I’ve been spending some time this afternoon doing homework. It should probably have been Hebrew, as this re-starts tomorrow after a significant break of almost 2 months. But it wasn’t. Instead it was for Homiletics, or rather “Preaching & Communication” (but I think you’ll agree that Homiletics sounds far more like a Cambridge subject!) This is a course that is part of Life & Service here at Wesley. Life & Service is that bit of our studies here that is specifically directed at our development as ministers, rather than as theologians. It is where, at Wesley, we do, for example, Methodist History, Methodist Worship, Methodist Spirituality. Unsurprisingly, it is also where we do the study and further development of preaching (all Student Presbyters are already Local Preachers, many Student Deacons are as well, though it is not a requirement of the Diaconal Order and a great many wonderful Deacons do not feel the call to preach). Possibly more surprisingly though, we actually study this course with the Anglicans across the way at Westcott, with the course joint-led by our two Principals.
Anyway, we had our first 2-hour session on Friday just past. It was a wonderful session, though it was also somewhat abnormal. How so? Well, because it was a Q&A session with 2 wonderful people, James Wood and Tom Hollander. Many may recognise Tom’s name, and some may also recognise James’. They are two of the team behind the well-received church-set comedy “Rev” – James is one of the writers, Tom plays the central character, Rev. Adam Smallbone (as well as being known for other acting roles, including in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, so we had a Hollywood star in our midst!) Both of them brought a rare honesty, which they were able to share with us, in discussions that ranged from the origins of the programme, and their desire to make a programme with genuine rather than stereotypical characters, to how they thought the church might be able to maintain a sense of mystery whilst also becoming more accessible to people. It really was a great and worthwhile session, which left many of us thinking (for further thoughts see LankyAnglican’s post here).
Yet the homework was not related to the visit, but to the subject that will continue to fill our time on a Friday morning this term, and much time each week as we progress as ministers in our respective denominations. Each week we will be asked to write one side of A4, 12-point and double-spaced. Nothing unusual about that. Except there is. Because we will not be writing in prose as it is written to be read, but writing words as they are meant to be heard. So not as everything is above.
As this is.
Given its own line.
Are to write just one page.
Whatever the topic.
A communication challenge.
Indeed, when we were first given the instructions for this weekly task, my heart sank. “Nonsense,” I thought. “What a gimmick. Either that, or pandering to the modern inability to listen to a long and complex sentence.” I consider myself something of a wordsmith (though you may, as is your prerogative, disagree – though if you do then why are you still reading this? Ok, possibly best if you don’t answer that!) I like writing, and I like speaking in public, whether it be from a pulpit, a soapbox, or a stage. I regularly preach with few, or no, notes, but when I’ve preached from a full script I’ve regularly had strong, positive responses – I think the problem with written sermons is often not with how they’re written but how they’re read. Though, I’ve heard bad written sermons more often than bad note-based or extempore ones. (Maybe that proves the point.)
So, I approached this particular homework with some trepidation. A trepidation added to by the focus on an experience that has shaped our understanding of God. And by the fact the experience I had chosen was a painful one. However, when I started doing it, I found I enjoyed it immensely. And I began to see the benefits: both of the style, and of the precision it requires. It asks of us who preach, whether in the religious or secular environment, whether in matters of faith or matters of politics (and in reality there is, of course, no separation), “What is it you really want to say? What is it that must be said, and what is it that is possibly helpful but not necessary?” This is not to say that, once preaching, we may not use the stuff that is not necessary, but it helps identify the clear message, the clear focus of what we are saying. It allows us to strip down what we are wanting to say, clean it and check that it is all in working order, and then reassemble it so that it will work in an efficient and effective manner.
I sat at my computer this afternoon dreading the coming hour, and the coming weeks of Homiletics homework. Now I am looking forward to it immensely. I have always felt myself a good communicator. It is good to have been reminded there is always room for improvement, at least until the Apocalypse (but that’s Doctrine, and therefore a completely different subject and a different homework session).
Travel, and converse, well,