Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This is the story of how I adopted the practice of extemporaneous preaching

A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.
–Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

I proceed deeply influenced by Marshall McCluhan’s approach to media studies. For McCluhan, the term “media” does not simply refer to a limited small group of media employed for communication, like the newspaper, radio, television, or Internet. Media are, instead, all the “extensions” of humanity, including clothing, housing, and in the case under consideration, language itself[1].
            For most pastors, the sermon is an ancient communicative “technology” that we inhabit more regularly than any other. It is one of the most important extensions of ourselves into the communities we serve. The unique dimensions of this medium, practiced week in and week out in a local congregation, illustrate the formative aspects of media more generally construed.

Intimations: The Science of the Preaching and Reading Brain
            I can still remember, vividly, the first sermon I preached on internship. Rather, I should say I remember vividly what it felt like to prepare the sermon, and the intense emotions and nerves that gathered around delivering it. I wrote out (typed) a manuscript. I agonized over word choices, sought to align theology and homiletical aspirations, hoped to be interesting. Because I had worried over the individual words, the grammar of the sentences, the structure and ordering of paragraphs, the delivery of the sermon was closely tied to a written text. Sunday morning I read the text word for word out loud, like a poem.
            Reading the manuscript aloud was agonizing, because my preferred approach to communication, in individual or group conversations, is to look people in the eye, speak freely, and not read texts to people (unless it is a recitation, in which case different habits and rules would apply).  Here I was, in a living worship environment, and instead of speaking freely and vibrantly, I was reading verbatim a text I had written earlier in the week. I can still remember how much of an out-of-body experience it was, watching myself deliver the sermon. Although I had attended many oral readings of written texts, such as poetry readings, and so knew intellectually that reading from a text can actually be a legitimate (and even beautiful) approach to oral communication, I knew in that first sermon that it would not work for me as a preacher.
            So I set myself the task of revolutionizing my preaching, abandoning the pattern of preaching I had received and observed throughout my lifetime. I had never (to my recollection) witnessed a preacher preach extemporaneously. The majority of my experience had been with manuscript preachers. The remainder of the internship—because I had time to do so and the inclination—I did two new things. First, I memorized the gospel lesson each week and proclaimed (performed) it, like a dramatized reading. Then, following the gospel performance, I preached a sermon working out of an outline I had written and memorized. At first, I still wrote out an entire manuscript, then organized it down into an outline, and memorized that. Later, as the year went on, it became increasingly easy to preach without writing the manuscript first. In fact, after a while the written manuscript got in the way, because I wondered whether what I preached orally on Sundays remained faithful to the manuscript written at an earlier date. My concern would remain with what I had written or outlined rather than what I was currently saying, as if the media in which the sermon had been “trapped” were more important than the living voice of the gospel in the moment of oral proclamation.
            By the end of internship I had even greatly modified the outlines themselves. Instead of a five point outline with sub-points, I would have just a few words written down, in order, brief pointers for remembering the way, sign-posts on the road.[2]Even the outline got in the way of sermon delivery, because my mind was tied to the outline, and I would worry if I had forgotten a section, not to mention what to do if a new direction came to mind in the process of preaching the sermon—what do you do with that? Over the next couple of years, I stopped writing out the outlines, but still developed and memorized some kind of outline sans notes for a few more years.[3] More recently I simply stand up to preach without any kind of outline or order in mind at all. The form simply “arrives” in my mind, fully formed, strands woven together from the reading and contemplation I have engaged in over the course of the week.
            Which is not to say that I do not prepare a sermon. I still study, read, sift, reflect, pray, and meditate. Instead, all these activities coalesce around the preaching moment as available resources to weave in. They are not required. In a pinch, I can preach a sermon on any text, at any time. It is my hypothesis that I can do this because the formative work of preparing those sermons, year in and year out, and specifically in the manner I have been preparing them, has changed the structure of my brain. I have neural pathways, open connections and deep patterns established, that facilitate the form my preaching now typically takes. In other words, I could not have prepared for that first sermon in the way I prepare now, precisely because it has been past repeated preparations that have shaped my brain in specific ways.[4]
            The anxiety and feelings I felt in those early experiences were the growing pains of a brain that had not yet been formed to do what it now does. The “equipment” we make use of takes part in the forming of our thoughts. I have had similar feelings and experiences when learning to play an instrument, or drive a new vehicle, or acquire any new communication skill using a new medium. Each equipping requires the formation of new neural pathways. This phenomenon scientists now indicate is an aspect of the neuroplasticity of the adult brain. The consensus in much of the neuroscience community (and this is a relatively new discovery) is that the adult brain is very plastic, even, we might say, “massively plastic.”[5] “The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”[6]
            Furthermore, and this is central to what we will be exploring throughout this book, the media I used to prepare sermons, the approaches I took to preaching, were technologies that affected the outcome. Different media and approaches to preaching would shape my brain in different ways. In fact, in some sense they function as extensions of my brain. If, for example, over the past ten years I had been in the habit of memorizing a manuscript word-for-word, my brain would be adapted for the quick memorization of written texts, a different and intriguingly powerful tool used by many in theater and the performing arts. Additionally, and equally important, not only has the media impacted the repeating media, the media has impacted the message itself. As Maryanne Wolf in Proust and the Squid notes, “The reading brain is part of a highly successful two-way dynamics. Reading can be learned only because of the brain’s plastic design, and when reading takes place, that individual brain is forever changed, both physiologically and intellectually.”[7] In my case, the living nature of the sermons I preach is intimately connected to the mode of their preparation and delivery, and the extemporaneous habits I have been cultivating over this long period of time I believe better serve the nature of the homiletical task and its outcome in that they continue to change my brain through repeated practice.
            Finally, according to Christian faith, all of what I have described above is a happy outcome of the cooperation of the Holy Spirit and neurology. The Holy Spirit works through means, and in this case the Holy Spirit works on the brain of the pastor, preparing it like fertile soil to be a carrier of the Word. The Holy Spirit works through means, including creation itself, and so it is no surprise that the Holy Spirit also works in and through the neurological pathways forged through repeated and rehearsed practices. The surprise in all of this is that such repeated practices, inspired by the Holy Spirit, do not simply train the brain for more of the same—they are in fact generative. As Wolf notes later in her book, “Proust’s understanding of the generative nature of reading contains a paradox: the goal of reading is to go beyond the author’s ideas to thoughts that are increasingly autonomous, transformative, and ultimately independent of the written text.”[9] What Wolf says next is how I have felt as an adult learning to preach, although she is describing a child learning to read: “From the child’s first, halting attempts to decipher letters, the experience of reading is not so much an end in itself as it is our best vehicle to a transformed mind, and, literally, and figuratively, to a changed brain.”[10]

[1] Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, 2003), 168.
[2] I’m reminded of something I read years ago while studying Jonathan Edwards, that “nearly twenty years after he first began to preach (i.e. approximately 1742), Edwards stopped writing his sermons in full; so one of the most famous ‘manuscript preachers’ in American history shifted in the later half of his ministry to a different pattern”; Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 190.

[3] In fact, I created most of these memorized outlines while jogging, which probably also has important neuroscientific implications.

[4] I was first alerted to the relationship between the neuroplasticity of my brain and the development of my preaching when I read this now-famous sentence from Nicholas Carr’s book on neuroscience and Internet usage. “Over the last few ears I’ve had the uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I feel it most strongly when I’m reading. I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or lengthy article. My mind would get caught up in the twists of the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration drifts after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.” Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010), 5.
[5] Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains Norton 2010, 26.

[6] Ibid., 27.

[7] Maryanne Wolf. The Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (HarperPerennial, 2007), 5.

[9] Wolf, The Proust and the Squid, 18.

[10] Ibid., 18.

Monday, June 25, 2012

This week in a pastor's life

We just returned last Saturday from a vacation to Tybee Island on the Georgia coast. As I'm kicking off a first week "back in the saddle," I thought this might again be a good time to offer a brief summary of what my work week looks like. 

Saturday--Spent two hours in the office in the morning catching up on the 290 e-mails awaiting me in my inbox, rehearsed Sunday worship and reviewed the bulletin, then went to visit our 100 year old member currently on hospice.

Sunday- Three Sunday morning services, then an initial meeting with a couple who plan to marry in 2013. Went to a Naturals game Sunday evening (I won't record all of what we did as a family, but you can imagine that any gaps in the work schedule are time spent with family).

Monday- Stayed home in the morning while my spouse worked on a writing project for Augsburg Fortress. Went on a jog with the youngest in a jogging stroller and put together a majority of my sermon for Sunday. Two visits at the hospital, one home visit, and now writing, prepping lesson plans, and blogging at the coffee shop. This evening, first bible study and supper with our group planning to organize the launch of a catechumenal process this fall.

Tuesday- Office day in the morning, catch up with staff on various plans including new member classes, VBS, parish nurse conversation; review plans for special Independence Day worship, and visit with our Bears group. A bit of time brainstorming how to expand our feeding ministry right in our own neighborhood. Tuesday evening lead literary fiction discussion group at Nightbird Books discussing Geraldine Brook's Caleb's Crossing. A novel with powerful religious themes perfect to be reading during the 4th of July holiday season.

Wednesday- I'm the chauffeur, driving our new church bus up to Crystal Bridges in Bentonville with a full busload of church members. Write some thank you notes.

Thursday- Breakfast meeting with new members and artist friends to start planning a series of four or five curated worship events in the downtown Fayetteville area during the 2012-2013 academic year. Little Bread on Block St. 8 a.m. if you want to join us. Lunch meeting (sushi) with a couple I met a few weeks ago who are long-standing guild leaders in World of Warcraft who want to talk with me about MMORPGs as "faith" formation resources. Start work in between on two essays I need to write, one a cultural piece hopefully for Oxford American, the other seasonal essays for Sundays & Seasons 2014.

Friday- day of rest

Saturday- day of rest

Sunday- One Independence weekend worship service 10 a.m. followed by a community meal catered by Penguin Ed's BBQ. Can't wait to preach on the gospel text and epistle, which I've commented on at http://thehardestquestion.org

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Lighthouse Christian Books and Lightning Check Advance

In Holly Springs, Mississippi, about 30 miles south of Memphis, there is a KFC that serves a lunch buffet. Although much of the buffet is standard KFC fare, there are, in addition, some lovingly prepared culinary delights, including: Cinnamon pudding (a bread pudding with peaches, raisins, cinnamon, and lots of white "frosting"), stewed tomatoes, deep fried gizzards and livers, giant pickled jalapeƱo peppers, and deep fried zucchini.

I discovered this on a trip across Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Such surprises await at almost any exit off the interstate, even sometimes in chain restaurants. You just have to look, and above all else, not stop at exits that are clearly Tony suburban.

Across the street from the KFC (I should mention that this KFC is also a Taco Bell, although the Taco Bell portion of the restaurant was, shall we say, under-utilized), I took this picture:

Yes, this is, as the sign says a dual purpose retail establishment--Lighthouse Christian Bookstore AND Lightning Check Advance. Go ahead. Take your time. Do the double and triple and quadruple take I did. Then read on.

I admit to all my readers that a) I have never frequented a check advance or pay day loan establishment, ever, and b) I never frequent Christian bookstores (with the exception of a Christian bookstore in Decorah, Iowa, but that store has a Thomas Train table in the front window, and it is just down the block from Mabe's Pizza, so we have been there for obvious reasons).

Since I don't frequent either of these types of stores, and since they evoke a rather strong reaction from me, the combination of the two casts, like a black hole, more darkness than light. When I first spotted read the sign, I was astounded, then amused, then stunned, then thoughtful, then repentant, all by degrees.

Here's why: I am judging a store by its cover. I don't actually know what the store is like. It was closed when we were eating lunch (the trucks parked in front are apparently there to frequent stores to the left and right). For all I know, the check advance is offered pro bono as a Christian ministry. And perhaps the Christian bookstore carries NRSV translations of the Bible and lots of works by Robert Jenson. I wouldn't know.

My stereotype of these types of establishments... Christian bookstores mostly sell kitsch, junk with a Christian patina, and they place on their shelves Christian literature I neither read or like, and mostly disagree with. Not exclusively, but predominately. Check advance outlets offer advances on checks that are usurious and unChristian, and add an even greater burden to the already difficult financial situations of those who utilize them.

However, it is very possible this particular store avoids these stereotypes. Probably not, but there's a chance. 

Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the two offers the opportunity for some intriguing self-searching queries:

1) Shouldn't one form of Christian ministry be pay day loans and check advances? Why do I immediately assume that the combination of Christian bookstore and check advances is an oxymoron? In fact, the presence of such establishments in any community is proof of the failure of the church as a whole, which should be on financially sound enough footing to offer financial assistance to its members and others in need, frequently and liberally.

2) Is my strident judgmentalism on this topic something of which I repent until such time as I either make use of a check advance location out of necessity, or spend time getting to know at least one person who owns an establishment such as this?

3) Should I shop in Christian bookstores, but then ask them if they carry material I would actually purchase, thereby increasing the likelihood others would have access to the Christian literature I cherish?

4) Similarly, what I am doing personally to make sure that pay day loan establishments are regulated in a manner similar to banks, so that if there is interest, it is at a non-usurious level?

For those interested in books on usury, I recommend Reforming the Morality of Usury, by David W. Jones. Reading it will forever disabuse you of the notion that the church never changes its position on something it had steadfastly stuck its heels in regarding, and furthermore will awaken readers to a sense of the Christian ethical issues that attend banking and loans at interest.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mid-Life Lesson #24: Look the devil in the eyes and say, "I'm a child of God. Go away."

Ask and ye shall receive. I recently asked my friends and parishioners (Where? On Facebook of course!) what they have learned from my preaching, teaching, or friendship that might be worth highlighting in these mid-life lessons. An early response offers two lessons.

First, children really do listen to sermons. The picture here are notes a first-grader scribbled in response to a sermon I preached last year. Her mom writes,

"Your message was about giving us the ability/tools to face the devil when he is trying to steer us in wrong directions. She saw me making a note during the sermon and felt the need to jot her own. BTW, my note was 'if you are going to battle with the devil, you better know the Bible better than him because he really knows it.'" 
The second lesson is already embedded in the first lesson, but I'll make it more explicit. The best way to drive out the devil is the Word of God--but be prepared that the devil will also know the words of the Bible, so have a community of interpretation, and the support of the Holy Spirit, available to you as you proceed into battle.

And it is really "one little word" that will subdue him. No need for complex formula. The notes of this first grader will do just fine. Look the devil in the eyes and say, "I'm a child of God. Go away."

Make the sign of the cross, and remember you are baptized. Any way you slice it, you realize right away it's God in Christ and the Spirit casting out the devil. All your little word is doing is reminding you of the power promised and available to you any time you ask.

I'm honored and touched that this note made it to such a prominent place in their household. Can't do better than the refrigerator!

Don't Be a Tool: Further Notes on the Hunger Games

A few weeks ago I posted an essay in Immerse: A Journal of Faith, Life, and Youth Ministry re: The Hunger Games. While crafting that piece, I had some other notes that didn't make it into the final draft, but I thought also worth a post here on the blog.

Another way in to The Hunger Games is this: Don't be a tool.

Much of what makes Katniss such a winning protagonist is her perennial unwillingness to be a tool for the system--first for the Capitol, but then equally for District 13.

Early in Mockingjay, Katniss says to Prim, "Tomorrow morning I'm going to agree to be the Mockingjay." Her sister's wise and immediate question, "Because you want to, or because you are feeling forced into it?"To which Katniss responds, "Both I guess. No, I want to." (page 33)

People can do all sorts of things for different reasons, and we all can do the same thing but for different reasons. For Katniss, for Prim, for their movement, it is important that even if they appear to be a tool, it is not actually because they are a tool or are forced, but because it is their decision.

None of us desire to be tools, to be used. We have some suspicions, however, that in spite of our best intentions, we are serving as tools, pawns in a system of which we are only partially aware. We suspect there is no way out.

I believe this is one reason for the popularity of these novels and movies. Our sense of being tools is buried deep in some inarticulate nascent regions of our brain. Yet we know.

The intriguing question: By being perfectly willing to be drawn along on a narrative celebrating someone (a fictional character) who gives not being a tool a good try, are we actually allowing the story to function as a kind of cathartic proxy, an opiate for the masses?

Perhaps what attracts us in these dystopic parables is a slight uptick in our awareness of how trapped we are in the systems in which we are embedded?

This clarifies why this is such a popular teen novel (and since adulthood in North America has been juvenilized, we're all teens now, right?) Teens are so very much wrestling with self, and are in the early stages of forming their sense of autonomous identity, and identify formation.

"Who am I? And who are people telling me I am? And who are my people?" Close to this question are related and subsidiary questions, "Who do I love? Who loves me? Who can I trust?"

In the particular case of Katniss, there are ways the totalitarian system in which she lives requires her to do identity formation earlier than is typical or even healthy. There are other ways in which this system of control leaves Katniss foreclosed and emotionally stunted. This is what makes Katniss such an intriguing, attractive, and simultaneously disturbing, heroine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A 21st Century Approach to Urban and University Ministry

I have been deliberating for some time on our best approach to a fall launch for our new satellite community in the downtown and university context. The more I think about it, the more I think we need to take a multi-faceted approach, given how many different demographics are represented.

I hope to design an informational piece for Razorbash this year, and I imagine breaking down our ministry in the downtown context into these groups:

1) Continue the monthly meal gatherings we started last year. Some of our graduate students and staff and other older students at U of A would be a our target group for this event. We have a core team that will probably lead this.

2) Develop a small weekly study group in the dorm context, led by some of our freshman. This would likely meet in Pomfret or one of the dorms, and would be a fellowship and study group aimed at the younger undergraduates.

3) Do a series of curated worship events over the course of the year in the downtown context, perhaps in varying venues. I have a couple of interested worship leaders and artists interested in helping us develop these events (I would love referrals to even more, so contact me or send me contacts if you know folks hoping to plan and participate in truly alternative forms of worship). These events would especially be targeting the downtown artist and intellectual community around the square, Block Street, and so on.

These worship installations/events might have titles like:

Late August-- Title: A/church (Church, except when it isn't)
Mid-fall-- Title: Fall (like, as in, falling, fallen, fallow, foul, etc.)
Advent-- Title: Vent (Because air passes through it)
Lent-- Title: Ents (like the Tolkein creatures similar to trees)
May-- Title: Arrabon (that awesome NT word difficult to translate into English)

I feel fairly confident that we can launch these, because we have members and lay leaders who can take ownership of each of them. I also know that although we are actively in the process of seeking a candidate for our Pastor of New Communities position, it is unlikely we will actually have a Pastor of New Communities on board by the early fall, so this way we are launching significant ministries in the university, downtown context that can be strengthened and guided even more clearly when the Pastor of New Communities comes on board.

Hoping to build these as self-directing groups that are listening for the ways they can multiply and grow.

Just an update on how I'm visioning right now, and would love your responses.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

River Baptism

I was honored to preside at the baptism of little Abe last Saturday in the White River. A local poet attending the service posted a great essay about the day, so I'm linking to it here.


Mendy Knott summarizes her expectations and experience in winsome fashion. Of course as the presiding pastor, I come to such a baptism with slightly different religious sensibilities than Mendy, but I cherish the opportunity to hear in her own words and out of her own experience what she took away from the day and the baptism. I'd much rather you read her blog than any of my own musings, so if you haven't yet, wander above and check her blog out.

I also found her interpretation of the presence of the snake in the river refreshing. The very next day, Sunday, the lectionary included a reading from Genesis 3, the serpent narrative with Adam and Eve. I think it will be impossible for me to ever read Genesis 3 again without thinking of that snake swimming past us in the calm water.

Thanks, Mendy, for calling this almost 40-year-old a "young" Lutheran pastor. I hope to continue on this journey of faith with you.

The Screen

The summer issue of Word & World: Theology for Christian Ministry, is in the press. It's on "The Screen." The advance copy for my essay, "Virtual Church," in the journal is the following paragraph:

Everyone knows that in order to be a missionary in a foreign context for the long haul, the best first step is to learn the language. With virtual worlds, the step into the mission field is tremendously simpler and more fluid than mission to foreign countries or new geographical contexts. If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can be on Second Life or playing World of Warcraft in a matter of minutes--for free.
Other essays include "The Ten Commandments 2.0," "A Screen-Based World: Finding the Real in the Hyper-Real," and "How TV Shapes Community."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Mid-life Lesson #25: God is not God... except when God is

Christians have found it easier to imagine the kind of 'intervening God' the skeptics have denied and a lot harder to imagine the kind of utterly human 'God' Mark seems to be describing.

Which is why I've simply never been that interested in philosophical debates about the God of abstractions. I'll leave that to others. But as a Christian I'm immensely interested in "the story of Jesus as the story of Israel's God" (to quote a chapter title in N.T. Wright's new book).

For all that we talk about Jesus (and frankly we could talk a lot more about Jesus than we do), our daily patterns and thoughts seem continually to drift away from the encompassing, consummating, recapitulating, and captivating quality of the Human One.

Why do we constantly look away? Why are we so often tempted to peer into the hidden God and all the dangers attending there (Pandora's box), when the God we know in Christ is hiding in plain sight?

Ask me where God is in the your walk in the woods, and I may not have a good answer. From day to day I drift between panentheism, pantheism, and straight up agnosticism on that one.

Ask me rather whether Jesus is the recapitulation (thank you Irenaeus) of Israel and humanity, the Father's summary statement of it all--and more than that, ask me about divinization and the deification of the human in Christ (thank you Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus).

Then we can talk!

And this Jesus who is recapitulation, source of deification, and so much more--this Jesus is also the human one who was circulating around the neighbor-hood.

Because God is not God... except when God is.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Sinning Against the Holy Spirit

"The blasphemy resulting from bad apologetics will always be pardonable... what is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious. The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing to recognize, with "theological" joy, some concrete liberation that is taking place before one's very eyes." (Juan Luis Segundo)

"To be captive to the way things are, to resist criticism and change, to brutally suppress efforts at humanization--is to be bypassed by the grace of God." (Ched Myers, in Binding the Strong Man).

"The only thing worth forgiving is that which is unforgivable." (Derrida)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Lector Tips

Arrive at the church early and find some way to center yourself and review the lesson(s) you will be reading. Find a quiet spot and sit or kneel and pray. You might ask that God make you a worthy vessel for proclaiming the message and that your hearers might hear the word well. Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you and enliven your reading.

Body Language
The moment you step forward you are sending signals to your listeners. These signals come from how you carry yourself and what you wear. 

One can usually tell how a reading will go based on the lector's approach to the lectern. Those who race to the lectern will generally race through their reading. On the other hand, those who approach in a focused, deliberate manner will also proclaim that way.

Upon reaching the lectern stand squarely behind it. Stand on two feet, not one. Place your hands lightly on the lectionary or you may hold a Bible if you feel comfortable doing so. Most lectors prefer to keep the lectionary on the lectern when proclaiming but it works well when held also.

Consider how you will use your hands. Many readers place their hands on the lectern while reading. If you have prepared to read with some animation, think through your hand gestures carefully.

Announcement Line
The lead-in or announcement line tells the listeners from whom or from where the reading comes, i.e. the prophet Isaiah or the Book of Psalms. Proclaim the announcement line loudly and clearly. You will get the assembly's attention if you start out in a positive, determined manner. You only need to include the title of the book and chapter in the announcement line, not the verses. For example, “A reading from Genesis, the fourth chapter.”

And always pause……………. for a few healthy seconds after the line is read. This will give the assembly a chance to place the prophet, era or Biblical location in their minds and ready them to actively listen to the passage.

Eye Contact
You may be doing everything else right - proper pace, effective pausing, speaking in a clear, engaging manner and so on, but if you do not look at your listeners, you will not connect with them.

Consider some of the best times to look directly at your assembly:

            • when you first get to the lectern
            • when you proclaim the announcement line
            • at the end of a sentence
            • during key words or phrases
            • when changing gears (e.g. changes in mood, time, place, character, relationship, etc.)
            • just before the closing line (i.e. "The Word of the Lord" or "Word of God, Word of life.")
            • during and after the closing line.

There are basic pronunciation guides available that phonetically spell out the pronunciations of the Biblical names of people and places. For instance, Barrabus may be listed as buh-RAB-us or Capernaum as kuh-PER-num.  Here is an on-line version: http://www.ecraustin.org/biblicalnameguide.pdf

The congregation will appreciate your smooth handling of difficult words. On the other hand, lack of preparation is never as obvious as the lector who comes to a difficult word, stops and then stumbles through it. This can be easily avoided with careful attention to detail in advance and practice! 

Enunciation is different from pronunciation. The latter involves using the tongue, lips and teeth to phonetically make the correct sounds of a word. Enunciation means that the speaker clearly articulates all the sounds that make up the word. For instance, a common mistake in enunciation is to drop the "d" or "t" sound from the end of a word. This is a dangerous practice in proclaiming because very often, it is precisely the inclusion of the "d" or "t" that separates one word from another. For instance, "mend" has a totally different meaning than "men". Likewise "sent" without a clearly enunciated "t" might be interpreted by listeners as "sin". 

What do you think are the two biggest complaints about lectors' performance? You probably guessed at least one of them if not both. One is rate and the other is volume, i.e. "They read too fast" and "I can't hear them."

Rate refers to how quickly or slowly one speaks. (It does not mean how much time one takes between thoughts or phrases; that's pausing.)

The best rate for a particular passage depends on the content of the reading but as a general rule, lectors should proclaim at one-half their normal speaking voice. That's right, one-half.

Slowing down accomplishes several things. First of all, people do not listen as fast as you may speak. People need time to digest what you are saying to them. Unless you slow down, they may not be able to keep up and will simply tune out. At that point, you've lost them and all that practice and preparation would have been for naught.

Secondly, slowing down helps achieve clearer pronunciation and enunciation. 

Very importantly, slowing down brings an added dimension of power to the reading. Try it and see the difference for yourself.  

The other of the two most common criticisms that listeners have of lectors is they cannot be heard. (The other one is reading too fast.) Sometimes, the problem is equipment-related but more often than not, it has to do with the lector's ability to project, voice quality and/or their use of the microphone. 

Not all lectors or aspiring proclaimers have the ability to create effective volume. Some have small or naturally soft voices; others do not breathe correctly and still others may not realize that the volume they hear in their own voice at the lectern is not nearly as loud beyond the first few pews as they may think. 

The key to projecting effectively is

            • proper breathing
            • a natural gift of volume
            • correct microphone usage
            • confidence.

Microphone Usage
It is crucial to find just the right spot or zone that will enable you to maximize your volume without creating explosive or popping sounds. These distracting and unwelcome noises occur most often on "p" and "t" sounds and are created by speaking too closely to the head of the microphone. The rush of air that comes from your mouth on these consonants (and others as well) generates a strong force of air that is magnified unpleasantly through the sensitive head of the mike. 

This can be easily avoided by positioning the microphone head a little above your mouth (nose level) or a little below (chin level) so the rush of air goes above or below the head.

Chin level is preferred to nose level because the microphone may block the view of your face and facial expressions are an important component of proclaiming, but ultimately, you have to go with the mike position that best projects your voice. 

Silence is golden, at least in the right spots, and the proper use of pausing is essential to effective proclaiming. This is the one tool that eludes many a lector.

Let's consider some obvious places to use the pause:

            • to provide a segue when the reading is changing direction
            • to allow listeners to absorb an important point
            • to provide space between multiple thoughts in the same sentence
            • to take a breath
            • before and after quotes to offset the quote from the character or narrator
            • after the announcement line "A Reading from."
            • before the closing line, "The Word of the Lord"
Please keep in mind that pauses used too frequently within a sentence or paragraph will create a choppy effect. Strive for smoothness and fluidity. Pauses that interrupt a phrase or grouping of words in the wrong places can change the meaning or intended feeling. Pauses that are too long or too frequent can kill the pace of the reading and create drag.

Coaching and practice will help you recognize and overcome these challenges. 

"The Word of the Lord" or “Word of God, Word of life.”
The closing line is actually the most important line in every reading because it reminds us that God is speaking directly to us. God may be using a human voice but the words and the message are the Lord. Take care with this line. Speak it loudly and clearly. Please do not hurry through it or mutter it as an afterthought. As with the announcement line, separate it from the body of the reading with a strong, healthy pause—three to four seconds. Look the assembly in the eye when you proclaim the ending; do not rush away. Give its significance time to sink in. After all, this message that you proclaimed is directly from God. It should leave them with a sense of awe.

Action Words
When proclaiming, it should always be your goal to bring the Word to life. In order to do this, you should among other things, take advantage of action words. Action words have inherent life because people can generally envision the actions indicated. However, action words will remain dormant if you gloss over them, mumble or rush past them. Let's give them the attention they deserve.

Some words may require increased energy or force, others gentility or quietness; some may be drawn out, others hastened. Remember, action words are verbs (but not all verbs are action words and not all verbs are worthy of emphasis). Try to find those words that will help paint a picture for your readers. Underline the key words and consider how you might emphasize them to help bring the passage to life. Be careful though not to overreach in your attempt to add color. Otherwise, you may appear theatrical or insincere and that would be distracting for the listener. Also, be selective in what you emphasize; if you choose everything to stress, the result is that nothing is stressed. 

Listener Appreciation
Do not underestimate the congregation's appreciation of the lector who thoroughly and meticulously prepares his or her reading. They know that you have done this for them and they will be glad in their hearts though they may not actually tell you or thank you personally.

The above is adapted from http://www.greatlectors.com/proclaimingtips.html