Finally, Writing It, Preaching

Arrangements and Engagements

For the next seven Sundays, First Parish will be worshiping in the downstairs meeting room, to save heating expenses. The church has two furnaces, and one heats the large sanctuary. Although I'm told this has been done in the past, it seems to be a dim memory, and we will no doubt have a variety of ideas about how to do worship and be worshipful in such a different space.

Tomorrow will be our shakedown cruise.

Unfortunately for this preacher, who would like to have everything in place and arranged already, this is also the weekend for our monthly Bean Supper, which we serve in that same space. So any arranging or disarranging will take place after the Supper and after the volunteers have *their* supper, which to this preacher feels a bit deranging.

My goal for the next seven weeks will be learning to preach without being so dependent on my manuscript.

There, I've said it.

If you read me, you know I'm a writer, a writer who preaches. Now, people who hear me preach often express surprise that I am using a manuscript, so my relationship with it may be more discreet than I realize, a silent partner in the preaching engagement. But I've heard enough preachers I respect say they feel closer to the congregation without a manuscript that I feel I must give it a try, and what better time than in a new worship situation?

Which all sounded good until today.

So. I'm writing, but I'm also outlining. I will not have a pulpit. I don't even know where I will stand or where I would put a piece of paper.

Do preachers write notes on their hands like middle school students?

I would also like to mention we are in for a snowstorm tonight. How this will impact both the rearranging after supper and the engaging of the Word tomorrow, we shall see.

18 thoughts on “Arrangements and Engagements”

  1. I’m also a writer who preaches. My preaching prof told me, after a fellow student suggested I tried going “off manuscript,” not to do it — that as a writer I paid such close attention to words and turns of phrase that something would be lost.
    This isn’t meant to discourage you from trying it…just to say that sometimes I feel like “manuscript preachers” are given short shrift, as if writing were somehow a lesser gift than extemporaneity.
    I wonder why preaching w/out a manuscript makes one feel closer to a congregation? Seems to me it’s all a question of how the sermon is crafted, whether written or not. At any rate, I wish you well as you try a new way.

  2. I also consider myself a writer who preaches, though I’ve never said it in quite that way before. This is a secret goal of mine too, but I’ve never said it out loud…
    oh shoot!
    Friends who’ve made this change rave about it… the freedom, the enhanced relationship they experience with the worshiping congregation. Report to us, will you? I’d love to hear your testimony.

  3. This summer I tried (and managed) to become comfortable preaching without a manuscript. At first I had an outline on index cards, but I found I rarely used them. My process was outline, write, re-outline, which worked well: writing helped me find the words and I remembered them when I went to preach from my (revised) outline. I’m told this process is similar to how jazz musicians work: find the melodies and then forget them so you can improvise. You can do it!

  4. Being manuscript-free doesn’t necessarily mean being extemporaneous. I know many wonderful preachers who simply memorize their script.
    I should say that I have no desire or intention to ever be manuscript free, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I do think it’s good to try new stuff, and a new space makes that all the more inviting, eh?

  5. I started preaching without a manuscript about a year ago. Basically I write a manuscript (which I provide to the congregation members who have hearing issues) and then preach without it. Lots of folks really like it because I seem more immediate. I can’t do anything that is complicated. If it’s lots of stories and a few quotes I can manage. If not, then I read.
    I would like to be less tied to my manuscript. I’d like to trust the Holy Spirit more.
    Try it, you may like it.

  6. My blogging friend, John Hamilton, said a couple of weeks ago that preaching from a manuscript is like reading the words “I love you” to your beloved, and that image has been working on me ever since.
    My plan is to write it and take it with me, but to also have a simple outline as an alternative. It’s a more outlined sermon than I usually write. My process is usually more about falling into a writing trance!

  7. I am a manuscript preacher still under certain conditions, when I want every word to count, when I’m in a stressful situation and I want to make sure I get said what needs to be said.
    Otherwise, I have switched to almost exclusively preaching without a text (sometimes with notes, sometimes without) and I enjoy the engagement with the congregation. Feedback from the congregation is that they like it as well, they like simply having me “talk to them” (their words, not mine).
    The thing I’ve learned is the time-honored KISS. I think of preaching wihtout notes as giving a tour in a museum and visualize where I”m going in my mind (I used to train docents, so that image worked for me).

  8. I’ve only ever preached twice (Laity Sunday) and couldn’t imagine doing it without a manuscript! Brave you! I noticed the setup for church at the bean supper tonight and wondered if you were saving fuel. We used to do that at least a couple of times a winter in City of Lakes — though our “Lounge” was not in the basement, but still the sanctuary was on a different heating zone. Of course well-below-zero temps are not uncommon there. Once we even had to do it in summer because of a power outage, so we could see!

  9. When I worshiped on the MS Gulf Coast, our priest strode about the worship space with 8″ x 11″ typed pages as he preached. I had no problem with that; he seldom glanced at them and I thought he preached quite successfully. He may have used them just to keep his hands busy. He had been an English prof prior to being a priest, so he may have been a writer who preached.
    Just do what works for you.

  10. You are a beautiful writer and I can see why you would fear leaving wonderfully crafted text behind! I’m less precise and a far inferior writer, but I enjoy preaching extemporaneously.
    My advice to folks trying this is to listen to a few songs that tell stories – country songs commonly do this – and hear how they repeat, and build and repeat. Think about the main point of your sermon and craft one beautiful phrase you can play with over and over. Then set it to a structure in your head, like the way a song does, and follow your own rhythm along.
    If you don’t care to go without a net, make an outline, and then outline the outline. Mark up your manuscript with the outline, so if you find yourself falling you can be saved before you need an ambulance. ;^D
    Most of all, have fun. Look them in the eye. Let the smiles, nods and concentrating faces energize you. Notice when the Holy Spirit overwhelms someone and brings tears. Make mental notes on what interests them, and also when they start to glaze over. Remind yourself you set out to forego perfection in pursuit of connection.
    Keeping you in prayer,
    Shift Worker

  11. Good luck! I am not either a preacher or a writer, but I am a teacher. In some ways the process might be similar. In my classroom, I may have a few notes, or basic outline when I’m teaching something new. But I find that I have spent so much time in preparation, that I rarely even look at what I outlined. I sometimes find my lesson going off in a different direction that is almost always better than the way I thought it should go. I have shared a message (I won’t say preached!) several times on laity Sundays. I always wrote and read what I was going to say. The last time I led worship was last fall on Reformation/All Saints. I did a lot of preparation for the service, but never wrote a sermon – I made a list of points I wanted to make, and then took a deep breath, breathed a deep prayer and spoke. It was an amazing experience. The words that came out of my mouth were not totally mine – they came from that other place that I call the Spirit. I think there’s a time and place for both types of preaching, though and one drawback for me as a congregant is that the preachers who don’t have written sermons don’t have something to share with those who weren’t able to be in church. You’re in my prayers.

  12. I’m stuck on the “bean supper” juxtaposed with the “save fuel” one would think there could ba a solution hidden there, somewhere.
    I’m currently taking a homilitics elective with a preacher (and instructor, but preacher first) who is trying to teach us a method for learning our sermons. (it involves a manuscript, key words and drawings)
    When I taught adult classes and seminars, I worked without a script. I should be able to do it. I’m just still nervous climbing into the pulpit. Prayers for you.

  13. Being a writer who isn’t a preacher, I’m not sure how one would go about making this transition. I’m sending you warm thoughts and positive energy that it goes well. I think if you just let yourself be yourself, it will probably go fine.

  14. SB, my homiletics prof used a three ring note book when she preached out of the pulpit. She either held it or put it on a music stand. She didn’t use the text as much as she did in the pulpit, she had it and referred to it. Maybe that would work for you.
    I am more articulate on paper than I am orally, so preparing a text is important to me, too. Not sure I’m ready to go without it (although I can do 3-5 minutes extemporaneously, not the same).

  15. Thanks for these comments, they are so helpful. RDM, I can talk forever in other contexts (teaching, for instance), and I’ve extemporized thematically for the Communion invitation very effectively many times, and I almost never plan much for the Children’s time, but darn it, this just feels different.
    I don’t like trust falls, either. Just sayin’.

  16. I was taught from the beginning by Dr. Long to give up the manuscript, I don’t remember the last time I had one.
    When I start, I know where I want to start and where I want to end. I preach at least twice on Sundays and I don’t think I could give the same sermon twice if I tried. I have a structure and then trust that the Spirit will lead where I need to go.
    I’m sure you can do it — and it will be Blessed.

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