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Why Is There Always A Short Talk?


Guest drd
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One thing that always slightly confuses me is why, in very many shorter, or at least non eucharistic services there always seems to be 'a short talk', or sermonette, or even sermon.

 

I have in mind, for example, carol services or choral evensong.

 

W.r.t. the latter, it seems to me (and it's my opinion, I haven't discussed it with anyone else until now by means of this board) that the service is completely thrown off balance by the inclusion of three or four hymns, mostly after the collects, interminable intercessions, and a possibly interminable-seeming 'short talk'. I suspect that those whose allegiance to a particular church observance may be somewhat loose (though this says nothing about their personal faith, I might add), are rather put off by such.

 

{I would not normally want to initiate a discussion about religious observance on what is a forum about the instrument, but something I read on here recently triggered the thought I've mentioned above.}

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One thing that always slightly confuses me is why, in very many shorter, or at least non eucharistic services there always seems to be 'a short talk', or sermonette, or even sermon.

 

I have in mind, for example, carol services or choral evensong.

 

W.r.t. the latter, it seems to me (and it's my opinion, I haven't discussed it with anyone else until now by means of this board) that the service is completely thrown off balance by the inclusion of three or four hymns, mostly after the collects, interminable intercessions, and a possibly interminable-seeming 'short talk'. I suspect that those whose allegiance to a particular church observance may be somewhat loose (though this says nothing about their personal faith, I might add), are rather put off by such.

 

{I would not normally want to initiate a discussion about religious observance on what is a forum about the instrument, but something I read on here recently triggered the thought I've mentioned above.}

 

 

I'm with you 100%.

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One thing that always slightly confuses me is why, in very many shorter, or at least non eucharistic services there always seems to be 'a short talk', or sermonette, or even sermon.

 

I have in mind, for example, carol services or choral evensong.

 

W.r.t. the latter, it seems to me (and it's my opinion, I haven't discussed it with anyone else until now by means of this board) that the service is completely thrown off balance by the inclusion of three or four hymns, mostly after the collects, interminable intercessions, and a possibly interminable-seeming 'short talk'. I suspect that those whose allegiance to a particular church observance may be somewhat loose (though this says nothing about their personal faith, I might add), are rather put off by such.

 

{I would not normally want to initiate a discussion about religious observance on what is a forum about the instrument, but something I read on here recently triggered the thought I've mentioned above.}

 

Hi

 

I can't comment on Choral Evensong - I've only attended a handful, and I don't think there was a sermon at any of them. My comment was in respect of our carol service - and I feel that something needs to be said beyond the story, which, as I've already pointed out, has so many accretions that Matthew and Luke wouldn't recognise it! If Christianity isn't relevant to life today, then it becomes a pointless exercise in nostalgia - and given the decline in religious education over the past 30-40 years, the relevance often needs pointing out. A few years ago at a carol service I mentioned in the talk that Christmas & Easter are inseperable - and afterwards, someone questioned that - they had never realised the link.

 

A carol service with multiple lessons and musical items isn't, in my view, the place for a lengthy theological discourse - I aim for 3-5 mins to point out that salvation is available to all who believe.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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One thing that always slightly confuses me is why, in very many shorter, or at least non eucharistic services there always seems to be 'a short talk', or sermonette, or even sermon.

 

I have in mind, for example, carol services or choral evensong.

 

W.r.t. the latter, it seems to me (and it's my opinion, I haven't discussed it with anyone else until now by means of this board) that the service is completely thrown off balance by the inclusion of three or four hymns, mostly after the collects, interminable intercessions, and a possibly interminable-seeming 'short talk'. I suspect that those whose allegiance to a particular church observance may be somewhat loose (though this says nothing about their personal faith, I might add), are rather put off by such.

 

{I would not normally want to initiate a discussion about religious observance on what is a forum about the instrument, but something I read on here recently triggered the thought I've mentioned above.}

It's not uncommon in my experience to have hymns and a sermon at Evensong, at least in parish churches; that's when you can find Evensong nowadays - it seems to have largely disappeared except in cathedrals (where of course they don't generally do lots of hymns and a sermon). Could there be a cause and effect situation here? I have also heard it said on the subject of sermons that brevity concentrates the mind. Any dissenters?

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Guest Patrick Coleman

I think it really depends on the service. In my previous (rural) parish we had regular Evensong and Sermon where we had fun bellowing the Psalm, Mag and Nunc to Anglican chant and also bellowed three or four hymns. The Evensong lasted about half an hour, the hymns another ten minutes between them, and the congregation appreciated a teaching sermon for about twenty minutes after the Office itself. Here one church has that format once a month, where the longer sermon is appreciated; the other has Evensong and Benediction, where I would not dream of preaching or adding a running commentary as it would break into the devotional nature of the particular sort of service. If we had Choral Evensong (which I hope will be something we can start in the next year or so) I would also not dream of preaching as the Office and its setting should speak the the soul far more eloquently than the finest sermon.

 

For the same reason I shall not be preaching (or saying a few words) at any of the many carol services we shall be holding. My view is that the people who come should be hearing and seeing the Good News in myself and the congregation all the time without having it thrust down their throats. Taking advantage of them when they are a captive audience is in my view discourteous.

 

Besides, if the carol services are well prepared and structured, they will say everything that needs to be said.

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My first reaction is with drd and Paul. Our boss insists on providing a sermon in 9 L's and C's, and delivers it himself, won't delegate it to our new (and very good) curate, so we have to start at 7pm so he can do the big church first, at 5.30. Hm.

 

But the dear Rev Tony makes a good point too. However, a sermon at the 9LC's has to be really good, when the rest of the service is the best we can deliver. Not just to make a good point (and Tony found a good one, which many carols also make - 'Sing Lullaby' for one) but to make it well.

 

One of the best sermons ever was in Wales, at 40 seconds, including a joke, which I still remember. As the preacher said "We all want to be off sailing, so I'll keep it short." We were all on the water by 12:00.

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I know of one cathedral where the congregation on a Sunday afternoon for evensong dropped by a third upon the introduction of a sermon

One has to wonder, I suppose, whether they were there for the right reasons in the first place, but then, does that matter? At least they were there - and now they are not.

 

I often feel ambivalent about sermons, but not nearly as often as I would like to.

 

When I was a choirboy in a ordinary, middle-of-the-road Anglican parish church our vicar was a really excellent preacher. Even though I was only 9-10 years old he had no trouble holding my attention for 20 minutes and he did it without talking down to anyone. I learnt loads. He converted me to Christianity, that man. From time to time I have met others like him, but the gift of engaging and spellbinding a congregation seems to be rare indeed - probably as rare as it is amongst organists. A case of "He that is without sin..." perhaps?

 

Many organists who valiantly do duty on Sundays can barely play two accurate chords in succession. They have their clerical equivalents whose sermons may be equally difficult to listen to. But both are doing their best. I know this, so I try to be charitable and make allowances. But I still grind my teeth.

 

As musicians it may well be that we are there principally for the "other-worldliness" that church music provides, but the church does not exist merely to provide the right atmosphere for worship. It also must provide guidance and teaching in spiritual matters. You might argue that that this can be delivered in a variety of ways outside services (bible study classes, for instance), but what proportion of a congregation will put themselves out for such things? It is simply not reasonable to expect the priest not to do this within the service. It is part of the job and it is a good tool for illuminating obscurities in the texts of the day.

 

If only it were done more often with personality and aplomb. In my experience the Methodists and other free churches are generally far better at it than Anglicans. The deadliest sermons are those that are read, or sound as if they are being read - usually in a flat, emotionless voice. I have, reluctantly, to say that cathedrals and colleges are some of the worst offenders. For goodness' sake, a sermon should not be an academic paper!

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For goodness' sake, a sermon should not be an academic paper!

 

Why ever not? Surely that type of sermon has its place, not least in Oxbridge colleges. It's preferable to the pink and fluffy but completely meaningless sermons we are too often subjected to in our parish churches.

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Why ever not? Surely that type of sermon has its place, not least in Oxbridge colleges. It's preferable to the pink and fluffy but completely meaningless sermons we are too often subjected to in our parish churches.

 

Agreed, but if they can't say what they need to in 10 minutes or so is it not likely to fall on deaf ears?

 

R

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I think it really depends on the service. In my previous (rural) parish we had regular Evensong and Sermon where we had fun bellowing the Psalm, Mag and Nunc to Anglican chant and also bellowed three or four hymns. The Evensong lasted about half an hour, the hymns another ten minutes between them, and the congregation appreciated a teaching sermon for about twenty minutes after the Office itself. Here one church has that format once a month, where the longer sermon is appreciated; the other has Evensong and Benediction, where I would not dream of preaching or adding a running commentary as it would break into the devotional nature of the particular sort of service. If we had Choral Evensong (which I hope will be something we can start in the next year or so) I would also not dream of preaching as the Office and its setting should speak the the soul far more eloquently than the finest sermon.

 

For the same reason I shall not be preaching (or saying a few words) at any of the many carol services we shall be holding. My view is that the people who come should be hearing and seeing the Good News in myself and the congregation all the time without having it thrust down their throats. Taking advantage of them when they are a captive audience is in my view discourteous.

 

Besides, if the carol services are well prepared and structured, they will say everything that needs to be said.

 

Hi

 

I still think that the message needs to be applied - otherwise it's too easy for the carol service to become just another aspect of an increasingly pagan festival.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Why ever not? Surely that type of sermon has its place, not least in Oxbridge colleges. It's preferable to the pink and fluffy but completely meaningless sermons we are too often subjected to in our parish churches.

Actually my comment was more to do with the manner of delivery than the content and I stand by that. However since you raise the question, I have to ask: does it? I'm not at all against academic theological papers. They have their place, but I really don't think the sermon slot is it. I agree with you that sermons should never be meaningless, but an academic paper is always going to go over the heads of those who are not academic and is everyone in the congregation of an Oxbridge chapel academic? I concede it is appropriate to raise the intellectual sights a bit in these chapels, but not to the dry as dust level. A good sermon should be instructive, thought-provoking and, perhaps above all else, challenging. All I am saying is that there is a balance to be struck. The priest I mentioned knew how to do it.

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Guest Barry Williams

If, after nine lessons and carols, the congregation are still in such doubt as to the message that they need a sermon to interprete what they have just heard, there is something seriously wrong with the service in the first place.

 

The Preface to the Nine Lesson and Carols (Eric Milner-White) takes some beating, though I have noticed a marked reluctance on the part of some clergy to use it.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Hi

 

I still think that the message needs to be applied - otherwise it's too easy for the carol service to become just another aspect of an increasingly pagan festival.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Perhaps you missed the second paragraph? Is not that application?

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Guest Patrick Coleman
If, after nine lessons and carols, the congregation are still in such doubt as to the message that they need a sermon to interprete what they have just heard, there is something seriously wrong with the service in the first place.

 

The Preface to the Nine Lesson and Carols (Eric Milner-White) takes some beating, though I have noticed a marked reluctance on the part of some clergy to use it.

 

Barry Williams

 

Absolutely agree.

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Actually my comment was more to do with the manner of delivery than the content and I stand by that. However since you raise the question, I have to ask: does it? I'm not at all against academic theological papers. They have their place, but I really don't think the sermon slot is it. I agree with you that sermons should never be meaningless, but an academic paper is always going to go over the heads of those who are not academic and is everyone in the congregation of an Oxbridge chapel academic? I concede it is appropriate to raise the intellectual sights a bit in these chapels, but not to the dry as dust level. A good sermon should be instructive, thought-provoking and, perhaps above all else, challenging. All I am saying is that there is a balance to be struck. The priest I mentioned knew how to do it.

 

 

================

 

 

Mmmmmm!

 

Isn't Oxbridge a bit down market theologically speaking?

 

:(

 

MM

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It had never struck me that the word "academic" had anything to do with the method of delivery. I thought it referrred to intellectual rigour.

 

When it comes to Oxbridge college chapels, it ought to be borne in mind that the buildings and the services held therein are funded out of the college coffers for the benefit of members of the college. Members of the public are welcome to attend such services, but then again, they are equally welcome to attend lectures on quantum field theory. To go to either and complain that the content went over your head is rather like going to Antarctica and complaining about the cold.

 

Then there's the question of length of sermon. I don't think it is fair to say that ten minutes is long enough to get any point over. If that were true, no TV or radio programme (or lecture!) would be longer than 10 minutes. The problem is that so many preachers have no point to get over in the first place. In that case, ten minutes is certainly long enough.

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It had never struck me that the word "academic" had anything to do with the method of delivery. I thought it referrred to intellectual rigour.

Of course it does, but there is such a thing as guilt by association. Not all lecturers are guilty by any means. One particular one comes to mind who has a magnificent command of the English language. His papers are always clear and readable because he takes immense trouble over his words and has a natural gift. His writing fires the imagination. I can think of another whose papers are no less important, but who gives every impression of agonising so much in his endeavours to choose precisely the exact words in order to avoid the possibility of the slightest misunderstanding on the part of his readers, that his syntax and grammar become an impenetrable jungle. I am quite sure he imagines that he is communicating very precisely whereas half the time he is not really communicating at all - which is a shame because I find that what he has to say is invariably fascinating. A majority of the papers I have heard read fall into the middle ground. Interesting and sometimes important content, but lacklustre in communication. I have not come across many with the natural flair of the first person I cited. I have heard the second person give an unscripted lecture and it was altogether different - very clear and entertaining.

 

Anyway, I think you know what I'm getting at really.

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Perhaps you missed the second paragraph? Is not that application?

 

Hi

 

Yes - in an ideal world - but I think we all know that our congregations at Christmas contain many people who never come to church except at Christmas. The ongoing witness in the daily lives of believers is important - but given that active Christian believers are only around 10% of the population ....

 

"How shall they hear without a preacher.."

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Hi

 

Yes - in an ideal world - but I think we all know that our congregations at Christmas contain many people who never come to church except at Christmas. The ongoing witness in the daily lives of believers is important - but given that active Christian believers are only around 10% of the population ....

 

"How shall they hear without a preacher.."

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

Looks like you'll carry on talking up there - and we'll carry on living up here. :(

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"How shall they hear without a preacher.."

 

 

========================

 

 

Who was it said that Handel's "Messiah" has gained more converts to Christianity than all the sermons ever preached?

 

I think it is still true to-day.

 

MM

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The very same clergy who don't seem to mind preaching long sermons in inappropriate services (Carol Services/Choral Evensong etc) have also developed the similarly tedious habit of inviting the assembled multitudes (!) to stand to sing hymns.

 

The organist starts, the choir stands immediately and the congregation heave themselves up before the start of the first line - mostly. What could be simpler.

 

The clergy-led alternative leads to chaos and confusion among choir and congregation alike - or maybe it doesn't matter to anyone else but me. I have heard the congregation invited to stand, hymn number announced, first line read, number announced again, congregation invited to stand and number again - all for one hymn. We'd soon hear about it if the anthem was a bit prolonged.

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