THE photographer who captured the kingfisher on the cover of this slim volume of sermons by Jenny Wilson, Canon Precentor of St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, hid for five days in pouring rain to get the shot as the bird darted to and fro in a determined display of love, hunting for prey to feed its young. This image not only inspires Wilson’s sermon on prayer and the title of the book, Keeping Watch for Kingfishers, which echoes a quoted poem by Ann Lewin, but also illustrates the vigilance that adds colour and sensitivity to her preaching.
She weaves her sources together deftly, darting in and out of theology and literature, as she hunts for God in the biblical readings that lie behind each sermon. That those readings are referenced systematically only at the back of the book says something about the difference between the parochial and cathedral context. These are not locally rooted sermons, designed for a familiar audience and delivered week by week. They speak to a congregation whose stories and level of faith commitment cannot be reliably known; so, as in the two series of Lenten sermons on novels and the idea of homecoming, draw initially on broad common ground, before turning to the personal.
Lent aside, sermons are collected by theme or occasion rather than date, which mitigates against a steady development of thought and introduces a degree of repetition which is more obvious to the reader than it would have been to the congregation. For that reason, it is more like an anthology to dip into and relish in small bites than a collection to be studied for anything other than the art of preaching.
Wilson combines intelligence, warmth, and a love for God. She does so in an attractive way that belies the skill required to present complex thought simply and accessibly. Those hard-pressed to prepare for Sunday, however, might be better advised to spend a little more to get a more comprehensive coverage of the lectionary readings, albeit at the cost of Wilson’s more topically inspired sermons.
The Revd Penny Seabrook is Vicar of All Saints’, Fulham, in London.
Keeping Watch for Kingfishers: God’s stories
Sacristy Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70