Monday, May 17, 2010

Preaching--if anyone cares....

I went to church Sunday. It was because of my theory that church is habitual and that the habit takes 6 months to form and 3 weeks to break. This would have been my third I went to church.

It isn't a busman's holiday for me, going to church. I like to 'do' church rather than 'go' to church. So, I tried to clear my mind and not be so hyper-critical.

It was actually fine--except that it was an early service that they somehow managed to drag into over an hour. I alway shot for between 40-45 minutes. 90% of the time we met that goal, so maybe I caught them on one of their 10% sundays.

The sermon was pretty good. In fact, there were probably 2 'pretty good' sermons in there--humor, personal reflection, story telling, connection to the gospel--but it did go on and on.

The preacher, I know, doesn't preach much...he's not the Rector. So he fell foul of that--"I'd better tell them good!" syndrome. Seminarians I have known have tried to review their whole theological education in a single sermon. And then there are simply long-winded people and people fascinated by the sound of their own voice. (I might fall into that last category from time to time...)

But brevity is best. And that requires that the preacher 'trusts' the people to 'get it'. You don't have to tell them everything....Most of the people in church on Sunday have heard more sermons than any of us have preached--though after35 years of preaching most Sundays and perhaps one other time a week, I probably don't find many people listening who've heard more than I've preached. But I do trust them. They aren't neophytes to the church or theology or the Bible. Lay people are a lot smarter and more savvy than most priests give them credit for.

I, unlike most regular church goers, don't hear many sermons since I'm usually preaching. But lots of them that I hear really underestimate the theological IQ of the laity. I've been privileged to serve three churches where that IQ was quite high--which is what told me that it is better to say too little than too much. A preacher shouldn't 'explain' very much. If it has to be minutely 'explained' leave it out, I would say. That kind of thing is the thing of education, not preaching.

The pretty good sermon I heard on Sunday could have been quite good, maybe even 'very good', if the preacher had ended it sooner. I counted 4 places where I thought he had concluded and yet he went on, trying, each time, to 'explain' what would have been a fine place to end.

I think most everyone would have 'gotten it' had he ended at that first point. Or, if they didn't, they might have engaged him in conversation later. Or, they might have left a bit perplexed and mystified--not a bad place to leave people, by the way. Mike Nichols, the writer/actor/director, once said he wanted people to leave the theatre thinking about something besides where they'd parked their car.

That wouldn't be a bad way to leave church. That, in fact, would be better, for sure, than leaving looking at your watch....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.