One of my more demanding pre-retirement tasks this Lent has been to tear up and blue-bag
the old sermons which have been lurking in the vicarage cellar. There were several thousand
of them, sorted by Biblical text and language (Welsh, English or bilingual) and carefully box-
filed by Helen (who has a librarian’s tidy mind). Although an American publisher had been
interested in publishing a selection, I was relieved when Helen said that she thought it
would be far better to get rid of them all. I write my sermons in long-hand, and the thought
of having to one-finger-type them onto the computer was distinctly daunting (and, to be
brutally honest, they weren’t particularly brilliant anyway).
I was educated in establishments where attendance at school chapel services was
compulsory, and so I was bored to tears during my childhood and adolescence by the
maunderings of innumerable guest preachers. The high points were provided by two
unintentional upsets. Dr Coggan, the then Archbishop of York, climbed into the pulpit at the
very moment that Ironbridge Power Station was struck by lightning. There was a complete
black-out and both the sermon and the service had to be abandoned. Tony Bridge, the
fashionable artistically minded Dean of Guildford, was holding forth about the spiritual
significance of Picasso’s Blue Period, when his false teeth suddenly shot out of his mouth.
He caught them quite niftily. We were almost impressed.
It wasn’t until I reached Cambridge that I heard a sermon that really touched me. The
preacher was a Russian Orthodox Bishop (a former prisoner of the French Resistance who
had been imprisoned by the Gestapo). He spoke about the love of God, and his message was
deeply rooted in his life of prayer. From him (and later from my training incumbent, George
Noakes) I learnt three basic rules of preaching. 1) Sermons should always be preached from
the heart as well as the head; 2) They should never be too long (minds wander easily); 3)
They should be interesting enough to grab rabbi Paul’s attention, and simple enough to be
understood by fisherman Peter (preaching in two different languages can help develop this).
Having put up with my sermons for twenty years (poor Helen has had to suffer for twice as
long) you must be painfully aware of the many occasions when I’ve broken those rules….
ZOOM SERVICES: Sunday 7 March 9am HOLY EUCHARIST (p.83); 5pm EVENING PRAYER;
Wednesday 10 March 10.30am HOLY EUCHARIST (p.359); Thursday 11 March ‘HOLY
HABITS’ LENT COURSE; Sunday 14 March 9am MOTHERING SUNDAY FAMILY EUCHARIST
(children’s readings); 11yb CYMUN SUL Y FAM (t.85); 5pm EVENING PRAYER; Wednesday
17 March (St Patrick’s Day) HOLY EUCHARIST (p.287) Canon Patrick