Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Using a Post Sermon Discussion for Teaching and Learning

When a priest arrives as an Interim post, in addition to the practical affairs of the parish, he or she needs to find out as quickly as possible about the members' hopes, problems, understanding of the Gospel and unresolved problems. In the last of four interims since I retired, I found a helpful way to go about this learning.

When one has preached a sermon perhaps one receives at the door a few polite comments: "Good sermon today", "Aunt Mary could not hear you properly", "Nice to be here”. If you want to get more helpful longer responses try this.

At the end of the sermon the preacher should step down the aisle and start a conversation. "Well, what did you think about that! Too long, too short? Any questions, disagreements?" One courageous parishioner will speak up and others follow.

My experience with this approach is that one often hears "What did you mean when you said that?", "Why did Jesus say that?", "Could we all discuss this?", "Can I ask a question not related to what you were talking about?" Good discussions can follow.

My congregation at Our Saviour, Brookland has grown to look forward to these sessions very much. As they listen they gain new ideas, a deeper understanding of Christian faith, and they learn about each other. After a few Sundays, they gain confidence both to argue, to witness to the manner of their individual faith and their doubts. They enjoy the freedom to reveal themselves, to disagree as friendly members of one flock. A new and deeper sense of community evolves. Of course these mutual learnings can be gained in study groups, but in a Sunday worship service everyone is involved. I believe I would try this kind of dialogue even in large congregations, but fewer than 200 is probably the easiest.

My loving Our Saviour congregation also taught me a somewhat similar existing practice. After the Prayers of the People the priest comes to the altar steps and says: "We have prayed by name for the sick and those in trouble, now would anyone who has personal concerns please come forward and tell me what is on your mind." Perhaps half a dozen come up: "I am going on a long journey, please pray for my safety," "My birthday is this week", "Jim, my son, has lost his job." I give an extemporary prayer response to each request.

by the Rev. Canon Michael Hamilton, the priest-in-charge at Our Saviour, Brookland in Washington