THERE is nothing like a gathering of 450 preachers to make one think of congregations. Two challenging days of advice and examples (report next week) encouraged participants at the second Church Times Festival of Preaching in Oxford to share some of their pain. Anecdotes abounded in the Q&As and the coffee breaks: the preacher who was physically sick before most sermons; the one who wrote her sermons at the last minute so that she had no time to agonise over the words; another who pitched a political comment wrongly and had people walk out of the service. Conversations focused on the hours of preparation, the gestation, the revisions, the last-minute inspiration.
What came over was the immense concern of the participants to say the right thing in the right way at the right time. What was less to the fore was the part played by the congregation. The need to do justice to the biblical text will ensure that the stakes remain high; but preachers might agonise a little less if they could keep in mind how tolerant congregations are. The normal congregation is willing to be challenged, invites experimentation, and is able to extract value from something that the preacher believes to have been an abject failure. Where the preacher feels that she or he does not have that level of support, the problem is unlikely to be the sermon, and the remedy should be sought away from the pulpit.
. . . and its lack
HAD Parliament not been suspended at the end of Monday, MPs might well have had to ask for some sort of time out to process the events of the past week. In particular, those Conservative MPs who lost the whip for supporting legislation to prevent a no-deal Brexit must attend to the relationship with their constituency Party members. Such a severance, leading in several instances to a probable end of a political career, will be painful to both sides. It is to be hoped that constituencies will recognise the faithful service of their former MPs and the honourable nature of their departure on a matter of conscience. Here we should like to pay tribute to Dame Caroline Spelman, who has been described as one of the best Second Church Estates Commissioners in a long line of faithful servants to the Church. A party that can dispense with her services so lightly has travelled a long distance from the one that she joined and worked so hard to keep together.