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Ontario priest preaches for 55 hours, for charity

20 September 2019

KEVIN GEORGE

Canon Kevin George during a marathon preaching session, which lasted for 55 hours last week, to raise money for two charities

Canon Kevin George during a marathon preaching session, which lasted for 55 hours last week, to raise money for two charities

WHAT is the right length for a sermon? It is a question frequently asked of Google, doubtless by trainee clergy. For the Canadian priest the Revd Kevin George, the answer is usually about 15 minutes or “20 if I’m really feeling jacked up”.

Yet, last week, in aid of two charities and his church, St Aidan’s, London, in Ontario, he preached for 55 hours straight last week, with only short comfort breaks each hour — so beating the world record for the longest sermon.

An insulin-dependent diabetic, Mr George had to be monitored by a team of nurses throughout his marathon challenge, which has so far raised more than $105,000 for charity.

He said: “As a diabetic, keeping an eye on my blood sugars was critical, and I had to eat every four hours. I couldn’t have burgers or fries, and had to have meals of quinoa instead. I’m not going to pretend I’d go out willingly and buy quinoa.”

He preached for 55 minutes each hour, using sermon material borrowed from friends, as well as famous figures, including Martin Luther King. Each message had to be stretched from the usual 20 minutes for a talk, to 55.

Following the rules laid down by Guinness World Records, he had to preach in front of an audience of at least ten people, a figure that he reached easily. By the end of his marathon session, he was preaching to more than 200 and the church was packed for the finale.

For some of the 55 hours, he preached on a stage outside to ensure that as many people as possible could hear. Each sermon in the marathon effort, “55 Hours for Hope”, focused on inclusion and welcome.

Mr George said: “It was about allowing people to come out for 55 hours and hear a message of inclusivity and welcome: to the LGBT community, to migrants; and a message of justice for the homeless, those who are addicted to opioids, the vulnerable.”

In his five-minute comfort breaks, others took to the stage or pulpit, including the imam and Mayor of London, Ontario, and other faith leaders, as well as radio personalities.

By the end of the marathon, Mr George said that he was having hallucinations, and was also aware that he was not giving it his best at times.

“People were very understanding. At one point, when I was preaching from St John Chrysostom at around three in the morning, I was aware it was shit, so I came out of the pulpit and talked about what is like to have God not let go of you, and told stories of my father. I was so tired but I felt bad for the congregation having to listen to something dreadful.

“There were times when I just froze, and others when I was aware I was going too fast for my material, and I had to come up with stories to fill the gap.”

His record will not appear yet in the book Guinness World Records, however, as this does not have an entry specifically for the longest religious sermon, only the longest speech. To register his effort as the longest sermon, he would have to pay. He said: “I’m not interested in doing that.”

All the money raised will go to support two charities: Jesse’s Journey, named after a boy in his congregation born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and a local women’s shelter, ANOVA.

After 46 hours of preaching, Jesse’s father handed Mr George a note that told him to think of Jesse and all the other children that he was doing it for. “It was really moving,” Mr George said.

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