David Gill's book of Sermons from St Stephen's
Now available from the church for $16.50 plus postage and handling
Enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 02 9221 1688
Congregations shape sermons more than they know. ln the run-up to Sunday, preachers do more than wrestle with a theme. They also think of the people likely to be on the receiving end. Context matters.
The context for these twenty-seven sermons was St Stephen's Uniting Church, which describes itself as an oasis of Christian worship, thought and action in the heart of Sydney. The city location means it attracts travellers, city dwellers, curious passers-by and those who are refugees, for one reason or another, from suburban churches. The well cared-for sanctuary, high quality music and Uniting in Worship 2 style liturgy draw those convinced that worship, beauty, the historic faith of the church and today's quest for meaning belong together. Its ecumenical openness, concern for social justice and desire to build bridges to people of other faiths belie the conservative image St Stephen's might sometimes have had.
Perhaps that last sentence should include mention of the congregation's amazing tolerance for irritating preachers, of whom, in the period 2010-2015 and particularly during two ministerial vacancies, l was one.
But St Stephen's is a challenge for preachers. The cavernous sanctuary inhibits friendly chats from the chancel steps. From the pulpit, halfway to heaven, eye contact is out unless you come equipped with binoculars. It's not good enough to orate into space and hope for the best. So what to do?
You change your preaching style, that's what. In a situation like that, words cannot be wasted. Every sound you utter must matter, every gesture must count. After half a century of speaking ad lib from memory or skeletal notes, the geography of St Stephen's had me working from a full manuscript.
So it was that when members of the congregation, ever gluttons for punishment, suggested that some of those sermons should be published, the material was at hand. Some editing was needed. Second thoughts brought some changes. But the oral English style survived. Which is why what follows abounds in verbless sentences, fractured infinitives, misplaced conjunctions and other outrages.
Here are the words. l hope the people of St Stephen's can hear, within and beyond them, the enduring affection of the preacher. They are special people.