Monthly Archives: May 2004

How To Be A Poet Preacher

One good start would involve reading this post by Jim Henley (link via BoingBoing, who found it from Patrick Nielsen’s wonderful Electrolite), and changing the word “poet” to “preacher,” and “poem” to “sermon.”
One of the problems at the seminary level is that very few people preach a half-decent sermon in their first dozen, two dozen, perhaps hundred sermons. Overall, the standard of preaching in the Episcopal Church is pretty low, so some people preach sermons that aren’t nearly as bad as the average; but most folks need more than three or four practice sermons in seminary to make significant strides toward fluency and grace in preaching.
Here at Seabury, we put a lot of emphasis on finding your preaching voice, and I don’t construe that as opposed to Henley’s advice to forget about finding your voice. The two divergent paths actually converge where preachers have learned enough about words (learned to care enough about words) and the way words work that they can articulate a voice that effects something more vital than the casual trivialities with which daily life clutters our conversations. Henley emphasizes the craft (and I’m intensely sympathetic with the urgency with which he presses his case); here, we emphasize the “personal voice,” but the best preaching draws strength from both. A personal voice without practiced composition amounts to authentic superficiality, and elegant rhetoric without a personal voice washes past as so much more empty P.R. (sorry, Jeneane and Michael; when I say, “empty P.R.” I mean “not the kind that my friends produce”).
It’s work, and it’s hard work, and people can get better at it if they’re willing to put as much effort into it as they will to body sculpting or playing guitar or designing snazzy web sites, woodcarving, juggling, or playing Unreal Tournament. If it came in a bottle, everyone would be a good preacher.
[End of rant. You may resume comfortable browsing.]