The preparation for yesterday’s sermon

This topic was assigned following a discussion between my mentor and I when we decided to stick to the theme of Trinity Sunday.

Step 1: I brainstormed ideas about the topic (the Holy Spirit), use the Internet to search for inspiration and readings.

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Notes from my planning boom

Step 2: This was my first go at writing the sermon. I did this in longhand because it made it easier to add to whenever inspiration struck. This was written in three sessions.

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Step 3: This was typed up. I read it out loud to myself and made amendments. I then sent it to my mentor for checking.

Step 4: I made the amendments suggested by my mentor (a couple of introductory sentences). I read it into a voice recorder. I made further amendments as I listened to the recording.

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I added potential breathing breaks (green lines).

Step 5: deliver sermon.

Sounds so easy!

Good night and God bless x

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How was my first sermon?

I have felt wretched about preaching for days. Would the words resonate with others? Would I deliver it suitably? Would I be doing God’s work?

As today is Trinity Sunday, my mentor (M) and I decided we would preach on the trinity with my address being on the Holy Spirit. After all, what could be easier for a first sermon than preaching on one of the most difficult Christian concepts?

After I had written my sermon, I emailed it to M who suggested one amendment which I readily used: I needed more of an introduction to the topic.  I then read it to myself and amended anything that felt out of place or poorly worded.  Once printed I read it into a voice recorder and listened back before making further, more minor, changes.

Despite all this preparation, and despite having run it past a couple of friends, I was very nervous before this afternoon’s service.  I was pacing the vestry and fiddling about with everything I found – it must have been incredibly annoying for M!

My first part of the service was to read the story of the elephant and the blind men. In this story, none of the men have come across an elephant before and go to feel it to find out what kind of a thing it is. One man falls against its side and thinks an elephant is a wall; another feels its trunk and believes that an elephant is a snake; still another feels the ears and thinks an elephant is a fan; and so on. We used this story to demonstrate that God can be viewed in different ways. The congregation seemed to enjoy it and I got a few smiles and laughs as I read it.

My next task was to lead the prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving. Within these, I used a hymn as a prayer. I announced this but quickly realised that I was the only one without a copy of Hymns and Psalms!
Note to self: bring own copy in future or, better yet, put it on the print out.

Once I had announced the next hymn, I could sit down and enjoy M’s reading and her address on the Father and the Son. The whole thing was engaging and easy to follow. I really liked the way she used pictures and props to demonstrate her point – not just explain it. I need to think about how I can engage more of the senses in the future.

And then, the dread moment arrived when I had to deliver my reading and my address!

My throat was aching and dry and there was no water at the lectern. I kept having to clear my throat as I read.

Once the reading was over, I began my address and I felt a strength rise within me. I felt more animated, more sure of the words I was saying. As I looked around me, I could see people smiling and nodding their heads as though what I was saying made sense. And when it was over, when I had finished, I was so full of emotion that I was worried that I would cry!

I started us all off on the final hymn feeling full of God’s love and sang with gusto. This left me with barely any breath for the blessing so my final lesson learned was this: take the last hymn more steadily!

Good night and God bless x

First (Mini) Sermon

I am sitting in my garden, Romans 8 in front of me, preparing for next week’s address on the Holy Spirit. I am happy with what I have written but it requires only 2 minutes – not the allocated 5.

Should I use another point about the Spirit and risk diluting the point I am trying to make?

Or expand this point and risk diluting the point I am trying to make?

As usual, my course of action is to leave it for a while, pray on it and return to it later.

A Busy Week

This week I have had meetings with both my tutor and my mentor.

The tutor’s role is to support a trainee preacher as he or she progresses through Faith and Worship.  The meeting involved discussing the course to date and checking the answers I had written for the questions asked in the unit.  As I had finished unit 1 and started unit 2, we worked through all of that. S (my trainer) suggested wider perspectives than I had discerned and I was able to add his insights to my notes.

On Thursday, I met with M – my mentor. M’s role is to support me as I learn to develop and deliver services.  We discussed last Sunday’s service.  She said I have a good, clear voice. She thought the prayers I had written were well – balanced and well-delivered but that the silences I had allowed for reflection were too long. I agree with that but cannot help but wonder if it felt longer to us because we were unable to fully engage due to our responsibilities in the service. I will try shorter silences next time I use reflection as an aid to prayer and see what effect that has.

We also started planning the next service.  My first sermon (well, part of a sermon) will be on Trinity Sunday. I have been assured by several preachers that this is the most difficult sermon of the year.  When I was reading up online, I came across a website that said there are two types of Christians: those who know they do not understand the trinity and those who do not know that they do not understand the trinity.  It was certainly a major barrier to the development of my faith: there are three persons of God. Each person of God equal and is fully God. It is like a riddle. I had come to the conclusion that there is little point in trying to use my tiny human brain to understand a divine issue and that I should focus on how I experience the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now that I am training as a preacher, I need to revisit the issue and work out how to be able to speak about it without commiting heresy or collapsing with mental exhaustion.  Or both!

God bless you and keep you x

My first service as preacher-on-note

I arrived at the church shortly after 10am to meet with my preacher-mentor, M.  Feeling sick, apprehensive and unworthy, I entered the church.

This was my first visit to this particular church so I had a little look round and M and I decided where each of us would sit and stand.

We then went into the vestry to discuss details with the church stewards such as which hymn books we would be using (hymns and psalms) and whether we would need radio mics (I would, M wouldn’t). Both stewards were charming and made me feel very welcome. I actually knew one from a retreat I attend each year which made me feel a lot better.

And then it was 10:28, time for a vestry prayer and the walk to the lectern.  Luckily, this involved crossing the church and I could focus on getting to my seat rather than making eye contact with the large congregation.

M started off with an opening prayer amd hymn and I had a problem! No hymn book and I could not see the screen from where I was.  I sidled along the side of the platform to see the screen better but the angle was very shallow making it difficult. A steward came to the rescue with a copy ofbhymns and psalms but it did not match the words everyone else was singing.  The screen had been fed with the updated lyrics from Singing the Faith. Lesson learned: let the stewards know which version of a hymn I intend to use.

But, I had no time to dwell on this because it was time for me to lead the prayers of adoration, confession and thanksgiving. 

I stood, I approached the lectern and I said “let us pray”. At the exact same moment, M started a small speech introducing me.  Because the lectern is positioned further forward than the pulpit,  I had not seen her stand and we had not arranged for the speech so I had not expected it.  I will have to check with M whether she will introduce me at every service and at what point of each service she will do so to avoid that happening again.

It was now that I discovered a problem with my printing.  Because the sheets were double-sided, there was a good chance they would hit the mic on the lectern whenever I turned the page. Another lesson learned: always print single-sided.

Delivery of the prayers seemed to go well though there was some fidgeting during the reflective silences I had allowed. I don’t know whether that is normal or indicated that I hadn’t made the purpose of the silence clear enough or that I let it go on too long.  Normally, I am only aware of what I do during those times.

I moved onto the first reading and that seemed to go well, practicing had helped. Also, I had marked when I intended to pause or emphasise certain words:

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A section of my printout

Then it was time for a hymn and for M to introduce today’s theme (don’t look for God in the wrong places).

As the offering was made, I attached the radio mic and went forward to receive it.  It was so difficult not to dip my head to the mic! And I had to do this without my notes.

I returned to the lectern for the final reading which also seemed to go well.  The next hymn was Dear Lord and Father of Mankind. A look of anxiety crossed the face of the steward manning (womanning?) the laptop attached to the big screen. No words appeared. Other stewards headed to the back of the church. I knew I had to acknowledge what was happening so I said “ladies and gentlemen, hymn books are being brought forward now”. At which point, the screen came to life behind me. I only knew because of the laughter that rippled through the church. I congratulated the stewards on their quick responses and we began to sing.

That was me done – or so I thought.

At the end of the service, M said I should be with her at the door to shake hands with the congregation.  Some left immediately, others stayed for yea and coffee. We stood at the door for over half an hour and shook hands with about 80 people.

So what feedback did I get? I have a clear voice. Several people said they would look forward to me returning alone to preach. I was told I dealt well with the hymn lyric issue. And, from a young man I know “you did better than I thouhht you would”.  When I asked whether I should take that as a compliment,  he said he had known I would be food but I had been better than good.

I class that all as a successful firat aervice. Nobody walked out and I have things to build on.

Next week, I have meetings with both M, to plan our next service and with my tutor.

God bless you and keep you x

I feel really nauseated

Several people – preachers and ministers – have told me how good it is to be a bag of nerves before delivering a service and, to be completely honest, I thought they were mad.

In the past I have felt full of an emanating light when I have contributed to services.  Secure in the notion that God was guiding my words.

Today, ahead of my first service as a preacher-on-note, I feel hideously sick. I have eaten but only to set my son a good example. 

On the plus side, if a high level of nerves mean a good service, it’s going to be awesome.

God bless you and keep you x