Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fools for Christ

I sometimes wonder if Alice were a theologian, whether she'd say that the Incarnation represented God in a cunning disguise.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Evaluating our preaching - and maybe everything else

The post below has sparked a bit of discussion about how to assess good preaching - especially from the perspective of the preacher. As I said below, I'm told I'm a good preacher. But I'm not quite sure if I believe it.

In the ensuing discussion, an anonymous poster made what should have been a blindingly obvious suggestion - why not give people a means of responding directly - like the evaluation forms you see at many professional development and training events?

The following snips from the conversation set the rest of the stage - but I wanted to give the emerging subject a bit more profile.


Joseph said...

Hmmm... I think this is where pastoral visiting comes into the picture. When I'm doing parish visits I will try to get feedback from my parishioners on my preaching. There are always surprises as to which sermon seemed to connect with this person or that person. At the same time, there is the question of discerning which gifts one has as a priest.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand why preachers don't seek out evaluations of their sermons. Trainers and those involved in adult education would never deliver a session without getting feedback through an evaluation form. Why does a preacher have to read tea leaves, eavesdrop at coffee hour or rely on anecdotal comments and complaints? How can he or she improve? Maybe it was different when everyone came to church no matter how bad the preaching.

Joseph said...

anonymous - I think that is the point of connecting pastoral visiting with preaching. It allows for direct feeback.A trickier part of preaching is that sometimes the message of the gospel offends or challenges. Some of the immediate feedback that Jesus received wasn't all that favourable!

Malcolm+ said...

Joseph's point is certainly well taken. If one is fulfilling the preacher's mandate to "afflict the comfortable," it is entirely likely that an excellent sermon would get poor reviews.

That said, my secular work is PR, and constant evaluation is the surest way to improvement.

I was struck by something our mutual friend Tim wrote on his blog about a week ago regarding the "field research" Rick Warren did in the lead-up to establishing Saddleback Church.

"Rick was going door to door in his neighbourhood. He wasn't selling Bibles, he was asking questions, four questions to be exact. I'm quoting from memory, but it seems to me that the four questions went something like this:

- 'Do you go to church?' (if the answer was 'yes', Rick wished them well and moved on).
- 'If you don't go to church, what's the main reason why not?'
- 'If you were to go to church, what sort of a church would you be likely to go to?'
- 'How could I as a pastor be helpful to you?'

The eventual design of Saddleback Church (the congregation, not the building) was based on the results of these two exercises - the Bible study and the survey. They were clear from the beginning that it was to be a church for unchurched people: the purpose was that people who were not Christians should come to faith in Jesus Christ and grow as his followers."

Even to the most inspired evangelist, God nonetheless gave two ears and one mouth. I'm really intrigued by Anonymous's suggestion about evaluation forms and other research tools - not just about the preaching but about everything.

After all, vox populi and all that.


Please feel free to weigh in. Is there a place for evaluation forms, surveys &c in the life of the parish or the life of the wider Church?

And not just to assess the preaching, but to assess all aspects of our minitries.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Shine with the radiance of his glory

Almighty God,
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
is the light of the world.
May your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed
to the ends of the earth;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

So, I had one of those moments yesterday.

A day after moving houses, living in chaos and confusion, it was a busy day at the parish. There was the usual Sunday morning service, of course. There was also the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service in the afternoon, at which I would preside and preach.

In the morning, I spoke about vocation - about what God was calling us to be, both as individuals and as a community. I spoke about Samuel and Eli, and about Philip and Nathaniel. I tied it back to the collect of the day, suggesting that we had a responsibility to "shine with the radiance of [Christ's] glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth." There was more than just that, of course, but that line from the collect was, if you will, the refrain of the sermon.

After the Unity Octave service in the afternoon, a couple of my parishioners remarked about how they were happy to be there "to shine." It took me a minute, and they laughed as they observed: "You see, we were listening this morning."

A preacher wonders, Sunday after Sunday, whether the sermon is doing it's job in the service. Does it make the point? Does it do so in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible? Does it enhance the listeners' understanding of the gospel? Does it make a difference in their lives? Is anybody listening?

I'm told I'm a good preacher. I do try to keep to one of the central rules of preaching - it should be about God and about ten minutes. (Or, as Tommy Douglas put it, the mind can only absorb as long as the seat can endure.) I try to preach to the lectionary - usually to the gospel.

I'm told I'm a good preacher - but I'm never entirely convinced that's so.

Do other "good preachers" feel this way?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Pittsburgh Stealers

Followers of the current Anglican unpleasantness will be aware that three more Episcopal dioceses (Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy) have purported to follow the example of San Joaquin and declare, geography be damned, they are now part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of America.

Of course, there is no canonical means by which a diocese may leave the Anglican province to which it belongs without the consent of that province. Thus, we now have two Anglican dioceses in each of these four places: the real diocese, affiliated to the Episcopal Church, and the schismatic diocese which purports to be affiliated with the Bishop of Buenos Aries.

The real diocese of San Joaquin has been functioning for some time. The real dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy are still sorting themselves out - Pittsburgh being the farthest along.

Coverage of the latest legal manoeuvrings can be found at Thinking Anglicans.

Today my brother-in-law was over, so the TV was tuned to the National Football League playoff game between Pittsburgh and San Diego.

I don't normally watch the NFL. Any football game that involves four downs and the fair catch rule is clearly designed to be played by small children and not by grown men at exorbitant salaries.

However, I did start to giggle when it struck me that the closest thing Pittsburgh has to a professional football team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Argentine-affiliated Anglicans schismatics might be described as the Pittsburgh Stealers.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Passing the Peace

I don't think we've got a Mrs. Beamish at St. James.

H/T to Grandmére Mimi.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Canadian Culture

Yes, we have it.

I've heard of Morris Dancing, but I've never actually seen it.

Non-Canadian readers should review this video of iconic Spudisland chansonnier Stompin' Tom.

All but a handful of English folk will need to review this video traditional Morris Dancing.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

And now for something completely different

I've become a big fan of the late Yorkshire chansonnier Jake Thackray.

Here's just one example of why.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Is it good for kids?

For some time, my secular work included being the principal speech writer for our provincial Minister of Education. In all, I served three different Ministers of Education in this capacity, but this story is about the first of these, one of the longest serving Ministers of Education in our history.

The relationship between a speech giver and a speech writer is an odd symbiosis. The writer must, in essence, get inside the head of the speech giver and find their voice. The speech needs to sound like the person who will eventually deliver it. It needs to connect to the speaker if there is any hope of it connecting the speaker and the listeners.

One of my triumphs in this regard was the first speech I ever wrote for the Minister. Doubtless it helped that I had known the Minister for several years. We weren't close, but we knew each other passing well and we moved in the same circles. Howe'er it was, I found the Minister's voice. The speech connected to the speaker, and the speaker connected to the audience.

As it was reported to me, "You made the Minister cry."

Not entirely sure this was a good thing, I said something to the effect of, "I beg your pardon?"

And they repeated it. "You made the Minister cry. In a good way. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. People were coming up and hugging her after the speech."

That particular speech was to teachers and others who worked in community schools - especially designated schools with higher proportions of "at-risk" children - schools which received additional resources in order to give these children a chance at success in school and in life.

This Minister's byword, her standard for every policy, was very simple.

"Is it good for kids?"

There was no question that community schools were good for kids who came from dysfunctional homes, kids for whom school was often their only island of stability, kids who might well turn up for school without hats, without mitts, without coats, without boots, without breakfast.

"Is it good for kids?"

I was put in mind of this today when I listened to the Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year message. He speaks of how the way we treat children as one of the most significant measures of a society.

[W]hat would our life be like if we really believed that our wealth, our treasure, was our fellow-human beings?

Religious faith points to a God who takes most seriously and values most extravagantly the people who often look least productive or successful- as if none of us could really be said to be doing well unless these people were secure.

And as we look around in our own country as well as worldwide, this should trigger some hard questions – whether we think of child soldiers in Africa or street children in Latin America, or of children in our midst here who are damaged by poverty, family instability and abuse, street violence and so much else. Children need to be taken seriously, not just as tomorrow’s adults but as fellow-inhabitants of the globe today, growing human beings whom we approach with respect and patience and from whom we ought to learn.

Read the whole transcript here.

Or watch it here.

How is our society doing?

Is it good for kids?

Is it good for poor kids?

Is it good for vulnerable kids?

How well we need to remember that God chose to become human, not as a privileged child in a palace, but as an at-risk kid - the child of a teenaged mother, a refugee, a babe in a manger.

How is our society doing?

Is it good for kids?