Monday, March 21, 2011

Poll: Preaching Habits

Long before I was asked to join the editorial board of Gottesdienst, the journal had a strong influence on my preaching. There is truly no such thing as an original preacher - at least, one hopes there is not - and the marks of Eckardt, Petersen, Fabrizius, Koch, Stuckwisch, et al., are clearly to be seen in my preaching week in and week out. While the articles and commentary in the print journal are always insightful, I think that the section that contains sermons ancient and contemporary is actually the most important part of the contents each quarter. As our own Dr. Stuckwisch has commented before, if the preaching is right in a parish/church/synod, ceteris paribus, everything else will fall into place.

The topic of how exactly to preach comes up again and again at Gottesdienst gatherings. And in these discussions I witnessed one of the traits of the Gottesdienst Crowd that I most admired: among these excellent preachers, there was always exhibited a desire to get better. I can't imagine that I will ever be able to produce, week in and week out, the beautiful homilies that I read, for example, from Fr. Koch - I would be happy to do so and rest on my laurels! But these men, far from thinking they have it all figured out, will debate for hours on the homiletic task.

One of the topics perennially undertaken in this regard is whether to prepare a manuscript or not. In the corner of a carefully prepared manuscript chiefly stands Petersen - and in favor of no manuscript at all, we have Eckardt and Fabrizius.

For a long while, my practice has been to prepare a manuscript for Sunday morning, to preach off the cuff at shut-in calls and at Wednesday Low Mass, and to use an outline for Lent and Advent midweek services. For a while I was very much intrigued with Petersen's practice of arranging his manuscript in sense lines that helped to aid in delivery - but there is no doubt that, at least for me, a truly free delivery can only be attained with manuscript free preaching.

Something I've been trying lately, now that I have a handful of years through the historic lectionary, is to pull out a previous year's sermon and reedit it. Originally I did this a couple times because I was in a pinch after a busy week - but then I found that when I was preaching from one of these old, reedited sermons I suddenly felt much more free to range away from the manuscript. Perhaps this is a peculiar kink in my own brain - but it worked for me. I had the anchor of a manuscript, but felt unchained from it. Has it ever happened to you that right in the midst of preaching a sermon, you suddenly see a new insight that you should have put in the manuscript? When that would happen to me, I would just have to let it go to stay on script. Now that I am regularly practicing this preaching of reedited sermons, I find that not only can I follow that new insight while preaching, but that they come more often.

At any rate - if you don't subscribe to the print journal, the sermons are worth the price of admission. You will benefit greatly by being pushed and prodded to never grow satisfied with your own preaching - I know I have been.



  1. Great question. I have almost ZERO experience relative to most. Still, I try to heed Dr. Fickenscher's advice to at least do one chunk of the sermon without the manuscript. He calls it "thinking in thoughts." Sometimes I write in my additions after the first service with red ink phrases or single words, then do it off the cuff.

    Just two cents and probably worth less than that.

  2. I have tried several ways. I generally use a manuscript on Sunday, from which I often add to or subtract from. At shut-in visits, and at Wednesday chapel, I go off the cuff. Lent/Advent Offices are often hand written notes or a short outline. I don't know why I am comfortable preaching chapel off the cuff and Office with notes, but not on Sunday.

  3. I hand write the sermons months in advance, taking several days off to plot out outlines and jot down thoughts around the lectionary themes. I refine these as the time moves closer to the date of delivery. On Thursday I print out the completed manuscript. On Sunday morning at 5 am, I sit in prayerful meditation on the lessons and manuscript and jot notes and edits in hand writing on the printed text. I carry the manuscript to the pulpit and it keeps me on point without being enslaved to read it as exactly written.

    I have a few outline points for shut in calls and leave space to personalize the sermon for the particular need of the shut in or sick. For Monday compline and Thursday Eucharist I have an outline almost manuscript. For Wednesday evening prayer (and its catechetical focus) I have a full manuscript with me.

    I read sermons -- though most of the sermons I read are not what I would call preachable and doubt that they were preached as written (think Theilicke's The Waiting Father). I listen to sermons on the net. I listen to my own from time to time to hear how they preached (but try to wait until the actual sermon has faded from my memory so that I can hear it from more of a blank slate.

  4. I am pleased to see you fleshing out some of my instincts regarding preaching without a manuscript.

    I hasten to add, however, that you did not provide the poll selection I would have chosen, which is to preach without a manuscript, but with a pretty clear outline in mind. "No outlne at all" would be a bad idea, in my opinion. Rather, according to what I understand as the Augustinian model, I consider the reading carefully ahead of time, both with respect to what I would like to say about it in particular, and with respect to outline. That way, there sits in my mind a pretty clear conception of where I am going when I preach, though nothing is written down.

    Thus my own motto, "I don't write sermons, I preach them," without meaning to be flippant or disparaging of people who write manuscripts, aims to get at what I believe is an important ingredient in preaching which is too often missed. When a preacher is actually thinking about the Gospel at hand while he is preaching, he is inviting the hearers in an implicit way to think with him. This is not an easy thing to learn to do, but I believe it is a very helpful tool, for lack of a better word.

    Moreover, as Luther understood, the Gospel, unlike the law, is meant to be delivered out loud. It is not fundamentally a text. (NB: it is helpful never to refer to the pericope as a "text" even if it is ever so subtle a self reminder of this)

    Very much more needs to be said on this topic. Keep goading, and I'll have to flesh it out much more.

  5. I picked "no outline, notes, at all" but that's not exactly true. I've been following what David Schmitt at the St. Louis sem said about how he prepares sermons, which is to do the work, have a main point, and prepare during the week by standing in the pulpit and just start talking. As I do it over and over, things become clearer and the outline emerges out of that. Then, when I preach it, it is as tightly organized as I can get it, but it is also relatively free and I have never gotten lost because of how it's come together. It works pretty well, and because I don't type things out in advance (I do type up something when I'm done, so I have a record of it), I can pretty much work on it anywhere, including at shut-in calls, etc.

    Pr. Timothy Winterstein

  6. Fr. Eckardt,

    I had you in mind when I put the option "from a memorized outline."



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