Breaking News

Just back from deepest Derbyshire and the College of Preachers’ Breaking News Conference. The College isn’t really a college. It is a kind of ‘virtual’ college. It is really a ‘body’ to promote good practice in preaching and it would appear you can’t even join it even although we all thought the money we had been sending them every year was a membership when in fact it was merely a subscription for what turns out to be a rather expensive magazine. But enough of such gripes.

This year’s conference, and my first, was to be about preaching among the news headlines. I’m not very good at that. The world could come to an end on Sunday morning at 3am and I will still be going with whatever I have slaved over all week whether it was apocalyptical or not. I don’t react well. I like time to think and plan. So I thought this conference might be helpful. You know the kind of thing – world comes to an end and by 8.30am Ruth has seamlessly managed to relate said end to all three readings with room for a joke on the subject too.

It was a bit of a hike to Englandshire on the train but at least I can now travel on my own without needing anxiety medication. (Don’t ask.) The Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick was jolly nice and the room was spacious. I arrived in time for lunch and then it was straight into three long sessions, two from women in the BBC telling us about news gathering. How that affects my sermon, I’m not exactly sure, but it was very interesting all the same.  Then off to the bar and I’m afraid I didn’t make it to Worship led by the Salvation Army praise band. I was awfully tired. I was!

Wednesday began with the search for decent coffee which led to a trip along the M1 in rush hour traffic, a few junctions later and finally a Costa before discovering we couldn’t get back on the M1 in the opposite direction so had to practically drive to Birmingham before we found a junction. As a result we missed the first session which was a great pity as it seemed to be the one that most dealt with the topic in hand. But the next session was by Kate Bruce, Chaplain at St John’s College in Durham. I’ve heard Kate speak before at a Preacher’s Day in Edinburgh and she is good at doing imaginative preaching and stuff like that. I didn’t misbehave during that session once.  Mother K and I went to her workshop too and I did a little work on Sunday’s sermon. Perhaps. Or perhaps not.

Our next speaker talked about the digital culture and how we need to communicate today. There were gasps of shock and disbelief from the grey haired ones around me. When I owned up to being on Facebook and held up my Blackberry I thought I’d be burned for witchcraft and magick. One delightful man asked for my blog address after though which was sweet. You will have gathered that the age profile of those attending the conference was considerably high. Put it this way, I was in the youngest percentage. Where were all the young ones who wouldn’t be shocked at talk of 2nd Generation and St Pixel’s?  Then over coffee I met a delightful NSM who said, “Oh are you Rev Ruth’s Rantings? I read your blog.” Small world, eh?

It was quite a commitment – three days away from the parish. I’m not sure that all of it lived up to the blurb. The speakers from the BBC were all very nice but they didn’t exactly write my sermon, you know?  In fact, only two of the sessions appeared to do that and I missed one of them! The Council of the College of Preachers (mostly men of course!) are all pretty old and I reckon it could do with a big shake-up. Maybe then it would attract some younger delegates.

The final preacher was Leslie Griffiths from the Wesley Chapel in London. What a hoot! He’s a Lord and does Thought for the Day and I could have listened to him all day. Jolly good.

Journey home in the Quiet Compartment, which never is, was uneventful. I even made it back in time to vote.

Preaching right?

The Church Times is talking about preaching this week.  The College of Preachers (of which I am a paid-up member, don’t you know?) commissioned a study into preaching at various denominations.

17% said that they frequently heard sermons that made them change their lifestyles. In my humble experience, whenever one is tempted to have someone in mind when writing such a sermon they invariably don’t turn up that week.

97% said that they looked forward to the sermon each week and 84% agreed that they should be closely connected with the bible.  55% said their knowledge of Jesus was frequently improved by sermons. But only 16% said that sermons helped them to understand events in the news or controversial issues. (Anglicans came off a wee bit better in that one.)

It has made me think about my own preaching style which varies from week to week.  Sometimes it is more of a story telling time with wisdom stories from all faiths being used as a tool. Sometimes it is much more imaginative, getting into the story by imagining I am there.  Sometimes it is focussed completely on one phrase which has caught my eye. Sometimes there is a bit more history and theology and maybe feels more like teaching. And often the type of sermon depends on the amount of time I have to prepare.  Don’t we all wish we could hearken back to those days when the priest spent every morning reading and writing his sermon and every afternoon visiting?

Of course, we didn’t really get taught how to preach. When I was at Tisec I think there was one session on it.  (40 mins)  Because of this I did opt for a course on Homiletics (the study of preaching) at University but it was more theory than practice. This may explain why I joined the College of Preachers!  Unfortunately most of their courses are down south and not easy to attend but they recently had a fabulous day in Edinburgh which made me promise myself I’d spend more time in preparation, fired with some great ideas. I managed it once!

I do remember a few really good sermons.  Not as many as I would like, however.  The ones that paint pictures work well for me. I don’t hear many of them. But then, I’m a visual person.  And I don’t get to hear many sermons these days.

So, my question today is… what style of preaching do you prefer?  Can you recall a memorable sermon which has stuck with you? Do you ever feel challenged to go out and look at the world differently or to live differently?

Over to you…