Monday, July 23, 2007

Worst to First

So I have to preach again on Sunday. Twice, in fact. I wasn't real happy with my sermon that I had prepared, but I did spend a lot of time on it so it was not a complete crapper.

At the 8:3o service, I was up in the pulpit as usual. I was sort of half looking off my notes and half extemporizing, if that is a real word. (If not, it is now.) This caused me to lose my place a couple of times; I felt like I was completely tanking. In actuality it wasn't as bad as I thought. What I was mistaking for sheer boredom was people not quite awake yet. It was, after all, the early service. But I still felt like that was one of the weakest sermons I have ever preached.

I felt like the ghost of Cicero the Holy Spirit was leading me to do something different for the 10:30. Perhaps even preach without notes. I am quite reticent about preaching without notes. This is not because it scares me, per se. I actually quite enjoy speaking in public. I think my reticence comes from my time in seminary where preaching without notes sort of became synonymous in my mind with what I deemed the Seabury preaching method because most of the time the people I heard preaching without notes were using the Seabury preaching method.

I completely detested, for numerous reasons most of which I won't go into here, the substance (or lack thereof) that was taught in the Seabury preaching classes. The preaching professor, who despite what a lot of people at Seabury will tell you does not in fact walk on water, was very good at teaching public speaking skills. This is good for preachers, don't get me wrong. But in overly stressing the need for the preacher to connect with the audience and find his or her "authentic connection to scripture" (a catch phrase from the class that I came to utterly revile), the end result was 5 minute sermonettes where the preacher went on this existential rant, talking about themselves for 4.5 of the 5 minutes. The remaining half minute or so was shamelessly linking the aforementioned 4.5 minute rant to either (usually) the Saint of the Day, or (occasionally if the audience was lucky) the scripture readings.

This system, which I dubbed the Seabury Preaching Method, was enacted over and over (and over) in the Seabury chapel. And basically every time, I was gritting my teeth because I have always held that the preacher's primary reason for preaching is to proclaim the good news of Christ, not the good news of one's self. When over 80 percent of the sermon is invariably about yourself, I am left to logically conclude the latter. Suffice is to say that once again, I didn't agree with virtually anything I heard taught at my former seminary aside from the scripture and (usually but not always) theology classes. But I digress.

At the 10:30 service at St. Mark's, I really felt like God was telling me that if I was suppose to reach the people, I needed to scrap my written text this time. It finally occurred to me that I could divorce the idea of preaching without notes from the Seabury Preaching Method. It turned out to be one of the best sermons I have preached in a very long time.

Later in the afternoon when I was recounting this homelitical adventure, my girlfriend, who comes from a more Evangelical background, only replied in a humorous but very telling comment, "So you actually relied on the Holy Spirit? I didn't think Anglicans could do that..." My less that witty reply was simpy, "Anglicans were relying on the Holy Spirit long before Evangelicals existed."

I got to thinking about that later. I still found it an interesting comment. Heaven forbid we rely on the Holy Spirit, it might interfere with coffee hour and, eh gad!, the Presbyterians might beat us to the country club.


Anonymous said...

I had no idea you felt so negatively about your academic experiences at Seabury. In the meantime, believe me, I have seen plenty of people preach without (or almost without) notes and "bring the word," as it were.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Its not so much I felt like I had a "bad experience." I really did enjoy most of the folks there and I think I had about the best group of classmates in the history of Seabury. There were just a lot of institutional and theological things that went on that I didn't agree with personally. Seabury like any academic institution has its fair share of quirks and weirdness.

But to be fair, I am on the conservative side and Seabury was pretty much as advertised. I knew they slanted silver spoon liberal from the get go. I was specifically looking for a seminary that was going to stretch me out of my comfort zone but not break me. And that's what I got. I really don't have any major complaints, just some issues on substance and doctrine that irritated me from time to time.

I really did have a good experience; I just always felt like the odd man out a lot of times, but I knew that going in. And I know if I had gone to some place like EDS in Boston, I would no longer be an Episcopalian. Seabury did do a very good job of permanently entrenching me in Anglicanism.

The Archer of the Forest said...

And also, if it had not been for Seabury, I would never have gotten to experience my time at Westcott House in England, which truly was the best experience of my life.