Monday, January 30, 2023

Lessons from a Church Planter

Seven things to know about church planting

By George H. Martin

Thank you, Kevin for asking me to share some things I learned in being a church planter. I was engaged along with others like Kevin who were focused with seeing the Episcopal church reverse its decline in the 80s and 90s. Sadly, as we notice from Kevin’s blog, the trends continue. At the same time, we have so much to offer, and it’s always a good time to consider starting over again. Most our diocese traces their roots back to bishops and clergy who thought of themselves as missionaries. One Bishop in North Dakota even had a railroad car that was the cathedral.  With that in mind let me share some of the things I learned about church planting—and often learned the hard way.

1.     Why do we start a new church community? (Please note the added word community!) Back in 1986 when Ss. Martha and Mary Episcopal Church began in Eagan Minnesota. It was a suburb just south of St. Paul and it was going to grow from 20,000 to over 70,000n in a very few years. Other nearby cities would grow exponentially as well. Our diocese wanted to reach all the Episcopalians who could be found there. Mistake #1.

What I had to learn after a first year when attendance plateaued at 70 was that our target audience was wrong. We needed to have a church for people who didn’t have a church, or whose story was that for various reasons they just stopped attending. I had a Lutheran pastor colleague starting a church by door-knocking. I assumed that made sense given the prevalence of Lutheran churches in Minnesota. Would this work for me? I asked Larry for help and with his guidance knocked on about 400 doors. And no one came to worship with us. I went back to Larry. He said, “Oh you need to go back to those who might be interested. It’s about relationships.” That’s what changed for me. I was seeking people who didn’t go to church. And what happened? Over 14 years and 14,000 doors I knocked on we had average attendance of 325 every Sunday.

2.     The need for mature leadership and the long process of teaching what membership means.

A common experience among new church planters is that some of the most enthusiastic new members do not have the grounding to be good and trust-worthy leaders. That is why some evangelicals let a new church planter fish within the church sponsoring a new plant. They can begin with a core group of more mature followers of Jesus. I was blessed with a few Episcopalians willing to work for a vision of a church, but not one with stained glass, organ music or pews. There is nothing wrong with liking those parts of our church, but they are not needed when forming community. And you can have a real Episcopal church with clear windows, a piano, and comfortable movable chairs in a multi-purpose worship space.

3.     When the goal is having a building?

In some ways this normative when starting a new church. It was energizing for the early members of Ss. Martha and Mary as we started meeting in a funeral home and for many years in a school cafeteria bring our little trailer with its Altar guild supplies, books, and hymnals each Sunday. It never got old. When new people arrived, they helped set up and take down chairs. You got be involved and needed from your very first Sunday.

And then we had a building! What now? Oh, we had to be the church for the community. That was a tall but worthwhile task. The building could be a welcoming place. We could do mission work from it. We could offer musicals which we did. We could belong to the issues of our city.

4.     What the founding Pastor has to know?

One of the things that the apostle Paul did was to settle into the world where he would teach, preach, and found new communities of Jesus Messiah people. He traveled a lot, but not often. That’s a rule for new church planters. Live where you plant. More than that learn to love where you plant. Learn the leadership. Follow the sports and school activities. Be visible and present Monday to Sunday. Wear a nametag or logo shirts and jackets with your church name on it. If you are an Episcopal priest know that the collar can be off-putting for some who experienced abuse in a church setting. I wore a nametag which said “Pastor George”. Obviously, lots of Lutherans could relate!

Get to know the leadership in the community. Know what the issues are. Partake in the community festivals. We always had a float in the 4th of July parade! I was also a police chaplain in the community and as I look back to that time most of us who served in that capacity were new church planters.

5.     Where will you get your support?

A new church planter and one or two from the sponsoring committee need to get some training from experienced church planters. In the Episcopal Church, the director of Evangelism offered twice yearly seminars called “Start-Up Start-Over.” There were a great many similarities in strategies facing pastors doing one of these ministries. Evangelical denominations also know a great deal about church plants. Once a pastor begins a church plant his or her support will be found by making friends with other pastors in the same ministry. Neighboring Episcopal clergy, in my experience, will be threatened that you will be stealing their members. So much for collegiality! In my experience you also want to keep your bishop and diocesan support people in the know, but chances are that few will readily grasp your methodologies or strategies.

6.     Hospitality to guests has to be excessive, constant, and beyond what people normally expect.

As the founding pastor you need to be at the door welcoming all who come. Forget the normal routine at shaking the hands of all who came to worship. Consider welcome people as they come up to the front door. Be out front in all kinds of weather. At the church I started we loved it when it was raining on a Sunday morning. We had large umbrellas and along with my welcoming team walked in the rain with existing members and all those new under an umbrella. Sometimes we said,” You don’t get this at every church.”

The welcoming team I mentioned above needs to be ready to give your guests a nametag and show them around if need be. When worship starts that same team needs to stay on duty. So many testing a church for the first time want to come in late and slip in the last pew. You want to the welcome extended into the start of worship. When worship is concluded it is time to thank the newcomers and get to know them. Some churches practice follow-ups with homemade bread or flowers. We also hardly let a month pass by when we didn’t have a dinner or some invitation for our guests to come together.

Please note I mentioned “guests” and not “visitors.” There is a world of differences as a guest is supposed to be treated almost like a member of the family. When worship is also over the follow-up with your guests just begins.

7.     Every now and then you will find someone coming for the first time with a well-grounded faith story. 

Be surprised and happy when that happens but keep your focus on forming disciples. That begins with your teaching and preaching grounded in scripture, and not in our case the prayer book. I even learned from my evangelical church pastor friends to preach sermon series. We also had formation groups for those new to our community so they would comprehend what membership meant.


Monday, January 23, 2023

Who Are We Missing

Recently, I was listening to an interview on The Living Church Podcast with the Reverend Russell Levenson, the Rector of St. Martin’s in Houston. They were discussing Russ’s new book Witness to Dignity about President George Bush and his wife Barbara. The senior Bushes were long time members of St. Martin’s. Russ was their pastor in the last chapter of their lives. He preached at Barbara Bush’s funeral at St. Martin’s and President Bush’s at the National Cathedral both of which were televised.

During the insightful interview, Russ made mention of the over 100 letters and emails he received after Barbara’s service that talked about the beauty of the service and how this had touched people. A couple of people said that they were so affected by this that they returned to Church because of just watching the funeral. Several others talked about the way our traditional liturgy had spoken to them in a deeply meaningful and spiritual way. St. Martin’s is large and most of its services are Rite I. Russ’ reflection was how many people have been drawn to the Episcopal Church over the years by the beauty and message of the Prayer Book liturgy including himself.

As I listened, I was reminded that three of the largest Episcopal Churches, St. Martin’s, Incarnation in Dallas, and All Soul’s in Oklahoma City are traditional liturgy congregations. All have sophisticated members, many who are leaders outside the Church. They include teachers, academics, politicians, and artists. All three have a school and all have a very diverse generational congregation. They also have racial diversity on a par with the overall Episcopal Church. I should also mention that all three tend to stand apart from their dioceses, but all make major contributions to them in money and leadership.

In my 50 years of ordained ministry, I too like Russ, observed the number of people that I have seen drawn to traditional Anglican liturgy combined with outstanding music, outstanding preaching, excellent adult education, and outstanding pastoral care for members. This is what these three congregations offer consistently. There are other such places around TEC, but we should acknowledge that today they are not standard Episcopal congregations but largely outliers.

What I realized in reflecting on this was the truth about our situation in TEC today. These congregations represent the kind of people that our Church has largely abandoned during our rapid decline since 2000. What does this have to say about our denomination? When one visits these congregations, we are looking at the remaining remnant of what used to comprise a large number of members who are now missing. I would even say who we have alienated and driven away. These are traditional Anglican/Episcopalians, people who loved the beauty of our liturgy combined with the intellectual stimulation of our common life and love of high English culture.

I know in writing this that those Episcopalians who like what TEC is today would want to object and say that these missing people were reactionary, homophobic, and even racist. Of course, the above congregations show us how these are overly simple projections. If you attend in person as I have and visit the coffee hour, you will meet many people who are leaders of society on the local, regional, and even national level.

What I have seen happen since 2000 is not a defection of conservative Christians, but the marginalizing of traditional Episcopalians. By traditional, I mean traditional in language, literature, and intellectual appreciation. These traditionalists, and I count myself one in many ways, have been alienated from the Church and pushed out by those most interested in making TEC a cutting edge culturally relevant progressive expression of religion, i.e. “The Book of Daniel.” In case you have forgotten, this was a short and failed TV series that portrayed what many of our leaders claimed was the substance of a progressive religion. It is plain that many of our current leaders have no need or appreciation for the kind of people drawn to traditional congregations and those writing to Russ about how touched they were by their traditional Prayer Book approach to liturgy and sacrament.

Sadly, these are the people most missing from TEC today. I miss them and I often, like them, find myself alienated from our current preoccupations and the cultural contempt that I find for all traditional Anglican expressions of the faith. Don’t believe me? Listen in to discussions on the need for more expansive and experimental liturgies. I would have once said Prayer Books, but these discussions have no interest in the very impulse that created the Prayer Book tradition part of which was the desire to lift in prayer and worship the best our language and culture have to offer. Now we seem preoccupied with offering the commonplace banalities of our culture that are constantly changing. I must ask, have we become the Saturday Night Live version of denominations?

Never mind the objection that I continue to offer to our current leaders about how poorly we are at reaching new members even from all those diverse groups that we think will make us a “beloved community.” Simply and honestly ask what this shows us about our past 20 years. We have not been sustaining or encouraging communities where people who might be deeply touched by such traditional liturgies will ever connect. Why is this important? Because since the mid-point of the 20th century, these were the very people who made up this “Community of the Beloved One” the significant leading denomination that we once were.  

If the Episcopal church continues its numerical decline, which by the way is accelerating, by the year 2040 The Episcopal church in the United States will cease to exist. It is sobering amidst all this to recognize that St. Martin’s, All Souls, and Incarnation to name only three will still be thriving especially given their generational diversity.  Perhaps what we really see is that these congregations have not lost their DNA of classical Anglicanism and its strengths while the rest of us have sold that heritage for a bowl of culturally relevant porridge.

Why do we continue to decline? Perhaps it is because we have abandoned the very people who would be drawn to such a spiritual Prayer Book tradition while we continue to make our community a more relevant place to people who we have little chance of ever attracting. Our current and ongoing decline makes this failure abundantly clear. 

Monday, January 9, 2023

Ten Signs of Hope for the Episcopal Church

Those of you who read my blogs know that I am often critical of the direction of TEC and outspoken about our continued decline. I have been hearing some good news and I thought that I would start the year off with signs we may be stopping the decline. 

1.     Ministries aimed at strengthening congregational life and vitality such as The Pivot Program, The Preaching Congregation, combined with new Diocesan initiatives.  These are addressing our continual decline with creativity and support.

2.    The Resurgence of Nashotah House Seminary: As a Prayer Book Catholic, I see the resurgence of this seminary as a very helpful sign that TEC could be moving back towards its identity as part of the Anglican Communion.

3.    The intentional new congregation plants of the Diocese of Texas. This includes both non-traditional communities and the planting of new congregations which includes a mission out of my home parish of Grace, Georgetown Texas located in one of the fastest growing counties in America. 

4.    The ability of the ACNA and TEC in South Carolina to negotiate an issue of disputed property. After millions of dollars in legal fees, two bishops found a Christian resolve. We can pray that this kind of behavior spreads among our leadership.

5.    The creative reunion of the Diocese of North Texas with the Diocese of Texas. This was a creative solution and an example for the future. Pair a struggling diocese with one that has enough resources to make a difference. Especially in light of # 3 above.

6.    The Iona School for Leadership: This expanding school for training clergy and lay leaders in a non-residential degree program is helping provide leadership to struggling congregations.

7.  Mockingbird, a ministry that provides great teaching and resources for younger clergy.

8. The “Invite, Welcome, Connect” website and resources: this continues to be an excellent ministry that continues to expand their ideas and resources.

9.    The Diocese of Pennsylvania is doing restarts and planting in previously closed congregations. Research on congregational revitalization that confirms my own experience shows that restarting a congregation is often more effective than trying to revitalize a declining and struggling small congregation.

10. The Living Church Podcasts (as well as the ongoing “The Living Church” magazine and The Covenant website. For those who think that theology is important, this remains a solid Anglican resource.

I am not saying that it will be easy to reverse our decline, but these items add to our ability to stabilize our community. Right now, COVID has added to our downward trend as seen in the most recent parochial reports. But with the help of the above and the energy many new leaders including new Bishops are bringing to our community to a healthier place. Stabilizing will probably take 3 to 5 years.

Feel free to hit the comment button and add any other positive signs that you have seen in TEC.



Friday, November 11, 2022

How then are we to preach?


As Fred Craddock reminds all us preachers, preaching is an oral event. It is not a written essay. Oral communication follows its own set of rules. There are things we can say or gestures we can add in oral communication that enhance and underscore the points we are making. For me, written sermons always sound like they are being read. If you insist on this method, let me point out a method that works. Memorize your sermon. Bishop John Coburn said that he never entered the pulpit without a manuscript in from of him, but then quipped, “but by then I had memorized it.” I have known several excellent preachers who do this, and they relate well to others. If you insist on reading sermons to your people, the greatest compliment you will ever receive is something like “wow, you preached that sermon today just like you weren’t reading it.” Preaching is an oral event.

Today I either use a “narrative outline” or no text at all. I follow Joseph Webb’s comment in “Preaching without notes” that a sermon prepared to preach without notes takes the same preparation as one with notes but follows with a different form of delivery.  It is never “speaking extemporarily.”  I especially appreciate Webb’s suggestion of using a metaphor as the key image around which one can build a sermon effectively. Again, I recommend Craddock’s forms of oral communication. These forms are natural ways to create a memorable sermon following an oral structure.

I am big on preaching authentically. This means that our head, our heart, and our will are in alignment. This produces congruency. Such preaching captures the congregation. There is, I think, too much head in Episcopal preaching. I think we have been taught to sound smart. It goes with our education and theological studies. Such preaching seldom touches the heart /emotions or the will/ desires. I often ask what I want my people to want after I preach. Paul consistently wanted his hearers to want a holy life.

To aid us in our ongoing work, I have a couple of suggestions.

1.     I used to keep a summary of all my year’s sermons with the date, place, and sermonic sentence. I watch carefully for unintended repetitions. Intended repetitive things are often good.

2.     I pay attention to the theme of the lessons for the day. I ask which of the readings best serves a sermon on that theme.

3.     I always ask what the “big idea” is contained in these lessons, and this leads me to both doctrine and theology.

And here are a couple of things that I would like to see added as resources for Episcopal Preachers.

1. A lectionary for new or revitalized congregations that cover in an 8-to-12-week period the major teachings of the Christian Church for new people.  Church planters would certainly benefit from this.

2.     A lectionary that allows for a series of sermons. After all, all but one season represents both a liturgical theme and a doctrine. More of Paul’s letters could be included in the Pentecost season. As one of my readers pointed out, the lectionary leans primarily on his introductions.

Finally, give yourself permission to experiment with your sermons both content and form. It will free you up in the pulpit, and it will challenge and reward your listeners.

let me end this series with my favorite quote from John Wesley:

            “Set yourself on fire in the pulpit and the whole world will come to watch you burn.”


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Need to Rediscover the Pulpit and Preaching: What then Shall we Preach?


Of all my blogs, this series on preaching has generated the most thoughtful responses and observations. This confirms my sense that most clergy care about our preaching. So, I want to conclude this series with some help for you in this and the next and last blog on this topic.

Exegesis: But first a word about exegesis. Several of you noted the issue of Exegetical Preaching and felt that I should say more on this topic. I would start with this. I make a distinction between exegetical work and Exegetical preaching. There is no doubt that if you are going to be good at this craft of preparing and delivering sermons, you MUST do your exegetical work. If not, you will yield to what one of my teachers at Yale called eisegesis, the word out of context. The world of biblical studies has been through a tremendous time of scholarship and understanding of our texts since 1870.

Therefore, the preacher today has more resources available via our library and the internet than any other age of the Church. Not to avail ourselves of this information is nothing short of a dereliction of our duty. I have always started my sermons with a study of the texts produced by outstand scholars. Notice that I said outstanding and not necessarily contemporary.

However, I learned from some great preachers that once having done this work, I must remember that my task is not to regurgitate what I learned to the congregation. To help me with this, I did my study on Mondays and my writing or structuring my sermons on Thursday or Friday. As I decided on my theme or what Fred Craddock called “the sermonic sentence, a single declarative sentence that was my subject for the sermon, I eliminated as best I could any story, illustration, or research that did not serve this theme. On Saturdays I would focus on delivery often revising my outline.

Some texts of scripture, the Prodigal Son, and other stories, lend themselves naturally to Exegetical Preaching. When that is the case, I use this method, if it serves the proclamation of the Word, why not?  The only standing ovation that I received was in 2003 preaching in the largest attended Episcopal Church on the prodigal son. It was an Exegetical Sermon. But not all Exegetical Preaching serves proclamation, and it becomes more teaching.  A good sermon has teaching in it, but a sermon is not only teaching.

Bruce Thielemann, the great preacher from First Presbyterian in Pittsburgh also observed that preaching verse by verse, a favorite of more fundamentalist and evangelical preachers, often produces better Pharisees than big hearted Christians. Thielemann also said, “Aim at the big idea, because life is too short to focus on bible trivia.”  This leads me to my next point.

Proclamation: The Gospel is literally “God’s news, the good news” and this is our primary reason for preaching.  When I would struggle with a text or message, I would prayerfully sit back and ask God and myself this question: What is the good news that I should proclaim today?

There are times when the imperative is necessary, but as I said in my last blog, it is much overused in TEC. Speaking of the good news, faith, hope, and love (agape) are the theological virtues produced in us by the action of the Holy Spirit. The Good News, of course, according to Paul, the Apostolic tradition, Augustine, Francis, Luther, the English Reformer Bishops, John Donne, Barth, Bonhoeffer to mention only, a few, is “We are saved by Grace through faith in the Son of God.”

Doctrine: Speaking of teaching; the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost (including the person of the Holy Spirit,) the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins for examples, are all part of this comprehensive God News. They also give us the chance to expand our congregation’s understanding of the Faith. I once preached as a visitor when the lesson came from the fifth chapter of Romans. I preached on being saved by faith and not works. At the coffee hour many long-term Episcopalians told me that they had never heard that preached before by which they meant both the text and the message. No wonder our people are so easily swayed by moralism! 

Life in the Spirit, or Sanctification:  One of the reasons that Charismatic Renewal of the 70’s and 80’ spoke to so many people was its emphasis on the experiential reality of the power of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life.  This is, of course, dependent on God’s grace given to us in the gift of the Holy Spirit and not by any methods or techniques humans come up with on our own, even if the human in question is a priest or bishop. The first step of life in Christ, or Spiritual Life, is surrender, so too is the last step at our passing, and all that happens in between.

Sam Keyes an excellent writer and a former Episcopal priest, now a Roman Catholic, recently made this observation about our contemporary church life. “We often hear from secular people that they are “spiritual but not religious.” He observes that the Church should be the first to speak about the reality of human spiritual life, but then he asks, “Why then has the Church decided to offer religion without the spirituality as an alternative to secularism?” If you do not get his meaning, may I recommend that you find a good spiritual director!

In my next blog, I will conclude this series with some practical suggestions on how we are to preach.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Need to Restore the Pulpit and Preaching: Imperative or Indicative

Having come to a norm of reading four scriptures and focusing especially on the gospel reading for the day, TEC preachers are mainly led to explore the gospel reading, explain what this means, and apply it for today.  As I observed in my last blog, I notice that even when the gospel does not contain a parable or teaching the form of explore, explain, and apply still dominates. What is wrong with this?

First, overuse of one form of oral communication becomes predictable and redundant. Engaging our listening members becomes harder. That is what happened in the 19th century with the very predictable use of the three-point sermon. This form had an introduction, three points, and a conclusion. The rationale was that people could not remember more than three points. The mistake was that not every reading from scripture, be it narrative, teaching, parable, or other can be reduced or expanded to three points. Notice that this form like the Explore, Explain, and Apply form stretches or shrinks a passage to fit the form.

In his excellent book “Preaching” by Fred Craddock, he explores the forms of oral communication that have been effective throughout history. He lists eight not using rhetorical terms, but with helpful descriptive ones. They are:

What it is? What is it worth? How does one get it?

Explore, Explain, and apply

The problem, the solution

Either / or

Both / and

Promise, fulfillment

Ambiguity, clarity

Major premise, minor premise, conclusion

Not this, nor this, nor this, nor this, but this

The flashback (from present to past to present)

From the lesser, to the greater

Craddock than observes that “No small amount of biblical, theological, and pastoral instruction, encouragement, and urging can be framed on these forms with a minimum of distortion, reduction, or dullness.” Then he points out that a feature of using these different forms is “the guarantee of variety.” Then he adds “No form is so good that it does not eventually become wearisome to both listener and speaker, hence the problem of the overuse of the Explore, Explain, and Apply method.

I recommend that preachers write down these forms and keeping the list with your preaching resources. When we finish studying a passage, we can ask ourselves which of these forms would best serve our preaching? With great insight, Craddock suggests that a key would be to use a form that is closest to the form of the original text!  Explore, Explain, and Apply is one of these forms. Craddock also notes that it is often the most overused.

But what about the themes and topics of today’s preaching. Why have we abandoned both Biblical Theology and Doctrinal Theology? Why have we so narrowed our approach and focused so closely on gospel texts to the exclusion of all the other texts which are also the Word of God?

To answer this question, I turn to an important moment in TEC’s history. And I turn to a remarkable leader and teacher. This was Theodore Wedel, most known as the Warden of the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral. The College became under his direction a significant force in the improving of Episcopal preaching. For almost 30 years, Episcopal clergy would receive and invitation to the College three to five years after graduation from seminary. Then every five to ten years after.  For one week, attendees would be exposed to the best preachers in the Episcopal Church and often beyond. Mornings were lectures and afternoons were used for small groups where the students would share and critique sermons on both their content and delivery. Wedel wrote the book that guided most of my critique of preaching today. “The Pulpit Rediscovers Theology” was published in 1956. I bought and re-read a copy of it for these blogs. What is amazing is how contemporary it remains.

Writing in a period caught up in the third Quest for the Historical Jesus, Waddell described the results of such theology and its affect upon the preaching of his day.

“If we should be forced to find a theological category for many, if not most of our sermon – those at least, that preach the perfectionist moralism of our “historic Jesus” Christianity – we should have to confess that the category would be law, not grace. We have been placing burdens upon our people. We have preached to them in the imperative, not the indicative mood. Our sermons are ought sermons, discipleship presented as unadorned demand for performance, is an ought, not an is. It is law, not grace. It is command, not gospel.” (Theodore Wedel, The Pulpit Rediscovers Theology)

Let me bluntly elaborate on our situation as his words apply today especially as they apply to moralism and works. Of course, we are talking about the Episcopal Church, not the moralism of the right be they fundamentalist or American Evangelicals. It is the moralism of the left. We are to love everyone. We are to be accepting of everyone and inclusive of all people. We are to fight for justice and against oppression. We are to set right the sins of racism, sexism or any other ism that divides humans and to make restoration to those who have be afflicted in the past and in the present by these.

An ought is an ought by any color, or we could say by any political spectrum. The theological virtues are faith, hope, and love. These are not behaviors, but virtues instilled in us by the sanctifying power of God’s spirit, not by human intentions no matter how noble they may appear.

We have gone from proclamation (the indicative mood) to the imperative. We have moved from salvation by grace through faith in the Son of God to bringing in the Kingdom by our own works. We have moved from the risen Christ of God’s Word to an imagined Jesus concerned with social justice and whose own point of view was cynicism about religion and truth according to the fourth quest of the historical Jesus.

In my next blog, I will point to a way of proclamation that would transform our repeating of cliches as a substitute for God’s Word as found in scripture and in the risen Christ.

Monday, October 10, 2022

The Need to Restore the Pulpit and Preaching: What Changed?

What changed the historic classical approach to preaching to the lectionary centered one, and what has made the “Explore, Explain, and Apply form the standard of preaching today? And how has this led to a general decline in the quality of preaching?

The first answer is, of course, the Prayer Book of 1979. Most Episcopalians including many of our clergy do not remember or know that the standard worship of most Episcopal Churches in the 50s was Morning Prayer two to three Sundays of the month.  There were High Church exceptions of course.  I became a church member in 1958 in the Diocese of Dallas. I had to go to seminary to discover that I was consider “a spike from Dallas.”

The outstanding scholarship found in the 21 “Prayer Book Studies” and the “Trial Use Books” all culminated in an agreement about the re-establishment of the Holy Eucharist as the principal service of the Church on the Lord’s Day (79 PB page 13.)  While seldom mentioned, the “New Prayer Book” approved in 76 and 79 marked a Prayer Book that was more Liberal and Catholic in its theological underpinning than its predecessor.   The Baptismal Covenant demonstrates this most clearly.

My blog isn’t about all the changes brought by the “New” Prayer Book, but on how these changes affected preaching. Remember that the 28 Prayer Book Holy Communion had one collect, one lesson, and one gospel reading for each Sunday of the Christian year.  The classical view of preaching fits this well and Morning Prayer usage reinforced it.  The limited use of scripture called for the more comprehensive classical view with its emphasis on communicating the Church’s Doctrine. In six years, all these reinforcements shifted and began to work their way into our standard of today’s worship.

For the first decade or so, little changed in preaching because of two things. First, the clergy had been trained in the classical mode and kept going. John Claypool would be a prime example, but there were many more. Second, Prayer Book studies and the division of the Eucharist with “Liturgy of the Word” and “Holy Communion” reinforce the Word and Sacrament theology.

The second major reason for change and decline in preaching was the adoption of the three-year lectionary with two lessons, a psalm, and wider reading from the four Gospels. The merit of the three-year lectionary was its ecumenical nature, and we now have in the Revised Common Lectionary the reading of greater portions of the Scriptures. While the Episcopal Church is not thought of as a “bible church,” visit one of these on the internet and you will see that we hear much more scripture every Sunday than almost any American Evangelical or Bible Church.

Note: one of the most common mistakes of our clergy is attempting to explain to a congregation why how these three lessons are connected. It was not the intention of the editors of the lectionary that they be directly connected. For example, First, we seasonally have sequential lessons from the epistles, especially Paul’s letters. These seldom relate to the gospel of the day.  Second, the newest revision to the lectionary has given us preachers rich readings from the narratives of the Old Testament. This was done to give preachers resources for preaching in the Pentecost Season. Of course, the connection of the lessons is most found in the high holy days of the year.

What followed from these two major changes was not more variety in preaching, the lectionary intention, but rather a greater focus on the variant gospel readings for each of the three-year cycle. This is especially true if you have a gospel procession. Few churches did this liturgical action in 1960, almost all do today. Focusing on the gospel readings, many of which are Jesus’ teachings and parables, fits the form of Explore, Explain, and apply. And once this becomes the most used form, it becomes habitual to many clergy even if the gospel reading of the day does not contain a parable or teaching. I will explore what is wrong with this overuse of a particular form of preaching in my next blog.

Lastly, these major changes in our worship in TEC led to believing the sermon was a subset or servant of the Eucharistic liturgy for that Sunday of the Church Year. The practicality of reading three scriptures and the psalm added to a tendency to shorten the sermon. Leaders developed a rationale that “people today cannot pay attention” to the more typical 20-minute sermon of classical preaching.

I noticed by the mid-80s; the term “sermon” was being replaced in bulletins with the word “homily.” Since homily is Latin for sermon what was the point?  Because for many clergy, homily became a 10-to-12-minute explanation of the gospel reading for the day.  Homily came to mean a short sermon based on the gospel that fit the theme for that Sunday.

I end this blog with an experience I had on a website with a clergy person from the Midwest who was explaining his use of a homily of exactly 10 minutes each Sunday. When I challenged him over what could possibly be communicated of substance in 10 minutes, he said that no one will listen longer than 10 minutes and whatever needed to be said that day could be said in 10 minutes. His caveat “and that keeps the service short!”

I responded with a comment from one of my homiletics teachers of the classical method. “Sermonettes produce Christianettes!” In other words, how can we possibly form our people through the preaching of the Word in 10 minutes? While I have heard several colleagues who are talented at such short reflections, I would point out that these are almost always thematic talks based on the priest’s reflection on the passage with no reference to any substantive biblical or doctrinal theology. What happens to Word and Sacrament when this becomes the Sunday-by-Sunday practice?

These trends are why I am arguing for the need to restore both the pulpit and preaching. In my next blog, I will present the movement from indicative preaching to imperative preaching and the serious theological crisis this has created.