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Archbishop Justus, Ltd


Preaching as a contact sport: a Church of England vicar breaks world records by preaching a 36-hour sermon.

Hallo again to all.

Last week in this space we wrote about preaching and its place in the Anglican church, being motivated to write thus for two reasons: we understood that Anglican theological colleges (seminaries) were not emphasising homiletics as they once did—and we heard an especially good sermon.

In response to our musings, we were quite overwhelmed with emails from you about preaching. Almost certainly the number of responses to last week's letter was an all-time record. Roughly categorized, we heard three things:

  • I know a really good preacher, the Revd Name Here at St Rutabaga's church. You should go listen.
  • Preaching is important, but let's not get carried away focusing on the preacher instead of the Word.
  • I've worked hard all of my life to give good sermons, and I've felt rather alone sometimes.

One man in the USA commented:

I believe there are many truly gifted preachers in our communion who do not happen to be household names but who are, rather, faithful parish priests who must balance the demands of sermon preparation with all our other pastoral duties. I find preaching a particularly joyful enterprise, but it was never intended to carry the entire burden of the grace of the liturgy.

And a woman in Canada said this:

Our parish is blessed with one of the best preachers. One of the problems a great preacher faces is the tendency to be the one people come to hear, when all the preacher wants is that the congregation hear God's word through him, not his word. Alas, there are people who follow preachers...and who would leave our parish if and when he does.

Another person wrote us a wonderful four-page essay on how to train preachers. He described himself as 'a simple country parson who doesn't have many opportunities to preach to people outside my parish.' It made perfect sense to us, but we don't train preachers. You do.

And then ... we suddenly realised that, with few exceptions, good Anglican preachers are often right where they belong. They are preaching in parish churches. They are faithfully proclaiming the Gospel in and out of season to the flocks they have been called to tend, in churches not supplied with television cameras or publishing contracts. So of course we've never heard of them. It's not our church's way to spend millions of dollars publicizing our clergy on the telly. Maybe we have a bishop or two who are not strangers to the press, but the great Anglican preachers aren't the ones in the newspapers. They're the ones who stand in front of the people of God every Sunday and let the Holy Spirit guide them as they strive to proclaim the ancient Word anew.

At AO we also try hard to listen to the Holy Spirit, to ask ourselves, constantly, 'Where is the Holy Spirit trying to lead us? What is the message for this time and place?' So we read your responses yet again. Many of you told us that preachers who devote time and energy and prayer to crafting their sermons feel isolated, out of touch with others who care about the craft of preaching. Preaching in their own pulpits every Sunday, they do not often hear others' sermons. Serving small villages and towns, they don't have a chance to discuss preaching with other Anglican preachers.

We're not preachers, but we do have a popular, internationally-known website. We're considering starting a new section of Anglicans Online devoted to homiletics, to discussions of how to train preachers and how to preach, and to publicising fine sermons. We already have a section called 'Preaching Resources', but it's rather neglected and perhaps incorrectly focused. Perhaps we need to re-title and expand it or develop an entirely new section on 'Homiletics'. We're not entirely certain how this will work, but if we pray, listen, and pay attention, we'll see what we can do.

In the meantime, we give hearty thanks to the thousands of you who are good preachers, who are studying to become better preachers, or who are helping their preachers by listening to the message and not to the speaker.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 18 August 2002