I don’t know if you have ever written a speech. The only ones I have given before were presentations at school or university, with power point slides, very technical requirements, none of which were inspiring the audience but mostly the dissemination of information. I had been successful at that but in preparing my first sermon, I quickly realised that this would be very different.
You are supposed to put yourself into your sermon. Your own thoughts, your understanding, your private recollections are really the only way to make it truly meaningful to your audience. And this is frightening. The idea of standing in front of a lot of people you know and will continue to know and basically undressing your soul for them is not something I relished doing.
When I was given the gospel for the day and it turned out to be John Chapter 10, I was stumped. I had nothing to say. I only had a question: Why is the world not perfect if we answer to our shepherd?
Thankfully, the Minister had a good idea – why not talk about that question? So simple and so great. Once I had that theme decided on, thing just flowed. I am lucky in that my mother is something of an expert on the art of rhetoric and for two months every night in bed I played with what I wanted to say. I even had a first version written down about two weeks before I was supposed to give the sermon and had planned to practice it on my friends – that never happened. I was too chicken and it didn’t feel like I had gotten it right yet.
I am one of those people who will start something in good time, get a first draft with plenty of time left and then won’t finish until the last minute when the pressure is on maximum. Accordingly I completely rewrote the whole thing on the Sunday morning at 9 o’clock (the service starts at 11.45h), practiced it in my hallway, rewrote some parts again on little note cards (there was no actual text until after I had to hand it in to the DDO) and left for church at 11am. I was nervous like you cannot imagine as I pulled up in the car and entered the church.
Like I wrote on Friday, there are many hoops to jump through when discerning your calling to priesthood. Not least of this is a thick pack of papers and book chapters given to me by the DDO with an A4 list attached at the front detailing the many essays I needed to write before my interview. One of them is not so much an essay but an application from. This is fine, until you see questions along the lines of: Describe your journey in faith. How has your prayer life developed over the years? Describe your life so far. Who are the people imnportant in your life and how do they support you?
You try answering those questions in less than 500 words (which I didn’t have to, thankfully) because just for one of those alone I wrote 2 A4 pages. And it still didn’ feel complete. One of the requirements in this process is, of course, complete honesty and I was but there is no way you can actually tell them EVERYTHING that has ever been important in your life. And true enough there were a lot fo follow up questions at the interview…
I also had to write my own obituary (basically my life in the thrid person in 2000 words) and an essay on the nature of the office of a priest and how I feel called to it. Then I also was supposed to write something short on the Anglican communion/ church of England, 300 words detailing how I fulfill the different criteria they look for (there are 9), something on the Bible, something on the academic study of the Bible and whether it is threatening and a sermon. I had to give the sermon, not just write it, too! I’ll get back to that later.
I got away with not writing all of the above (thank goodness!) but the ones I did write really helped me a lot in sorting through my jumbled thoughts, directing my exploration of my calling and I am grateful in that all of this confirmed my calling. It could have completely gone the other way! Writing these also caused me to discuss many of the questions raised with differnt people from my chaplaincy for which i am also very grateful. It strengthened these relationships and gave me new points to think about at the same time.
So, thank you CoE. This has been a great journey so far, yes, exhausting at times, and frustrating, but also immensely gratifying and fulfilling! Possibly everyone should do this once just to clear their head (but then, who would, if not getting a kick from God first?).
Filed under CoE, My calling