How to do what clergy do …

I had one of those days yesterday when I tripped over two significant pieces of in-service training without meaning to.

The first came from the Alban Institute. Obvious when you think about it. But not so obvious when you are looking at one of those endless ‘to do’ lists which accompany a ‘God is in details as well as the big picture’ attitude to ministry. They say that one should always prioritise the important but non-urgent over the [seemingly] urgent but not important. I’m not going to risk saying what might belong in either category – but it reminds me that one should sometimes do the routine things last rather than first.

The second was a remarkable interview with Frank Skinner in the Church Times. Frank Skinner on preaching? Yes indeed.

‘During his stand-up routine, he never takes his eyes off the audience, always checking to see if they are still with him. As soon as he feels he is losing them, he changes direction to win them back. Otherwise they have left for the bar.’ In the absence of a bar, he says, churchgoers depart mentally as the priest rises to speak.’

Somewhere along the way, I managed to learn to preach without reading a script – and I know that some of our clergy are trying to do the same. You get points for sincerity even if you don’t deserve them. It’s best if you still write a script and make it tight – otherwise you spread yourself. It’s not about memorising the words – more about holding it as an entity in your mind and letting the words come fresh as you speak it. Sermons are not stand-up – thank goodness. But the culture of low expectations of preaching which he describes makes it a real challenge.

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