*** DEBUG END ***

Intellectual level of sermons

15 March 2013

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.


How do clergy set the intellectual level of their sermons? It often seems to be fairly childish, even when the children have already gone out to Sunday school. Are the laity entitled to expect more? I'm sure it wasn't always like this.

I was taught at college to imagine the make-up of the congregation before preparing any sermon. This makes it relatively hard to prepare a sermon for a church not previously attended, to use the same sermon twice, or to use someone else's notes and suggestions.

I have tended to preach at three levels. To an all-age-worship congregation or family communion service, I would have chosen to preach a simple message based on one of the Bible readings or season, and ask questions specifically for adults to think about (the opportunity for this old man to do this has long gone by).

For an adult service with children in Sunday School, I have attempted to raise the intellectual level by speaking of some belief problems in my life as well as affirmations of faith. The sermon might well include reactions to current events such as archiepiscopal resignations.

At evensong, attended by adults who wish to be a little stretched, the level is raised, and biblical scholarship, scientific theory, and the like may well be included.

It is important not to speak down to any congregation, and complex terminology should not be used. A sermon is to communicate the Christian message (in its broadest sense), not to show off academic prowess. It should always end with a call to a response within the capability of most of those present.

Christopher Haffner (Reader)
East Molesey

Where there should be 12 representatives of the laity on a PCC, and through a failure to distinguish between ordinary and casual vacancies, six were appointed by the annual parochial church meeting (APCM) for three years two years ago, and the other six were similarly appointed for three years last year. This leaves none to be elected this year. Given that this is irregular, how should this situation be recovered? . . . [Answers, 8 March]

The three-year rule causes more problems than it solves, particularly in its revised form, with which we are now saddled. I would recommend that parishes take advantage of paragraph 16(3) of the Church Representation Rules Part II and move to a one-year term of office for PCC members. It is better for accountability, ensures that those elected do not have two years of unworried rest before having to seek election again, and means that an inactive member automatically comes up for re-election next time, so that the church does not have to try and find discreet ways of suggesting that he or she might want to resign.

Colin Setchfield
London E4

How would the marriage service have to be amended if it were to be used for gay couples? [Letters, 22 February]

The marriage service cannot be amended for use by same-sex couples, since holy matrimony is not for them; but a sworn-friendship rite could well be made available in response to their needs.

Frank McManus (Reader Emeritus)

Is the robing of Readers out of date? A present Reader rarely, if ever, robes for services, even when preaching. It used to be expected of one, as personally experienced, for 25 years.

As an incumbent and a governor of an aided school, I am closely involved with school admissions. Does attendance at our weekly Messy Church on Tuesdays count for more than twice-monthly attendance at the Family Service on Sundays? and how much does the Pram Service count for? Is a Fresh Expression as valid as a traditional expression when it comes to fulfilling the criteria for school admissions? Are those who give references and schools who ask for them able to apply fine judgements of the value of different expressions? P. R.

Address: Out of the Question, Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Long Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.

Forthcoming Events

26 January 2022
Book launch: Entering the Twofold Mystery
Author Erik Varden in conversation with Sarah Coakley.

1 February 2022
Cathedrals and social justice
Book free tickets for this Church Times webinar with Mark Russell, Anne Richards and Adrian Dorber.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)