18 to 25 July 2004
We had numerous
responses to our front-page
letter of 18 July about sermons, voice. clarity, and the like. Thanks
to all who wrote about their own experiences in voice training, homiletics,
preaching, and the like. We include a large selection below, as we found
them most interesting. We hope our readers will, too.
If you'd like to
write a letter of your own, click here.
MY VISIT TO OUR CHURCH IN BRAZIL in 1987 on the
60th anniversary of Japanese Christian Missions in Brazil (begun
by Anglicans from Japan in 1927), I met a Priest from the Diocese
of Kobe, Japan, Father Andrew Tsuneo Matsuo, who was serving
in the Japanese Brazilian congregation at St. John's Church,
Ten days ago,
on Sunday, July 11, 2004, my wife and I went to St. Timothy's Church,
Sakomachi, Tokushima (Diocese of Kobe) and met Father Matsuo, again.
The purpose of our quick ten-day trip from Seattle to Japan was to
attend the Memorial Service when the cremated remains of my wife's
mother, Sarah Hatsue Furumoto, were committed in the church's common
grave. My wife's mother at age 94, had died 35 days before, on June
6, but the earliest we could be with the family was on this occasion.
(My wife's father, the Rev. Paul Masao Furumoto, died eleven years
ago when we were serving in Okinawa, so we were able to attend his
funeral in the Cathedral in Kobe.) Keiko's father and mother had served
for 40 years in Tokushima. Father Matsuo conducted the committal, and
the Eucharist preceding it.
had a powerful, booming, resonating voice, one that I did not remember
hearing during my visit to Brazil 17 years before. During a reception
in the parish hall after the Church Service and the Committal at the
Cemetery, I asked him about it. He replied that he prepared himself
under training to be able to be heard without benefit of voice amplification,
as speakers had done in time-honoured fashion in ages past. He said
he put himself in the hands of a voice trainer who took him to a waterfall,
where he screamed until his voice literally cracked. After his voice
returned, he was directed to scream until it cracked the second time.
Then after his voice returned, his trainer helped him to mould his
voice in a period of of an additional two weeks so he could speak again,
but with much louder sounds consonant with Japanese phraseology and
I had heard
visiting evangelists from Japan with loud voices before, but had not
heard about this kind of special voice development, but the characteristic
timbre and tone were identical.
Timothy Makoto Nakayama
St Mark's Cathedral
Seattle, Washington, USA
23 July 2004
WAS FORTUNATE TO HAVE CAREFUL and excellent tutelage
in preaching, receiving private help from fine preachers at
St Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, and excellent courses from
excellent professors at Church Divinity School of the Pacific
in Berkeley, California (class of 1991).
I was taught
careful diction, projection and word emphasis, uses of silence and
eye contact. I learned to preach in conversation with the congregation.
I was taught to write clean sermons: sermons with no extraneous words,
phrases, or unnecessary material. (It was sometimes very hard to give
up my favorite artistic devices!) I was taught to edit, edit, edit,
then edit again! I learned that my sermon should actually have a point,
which then can be illustrated with stories or other material. I learned
how to build a sermon so that people want to hear the next piece and
will follow eagerly. I learned to take time and use care to interpret
scripture in terms of our life today, making every effort not to distort
or otherwise abuse the spirit of the Gospel. I am always grateful that
I had good critics and helpers and wonderful preaching opportunities
I preach from
a full script, except at weddings and funerals, which is rare today.
I find that I can offer a much fuller, less superficial sermon if I
don't have to worry about remembering it. I can also then practice
it and fully exploit a lively intelligent presentation. I want to offer
people challenging, moving, and thought-provoking sermons that helps
them to think and live more and more deeply into their life with God.
Rector, St Peter's Episcopal Church
Seattle, Washington, USA
Only clergy need
INTERESTING FRONT PAGE asks about the adequacy of
training in preaching. I am a layman, recently completed a
four-year theology degree and have gone on to doctoral studies.
But in my college, courses in preaching and homiletics were
available only to candidates taking ordination training!
St Philip's, O'Connor
19 July 2004
for the Trinity
AM A PRIEST OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND, Diocese in
Europe, serving in Vienna, Austria as curate. Four years ago
I had the privilege of a year's training at Wycliffe Hall,
Oxford. (My previous training was by correspondence through
St John's College, Nottingham.)
Hall, preaching was really important! We had two or three -- depending
of the timetable -- classes related to sermons and preaching every
week. We also had voice lessons with a voice teacher, who taught only
that. She was well known for her advice, 'Before you start, take three
deep breaths, one for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy
Christ Church, Vienna (Diocese in Europe)
19 July 2004
'All better sermons
hurt a little to give'
THE YEARS I'VE BEEN TOLD -- especially as a recent
arrival in a congregation -- 'The problem with you is that
I don't get a chance to read the bulletin'. That's meant as
a compliment, that my preaching holds the hearer's attention
well enough that independent amusement is seldom necessary.
Even so, the
far more consistent message of recent years is that sermons ought not
to go over ten minutes, that twenty is intolerable and inexcusable,
and that five would be ideal. I can't imagine what I would hear if
I were not a pretty good preacher. Last week a parishioner volunteered
that she's sick of hearing about the Bible and Christian faith; she
wants book reviews, thoughts about movies, opinions about local politics,
and 'things that might be interesting to us who really come for the
social life and not for religious reasons'.
Few people in
the pews realize how spiritually exhausting preaching is. Most think
of it as public speaking, not realizing that it is a public exposé of
the most intimate details of the preacher's soul. My great disappointment
in Episcopal seminaries in the USA is that they too often hire professors
of homiletics who have never really preached. They give sermons, true
enough; often excellent, and are highly skilled and artistic in sermon
construction. But unless they've gone through the effort to dredge
the bottom for the sixth consecutive week of preaching on empty, they
are not ready to prepare their students for the spiritual exercise
which preaching is.
I remain committed
to the sermon, often delivered informally from the aisle, but well
constructed, thoughtful, grand in scale but accessible in language
and imagery. All my better sermons hurt a little to give, and all reveal
something of myself, even if not explicitly nor so that anyone could
tell I was talking about myself. Paul suggested that preaching was
part of the foolishness by which God was introducing true wisdom to
the world, entrusting eternal truth to the safety of clay pots like
me. In spite of all the temptations to turn preaching into little more
than a thought for the day, it feels faithful and true to keep at the
work so long as the church continues to have faith in the liturgical
life we have inherited.
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
Mercer Island, Washington, USA
20 July 2004
'As the poor
will always be with us...'
AM A GRADUATE STUDENT in New Testament and Preaching
and look forward to a career as a professor of Homiletics as
well as Scripture. As a result, I have been struggling for
some time with the topic, but have come to no good solutions
to what I see as a serious problem.
Just as the
poor will always be with us, so too poor preachers will always be with
us. As Cicero and other classical rhetoricians taught, ability in public
speaking is a blend of individual talent, training, and practice. There
will always be people possessing a true vocation to serve God's people
who will have received the short end of the stick when it comes to
homiletical talent. My job -- our job as the Church -- is to do what
we can in the areas of training and practice.
need to nurture practices that lead seminarians into a mature spirituality
rooted in the biblical text and in the orthodox teachings of the Fathers.
These should not be restricted to the preaching classes, either. All
too often, preaching courses attempt to teach -- or worse, have to
teach -- basic skills in reading the Bible, then constructive theology,
then the elements of liturgy, and only then get to preaching itself
and the arts of public proclamation. Folks, that's not fair -- it's
not fair to students and it surely isn't fair to future parishioners.
Students should already know how to read, ponder, and think theologically
about the Scriptures and their intersection with our world before they
get to the preaching courses. All of the introductory courses ought
to work towards this goal.
need to teach seminarians how to communicate clearly. A costly three
year (or longer) theological education is a waste if at the end our
students are unable to articulate in a clear and compelling fashion
not only what they have learned, but how they are able discern God
at work in the world as a result. And many of our former students and
current priests can neither write nor speak half as well as they ought.
as Christian rhetoric has been widely disparaged in past decades,
suffering under a two-pronged attack from Neo-Orthodox Word
alone theologies and Pietist aw shucks, folks, I'm just
speaking the word God put in my heart today approaches, this
is what we need to recapture. Preaching faculties should be able
to assume that they are teaching students who already know the
basics of Christian doctrine and who are competent readers of the
biblical text. Our task should be to focus on teaching students
how to communicate what they already know and live. Instead of
perpetuating sound bites and bullet points, we need to teach seminarians
how to construct and present sound exhortations about what God
is doing in the incarnate body of Christ that is the Church. Only
then will our students be able to move, instruct, and delight as
As you hint
in your editorial, it surely would be nice if students were taught
classical rhetoric and persuasive speaking. I can tell you for my part
that I would love to teach them that. Instead, given the curricula
at most seminaries around America, that option isn't available. I have
to teach 'intro to everything' before I can even get there.
St Bede's Episcopal Church
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
20 July 2004
Link to 'The
Story' (and don't swallow your consonants)
AM A PRIEST OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH in the USA serving
the Church in the Province of South Africa as Canon Precentor
at St George's Cathedral in Cape Town. Most folks have considered
my preaching as good, strong and challenging. I was awarded
a prize for extemporaneous preaching at General Theological
Seminary (GTS) in New York.
At GTS I took
two courses on preaching. I also was trained a bit in voice for reading,
officiating, and preaching. GTS's current preaching professor, the
Reverend Mitties DeChamplain, is exceptional in that she is a priest
trained in theatre and communication theory and practice. I was also
a high school and college actor and received much help in elocution
I now do in a vast Cathedral, where my American accent can be a hindrance
to someone listening and where a number of parishioners are slightly
hearing impaired, I have developed an even keener sense of elocution,
SLOWING DOWN AND NOT SWALLOWING MY CONSONANTS, ESPECIALLY AT THE END
live in a less word-oriented age, I would say that people will still
sit to listen to good stories. I see the role of the preacher as to
take the biblical stories and our human stories (past and present)
and link to THE STORY, which is God's dream for us.
Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr
Cape Town, Western Province, SOUTH AFRICA
20 July 2004
Taking your body
AM A FAIRLY NEW PRIEST (ordained in 2003) and couldn't
agree with you more. Good sermons are not just about the content,
but also the form -- elocution, pitch, etc.
I am so grateful
that while at seminary (Seabury Western in the Chicago area), our preaching
professor had an acting coach come to work with us on body issues,
pitch, deliver etc. No, we're not acting or performing, but as a musician
and performer, the benefits of good public speaking and good body awareness
are absolutely essential. Too many clergy over look this.
If we really
give our heart to incarnation, then what is demanded of us is that
presiders must take their bodies seriously. That means always being
aware of where it is and how our voice is pitched and what effect it
has. I'm really fortunate to have two very talented colleagues who
are aware of such things and are willing to give feedback to help me
develop my preaching voice and presiding body.
Thank you again
for your article this week and every week!
St Thomas Episcopal Church
Medina, Washington, USA
21 July 2004
Training before a
WAS A SPEECH AND THEATRE major in graduate school
and subsequently taught speech, and oral interpretation of
literature in local colleges. Although that was years before
I was able to fathom a priestly call, it certainly helped prepare
me for preaching!
Calvary in Osceola, Arkansas; and St. Stephen's in Blytheville
Memphis, Tennessee, USA
24 July 2004
RECEIVED SOME MINIMAL TRAINING in elocution and
declamation in seminary, but not much. In homiletics class
we preached for each other and students also preached regularly
to the whole seminary--students and faculty. But the ensuing
critiques were more focused on the content rather than the
use of the voice.
help I personally received for my voice came from my experience in
singing in choirs and glee clubs, particularly during the three years
in college that I sang in a very good parish choir whose repertory
was almost exclusively chant. I found the attention given there to
diction and musical phrasing helped me a lot with speaking and projection
of the voice as well.
One thing I
have found among many of the younger generation of clergy is complete
microphone dependence. Most have no understanding of how to make themselves
heard in a room. I completely agree that more attention to oratorical,
rhetorical and elocution skills is sorely needed.
James N. Lodwick
South Bend, Indiana, USA
19 July 2004
'A story in search
of a sermon'
GOMES WAS MY HOMILETICS PROFESSOR at Harvard Divinity
School. He was a great taskmaster. We learned to preach a minimum
of 10 minutes without notes. Before going up (if you have been
in Memorial Church at Harvard, it is definitely up) to preach
you handed him a note with the main point of your sermon. He
would judge you on how well it moved towards the point, how
you worked from the text assigned, whether your stories 'fit'
or not. My favorite comment he made of one preacher was 'that
anecdote you used seems like a story in search of a sermon'.
I think I received the best possible training.
Lander, Wyoming, USA
20 July 2004
Heard in Royal
JOINED THE CHURCH ARMY (UK) IN 1976 and started
the three-year training course at the Training College. Almost
straightaway we received a term's training from a professional
teacher in public speaking: voice projection, clarity, expression
were all a part of the course. Near
the end of the three years, there were two things essential
to being commissioned as an Officer in the Church Army and
then Admitted to the Office of Evangelist. One was that sufficient
theological and personal development had taken place in the
individual and the other was to pass the English Speaking Board
examination. If you failed you couldn't continue.
I have often
thought that other theological colleges would do well to include the
voice test/examination in their syllabus. Church Army had got it right:
the voice is the single most important form of communication, whether
outdoor evangelism or leading a service in a large church with a congregation
of 5, 50, or 500. We can preach the most profound of insights into
the human or divine, but without hearers being able to hear, all is
There is nothing
quite so irritating as being in a church and not being able to hear
the preacher because of their style (or lack of it) in voice production.
I always remember our voice trainer at Church Army College saying that
the voice could be heard in the Royal Albert Hall with no electronic
help, provided it was directed in the right direction and spoken with
clarity and clearness. Mind you, I've never had the opportunity to
put that theory to the test! I am, of course in favour of microphones
and amplifiers but I've always felt that they are to assist the human
voice to be heard clearly rather than taking it over.
United Benefice of Thornhill and Whitley Lower
Thornhill, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. UNITED KINGDOM
20 July 2004
'The wisdom of
LINK ON YOUR NEWS CENTRE PAGE directed me to a report
of falling church attendance among Anglicans in Australia.
This revealed that since 1991 only two dioceses, Sydney and
Canberra, have increased attendance while all others have gone
down. The Sydney archdiocese is routinely condemned by the
liberals, but their evangelistic, mission-minded programme
seems to be reaching people, while liberal dioceses are ageing
I note also
from your links that Sydney archdiocese was attacked for asking would-be
clergy about any sexual misconduct or proclivities toward pornography
and other deviant behaviour. In the light of the child sex scandal
engulfing Adelaide archdiocese and its former archbishop, I think the
wisdom of Sydney's decision should be recognised and praised.
St Matthew's Church
Newcastle, NSW, AUSTRALIA
19 July 2004
We launched our 'Letters to
AO' section on 11 May 2003. All of our letters are in our