Friday, January 16, 2009

A Video Study in Preaching

On Christmas Eve a few weeks ago I came home after spending an evening with some of my congregation and turned on the telly for a few minutes. On one channel was midnight mass, coming I think from some Catholic church. A man was preaching as I turned on and although I can't remember what he was saying, and I only watched for about a minute, I remember the tone of his voice very strongly. It was a typical "vicar voice" - terribly posh with its own distinct cadence. If you don't know what kind of voice I'm thinking of then listen to Radio 4 at 8 o'clock on any Sunday morning.

Some days later again I was flicking through my channels and happened to stop at the Evangelical Christian radio station that's on my Freeview. Again I was hearing a sermon. But this time the voice was distinctly different, it was younger, and somehow it felt different. There wasn't a strong regional accent, but there was an informality and energy to the preaching that you rarely hear on services on Radio 4. In fact it was a voice that would have sounded at home on Radio 1. Nevermind what he was saying. What he was saying I completely disagreed with. Yet the way he was saying it I was much warmer to. It's the voice I hear in Evangelical churches, but rarely in mainline ones.

One issue here is the type of people who are being called to ministry, and the type of people who are going to church - is the church in this country fatally middle-class? But let's put that aside for a minute.

Is there something very wrong with the way many people are preaching? I think because preachers are taught to say everything s-l-o-w-l-y and c-l-e-a-r-l-y we tend to lose a lot of the pace and energy that may be the way we speak conversationally. We put on a "preachy voice" that is some combination of our posh-speaking-on-the-phone-to-a-stranger voice and our loud-speaking-clearly-to-a-elderly-relative voice. I think there's something to be said for picking up the pace a bit, afterall, in a play people have to speak so that they are heard, but can still do so with pace and energy.

I'm not saying I'm necessarily good at this, just that it's something we need to think about because we (Unitarians and many mainline white churches) may be going down the wrong path with this.

The nearest cultural phenomenom to preaching is stand up comedy, so I want to compare a few videos, as a way to think about this.

The following videos may contain swearing. If you're easily offended you may not want to watch. Or you may want to work on that, there's more important things to worry about, afterall.

Andy Parsons is actually one of the few stand-ups that speaks at a slower pace similar to preaching:

Lee Evans is about as high-energy as you can get:

Now compare to these sermons, don't worry too much about content just compare cadence and energy:

I couldn't actually find a really-typical-Anglican-vicar-like voice (maybe they've not discovered YouTube). The nearest I have is Rowan Williams, who isn't as bad. I wish I could find a really good example of what I mean:

And because you just have to, here's Eddie Izzard. I'd go to his church:


Blogger Glen Marshall said...

I'd just like to make it clear that I never told him to speak slowly and clearly. Speak as you do normally and only change anything if people can't make out what you're saying. End of.

10:44 pm  
Blogger Andrew Bethune said...

Very entertaining. The vicar in Dad's army has that charicature vicarish lisp. And isn't there a vicar droning on unintelligibly but with the right cadences with Mr Bean sitting in the front row picking his nose?

2:44 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

No, Glen, you didn't tell me to speak slowly and clearly. But others hammered it into me (to speak clearly more than slowly) that I worried more about that than energy. Now I worry more about engaging style than speaking really clearly.

Someone once did tell me to preach like I was stoned.

10:38 am  

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