Friday, May 11, 2007

From the College of Preachers, UK

What did you make of your preaching?


Monday, May 07, 2007

Clergy tap variety of sources for sermons

From The Providence Journal via TitusOneNine:

01:00 AM EDT on Sunday, May 6, 2007

By Richard C. Dujardin

Journal Religion Writer

When the Rev. Joseph Protano Jr. heard a couple of weeks ago that there was a minister in Providence under fire for plagiarizing sermons, he had to laugh.

“Stealing? Isn’t that what we all do?” exclaimed the priest of 44 years, the pastor of St. Andrew Church on Block Island. “Every time we use the scriptures, we’re using the words of Peter and Paul and Matthew and Luke and all those guys.”

The Catholic priest acknowledged that members of some Protestant churches whose congregations pay big salaries to their ministers to hone finely crafted sermons with their needs in mind may take a dim view of a minister pulling a canned sermon off the Internet.

But while he says it’s not something he would do himself, he would not think any less of a priest who does.

“Preaching is very difficult. It’s not an easy art. It takes brain, a heart, a stomach and courage to get up in front of an audience and try to change their minds to a ‘Jesus way of life,’ ” he says.

“I sympathize with priests who don’t think they have the art to create their own sermons. How would I feel if someone took one of my homilies and used it as his own? I’d be flattered, I would be honored, and I would be ecstatic, though I can’t imagine any priest being so desperate to use a homily of mine.”

To be sure, many worshipers see the world as Father Protano does and really don’t care how a sermon or homily ends up flowing from the pastor’s lips as long as it’s uplifting and inspirational.

But it’s not a view shared by all, as evidenced by the dismay shown recently by members of the First Unitarian Church in Providence when they learned that their minister, the Rev. Donald Cameron, had recycled, practically word for word, sermons delivered by other preachers 10 and 11 years ago. Mr. Cameron ended up resigning late last month.

The Rev. Donald C. Anderson, pastor of the First Baptist Church in East Greenwich, says that while he searches for sermon illustrations through a service, Preaching Today, he would never think of using someone else’s sermon without attribution. He typically spends 8 to 16 hours developing his weekly sermon.

“I know those services are out there, but I rarely look at them because I enjoy putting a sermon together. It’s really a labor of love.”

He thinks drawing on fully composed, ready-to-deliver sermons is really a form of pastoral cheating.

The minister, who for the last eight years headed the American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island Standing Committee on Ordained Ministry, said he is not aware of an instance in Rhode Island of a Baptist preacher found to be cheating. “If it did happen, it would be a case of clergy misconduct.”

Mr. Anderson noted that while Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Episcopalians see the liturgical rites associated with the Eucharist as the central part of the worship service, Baptists place a great deal of emphasis on the preaching. Someone who does not like to preach is not likely to become a Baptist preacher. “It’s what they do.”

“The sermon is not a college lecture where your goal is to communicate facts. It’s persuasive speech where you’re trying to change attitudes. And you can do that best when you are giving part of yourself. Speaking from your own experience is always better than the sermon some bellwether preacher has put together.”

Mr. Anderson was named Thursday by the Rhode Island State Council of Churches to be the organization’s executive minister and will leave his pastorate to take the position.

The Rev. Sharon Key agrees that speaking from personal experience is best. A former chaplain at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y., and a former interim executive minister for the Council of Churches, she has been pastor of Woodridge Congregational United Church of Christ in Cranston for 4½ years.

She says she used to panic as she neared the end of the week and hadn’t quite nailed down what she was going to say. But no longer.

“Since I’ve become a full-time pastor, I never panic. It’s a creative process and I trust in the Holy Spirit. I know there are going to be some weeks when my sermon isn’t going to be as good as others. But one of the things is that the congregation sticks with you. They are incredibly kind and loving. … When you speak to your own people week after week you can do sermon series.”

Most clergy interviewed said they generally begin working on their sermon topic on Monday. Typically, Reverend Key reads the selected scripture passages and allows them to stay with her and “percolate” for several days. Along the way, a conversation with friends or a sermonette in Christian Century magazine will trigger an idea or two, so that by Thursday she’s ready to put it all together.

She usually writes down her sermons, sometimes going through several versions between Friday and Sunday. When she delivers it, she always tries to make sure to give credit where credit is due, even if only to acknowledge that a certain idea came from a conversation with a friend.

“I think a congregation likes to know how a sermon came about,” she explains. “They love to hear how it evolved. They also love to hear stories that come out of the life of the congregation.”

The Rev. Dennis P. Kohl, pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Warwick, says he typically begins his preparation on Monday by going over the upcoming scripture readings in their original Greek, so as to more fully appreciate their meaning. Then on Tuesday he and a half-dozen other Lutheran clergy gather to discuss the texts, bouncing ideas off one another about possible themes.

He acknowledges there have been times when the ideas don’t come as easily as he would like. But while his wife has pointed out to him that there are sermons that can be gotten from the Internet, he rejects that approach because it would be like putting a square peg into a round hole.

“You just know that kind of stuff doesn’t work. Partly it’s because of our theology, which teaches us ministry is both word and sacrament. We have an obligation to address where people are in their lives. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult, but I think it’s better for people to see the preacher wrestling with the texts.”

He says he has also come to realize there’s another thing a preacher can do if he runs into a brick wall: keep the sermon brief. “You make your point and know enough to sit down.”

Father Protano, the priest on Block Island, says he usually prepares by going through the Scriptures and then reading a professional commentary on the text. Then, he says, he’ll try to find a good story from a newspaper or a book or from Connections, a periodical out of New Hampshire, which he frequently finds helpful

“To give a good homily, you do have to be well prepared. The secret, I think, is that the preacher must be spiritually grounded in what he’s preaching. If I’m not moved by the things in my sermon, I know my sermon will be lousy. If I am moved, I know others will be moved as well. If I’m not convinced in the truth of what I’m saying, I’m a phony in the pulpit.”

Father Protano said back in his earlier days, there were people who came in with recorders to tape his homilies — not because they were real fans but because they suspected he was preaching heresy and wanted to send the tapes to the bishop. “I spoke loud and clear so they could capture every word. As far as I know, nothing ever came of it.”

While he sympathizes with clergy who resort to using canned sermons, saying he does not believe it to be morally wrong, he adds that he would never do it himself.

“For one thing, all those sermons seem to be written for people in the Midwest, not for those of us in Rhode Island. That’s one of the problems. I can say without hesitation that every parish has its unique population, with different background, different levels of education and interest in religion. The people on Block Island — especially those who are here for the summer — are more laid back. You can’t preach the same homily in Providence that you preach on Block Island.”