Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I actually have a method for something

There's a conversation going on at More Cows about preaching without manuscripts. I wrote such a carzy-long commment that I deleted it from there and posted it over here. I'm delighted to discover that, although I'm so green at this full time solo ministry biz that I actually have an opinion about something.

I've preached both with and without manuscripts. It's not more work, just a different kind.
Here's the method I use. I had a colleague who told me once to think of it like stringing pearls on a necklace (I think he heard that from Walter Brueggemann). If you have a story or two you know you want to tell, it helps. Also, study the text like usual, but instead of writing things down, listen for what sticks with you. Pray, however it works for you. For me, praying involves a brisk walk. Then:

1. On a card, write this sentence: "the theme of this sermon is..." then fill in the blanks with a short (I mean 3-4 words!) sentence.

2. Stand in the sanctuary.

3. Read the scriptures out loud.

4. Read them out loud again. (this is to get you used to the sound of your own voice).

5. "String the pearls" - that is, say out loud names or keywords by which you'll remember the stories in a row like this: "sermon theme, Father Mike, story about lost wallet, exegesis of passage #1, story about field of flowers, exegesis of passage #2, read Lamott quote, repeat sermon theme" It's best if the sermon theme kind of ties all the stories together. (ha! in this and all preaching, I guess!)

6. At this point you might want to arrange or re-arrange the "pearls".

7. Repeat 5 and 6 two or three times until the "pearls" are all really set in your mind.

8. Go through the whole sermon one last time, this time telling each story outloud. In other words, filling in the stories that until now have been only titles or keywords.

9. Now go home. You can overpractice it and then it sounds stale - part of the point is to keep it sounding conversational and extemporaneous - like you're just talking about things as they come to you.

10. You might want to write your keywords on a card to keep in your pocket, which I do but hardly ever look at. It's a good security blanket, though.

I'm usually about 12-15 minute preacher and this works well for that length. If you're used to going longer, I'm not so sure. My experience is that I'm more nervous on Sunday morning (which is why I'm not doing this at my new call since I've only been there 3 weeks and I'm nervous enough already!), but people respond really really really well. If they are not used to it, it delights them - like you're giving them a little present. I sometimes use props, which helps alot with remembering what's coming next too.


JWD said...

Thank you for sharing this! I am a manuscript preacher, but I've always wondered how the heck folks preached (well) without one.

I also teach. And I know that when I'm able to teach without writing out a lecture it is always more effective.

So I've been getting increasingly curious about how I might try this out in preaching, though I find it intimidating.

But thanks so much for sharing your process here. And I love the image of gift at the end.

Songbird said...

I'm impressed!
I must admit I find the thought pretty terrifying.

more cows than people said...

Wow. Very cool, Juniper. And honestly- don't have time for that process this week either.

But... it's so cool to read about. And maybe I'll try it sometime.

Thank you so much for sharing.

Kathryn said...

"Impressed" only begins to scratch the surface of my reactions to this....I wish my sermons ever got that sort of attention. I guess the hazard of being in a church which is highly sacrament focussed is that the word gets short shrift...I try, really I do, but when the world is full of pastoral crises, it's always the sermon prep that goes by the board.
Not making excuses, just looking hard at my own situation, and rather enviously at your approach.

Wyldth1ng said...

I agree with what you say. My 2 cents is; I am a walker so I have always hated being riveted to one spot while giving presentations. I find it easier to get the audience involved with this type of speaking.

It is so much fun.

Deb said...

I love to hear sermons preached without a manuscript. Our in care seminarian is gifted with this style of preaching. Our interim pastor is not, but does it anyway.

The downside of manuscriptless sermons is that there is no sermon to copy and share with a homebound parishoner or someone who can't get to church on a particualr Sunday. Our former pastor would have copies of his sermons avaialbe for any one who wanted one. It wasn't the same thing, because when the Spirit moved him, he'd digress, but at least the gist of the sermon was able to be shared.

Magdalene6127 said...

Juniper, I am seriously copying and pasting this into a word document for myself, so that I might (if I ever get brave enough) try it. This is a very thoughtful, thorough process that leaves room for the Spirit and allows for what I would call a "secure spontaneity." Really, really good stuff.

Thank you so much!