curate, it’s as well.  But there are days I dread, like today.  

In our four churches in three parishes, there are generally six or seven services on a Sunday.  Some of these clash, but it is possible to be leading at five services on a day (go on, now’s a great time to point out that clergy don’t work for the rest of the week.  Come on if you’re hard enough).  Because there are several people able to contribute in various  ways to each kind of service, it’s rare for me to be doing more than three on a Sunday.

But this week has been looming for a while – my Training Incumbent is away (and I don’t begrudge him a second of his well-earned holiday).  The rota was tricky, but ended up with me presiding at Holy Communion and preaching at 0800, presiding (with a Deacon to do lots of bits) and preaching at 0930, deaconing and preaching at 1115, and leading and preaching at Evensong tonight.

The trouble with preaching the same sermon multiple times is that I start to spot all the fatal flaws on the second time, and by the third, usually assume everything I’ve written is utter drivel.  (I don’t know, you’d have to ask them, but people seem to listen).  I’ve been writing out sermons in full ever since the start of my curacy, although it’s been a long time since my TI wanted to inspect them beforehand.  But somehow the habit had remained, of getting all the phrases, everything I wanted to say, on paper.  I say had, because two Sundays ago I really really struggled to capture what I wanted to say on paper.  I ended up drawing the sermon instead as a mind map, and in delivery, it really worked.  So I decided this week to see if this unexpected result was a one off….and haven’t written a sermon.  Instead, I have all the facts I want on two sheets of mind map.  

I’ve preached three times now from the notes, and the sermon has come out differently each time.  In fact, the endings have each time been very different.  But each time it has seemed right, and each time people have had comments or questions which tend to indicate they engaged.  It’s been more interesting to me as I can enlarge on something easily if people appear interested – and cut bits out easily too – just ignore a branch on the diagram.  It has freed me to connect better with people, and to be more myself as I preach.  It leaves more room for the Holy Spirit to work.  This makes it energising rather than draining.  So three services down, and I’m still standing.  Tonight’s sermon for Evensong “should” be 20 minutes – the longest of the day.  I’m rather looking forward to it!


5 responses to “Three out of Four

  1. I like the sound of your mind-map sermons! And I like the idea that 20 mins is a Long Sermon.
    There's many a preacher who could take both points on board.
    As warden I used to listen to the same sermon, almost word-for-word, given to the mainly retired congregation at the “early” communion, and the mainly young families congregation at the second service.
    Your mind map, with room for differentiation, sounds much better.

  2. Thanks of your comment Kirsten.
    I usually aim for about 10 minutes for morning services, which means I sometimes preach for 15 minutes, but not longer – else I'll be late for the next service. One of our 8 am congregations has told me several times that “we never used to have a sermon at all” (under previous incumbent) but I ignore that, and they get up to 10 minutes.
    Although the churches are only around 4 miles apart, they have very different contexts and congregations, and so room to differentiate seems vital to me. I used to deviate from written words, but it made it hard to get back “on page”. Mindmaps are the way forward – and yes, make the tone very adaptable too.
    I can't be the first preacher to find this way works 🙂

  3. Evensong is one of my favourite services, and all went according to plan. A sermon was preached, people nodded vigorously, looked thoughtful, chuckled and generally participated as far as any Evensong congregation could be expected to.

    And I got engaged in congregation on the door about some of the finer points of the Herod Family tree – thank goodness I had a copy of it with me. Between Herod the Great and five wives and half brothers and granddaughters it was quite confusing – just like any other family, if more actively murderous than most.

  4. I have long lacked the discipline of writing out sermon scripts. When worship portfolio in college required them the 'script' was put together after the event once I had found out where it led in the moment.

    For me preaching is dialogue of sorts, I might be the only one verbalising but the congregation shape where I go – by what I know of them, from their reaction, from something in the air of the moment…

    The same sermon is never the same – and I'm sure it isn't however much scripted – the soil in which it lands will vary and yes a couple of miles can be a vastly different micro-climate!

    (Whilst I only usually manage 2-3 services a week – the churches want to meet at the same time and I missed the cloning class at college – we fly solo for the whole gig, quite a different dynamic, and the day starts at a more civilised time for us chapel folk!!)

  5. I never thought of making up portfolio sermons after the event! Brilliant. And I like your idea of microclimates – please may I steal it and recycle it?

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