Monday, July 28, 2008

Site News

A little over a year ago I had surgery on my left elbow for nerve damage. As result, typing can be well, rather painful for me. As a result of all the work that I've been doing here on the blog, I've had a bit more pain in my left hand. At the suggestion of one of my loyal readers, I went out today and bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0. This is a marvelous speech recognition software that I will be using in the future to compose entries for this blog. While the software does an amazing job in recognizing my speech I need to get some practice in learning how to do dictation. Frankly, I'm used to just sitting down typing reviewing editing, and then posting.

Using the software requires that I learned some new skills and my hat and I learned a new way of relating to my own ideas and to the text that I compose. I think there will be a little bit of a learning curve for me. Somewhat ironically, the software is significantly "smarter" than I am; it has learned to understand me. Now I must learn to understand it and select how to use it effectively.

So posting for the next several days in possibly several weeks will be a little bit more intermittent. I ask your indulgence and your prayers. To be honest I really do not want to go back and have surgery on my arm. The last time I had surgery, had to lie on the couch for the better part of three weeks. It was painful it was miserable I do not wish to do it again. So to avoid doing further damage to myself. I'm going to shift how I do composition. For this block, ask your patience, and hopefully I will be up and running with the software very soon.

In Christ,

+ Father Gregory

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ABC’s of Preaching & Teaching

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I learned of these three things years ago in my charismatic days.

A testimony, so we were told, had to be audible, brief and Christ-centered. As with the last post on consistency, a very basic framework to be sure, but a good one on which to build ministry.

But because ministry is always serving people in concrete life situations, keeping in minds some very simple practical and theological basics has been very helpful for me. Like Israel in the desert, it is often best when following God to travel light and live in tents. Sometimes we simply try and do too much, we think we need to use all the tradition or all our education.

But why?

Ours is a 2000 year old tradition—if we model our approach to ministry on conformity to that tradition, we will fail. We none of us can put into practice everything that was done by everyone at all times and in all places. Take the liturgy for example. A friend who is a monk of the Monastery at Valaam tells me that every day the monks not only chant every word of the liturgical hours they also celebrate Divine Liturgy. Chanting quickly, and assuming that it is not a festal or penitential season, it takes the monks 8 hours to complete all the services. If Valaam is the standard of success, then what parish isn't a failure?

The standard though is not Valaam or any human being or community that we might theoretically be able to imitate but can't practically. No the standard is always and everywhere, at all times and for all people, Jesus Christ. With Christ as our standard we all of us fall short, but in so doing our unique differences are radically relativized and so there is room for a healthy diversity.

So back to the ABC's.


Our preaching and teaching needs to be audible; if people can't hear what we are saying it doesn't matter. For me that means, and my wife is always reminding me of this on Sunday morning, I need to remember to speak up! In my sermons I tend to let my voice get softer and people have trouble hearing me. Many Orthodox church buildings are not well designed for preaching. If this is the case then the parish needs to invest in the best professionally designed and installed sound system they can afford. This is not a luxury but a pastoral necessity. In addition, people need to not talk during the sermon or come in to church in the middle of the sermon (or the readings for that matter).

So too classes, whether for children or adults, whether continuing education or for members of the catechumenate, need to be held in an environment where people can hear what is being said.

Audible is not an end in itself, it service comprehension. Sermons and lectures (and they are different, I touch on that later) need a content that is appropriate to the listeners. Preaching and teaching are done for the listeners and so the content needs to be gauged for their needs.

This more extended sense audible as in the service of comprehension, is applicable to liturgical language. While in an American context most Orthodox Christians only speak English, there are many for whom the use of languages other than English, especially in the Divine Liturgy, helps them personally connect to the services. The absence of Greek, or Arabic or Slavonic, for example, makes the experience less than what it could be for these people. So audible preaching and teaching, may mean the judious use of languages other than English.


The average adult attention span for auditory stimulus is 45-50 minutes. This not a goal for the length of sermon; this is the upper limit beyond which I am certain to have lost of my listeners. As an average though, I can be certain to lose people well before the 45 minute mark. Put these same people into a liturgical context of Sunday morning , have them stand for 30 or so minutes before the service, add a child or two or three (theirs or someone else's), and expect them to not have eaten breakfast in anticipation of receiving Holy Communion, and that upper limit drops quickly.

When I preach I try and stay between 7-12 minutes (though recently I've done more sermons that are 12-15 minutes and I'm working to bring myself back into line). With this as time frame I am reasonable certain to not lose people's attention. It does mean that the sermon leaves a great deal undeveloped, but so what? This is where coffee hour, adult classes and personal conversations can pick up the slack.

For class, I can go longer than say 15 minutes (though even here, a 15 minute mini-lecture can be fruitful)—especially if I have a group that likes to ask questions. But again, even in a lively class, briefer is better. Always leave them wanting more, not wondering when you're going to stop talking!


A priest friend of mine says that in his parish people talk quite a bit about the parish, somewhat less about the goings on in the Orthodox Church, still less about Orthodoxy, and the Christ and the Gospel hardly at all.

In all that we do, in our preaching and our teaching, the goal is always to tell people about Christ, to help them come to know and follow Him as His disciple. It is not, I hasten to add, to tell them about the parish, or the Orthodox Church, or why those who aren't Orthodox are wrong. Yes certainly, there is a place for all these things (and more besides). But always in the service of bring this person, or this community, closer to Jesus Christ and through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, to God the Father.

Centering our teaching and preaching on Christ means necessarily committing ourselves to the work of spiritual formation. Granted this isn't a term Orthodox use frequently, but as I hope to show in my next post, helping people shape their lives according to Christ's will for them is not only the very heart of pastoral care, it is also the hermeneutical key to the Tradition of the Church and the content of our evangelistic calling.

Next, individual and group spiritual direction.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory
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