On Thursday evening there was a delightful carol service at the splendidly refurbished St Peters church in Notting Hill Gate. The traditional carol singing, fronted by the excellent Skolia choir, was as expected, a treat. Less expected was the quality of the sermon.
Many years ago, as a supposed advertising expert, I was asked by a senior official in the Church of England to advise on how marketing communication might boost attendance. The project was dropped before it began because the Cof E, unlike some, is not an evangelising church. It welcomes people in but does not actively seek them.
However, even in the first analysis, it was clear that one of the reasons for declining congregations was a function of communication. At the end of the 19th century, the service, with the sermon as its heart, was for most the communication highpoint of the week. There was, apart from theatre for the few, no competition.
Along came cinema and radio and, finally, television. The communication skills inherent to these left those of the average preacher behind. Too often the sermon was seen as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Not so for this sermon, in this church. The vicar knew how to tell a story!
Like most sermons, and I guess this is true for most religions, it was based on a re-telling of stories from scripture. The bible, after all has been filmed as “the greatest story ever told.”
But what made this sermon so engaging and so effective was the way the vicar told highly personal stories, stories that made an instant emotional connection to, it seemed to me, everyone from the devout to the occasional worshipper.
The vicar was also not afraid to have his own telling words compared with those of John Betjaman. The service included the beautiful words, beautifully spoken, of the poem Christmas……..”The sweet and silly Christmas things, Bath salts and inexpensive scent, And hideous tie so kindly meant……..”
Thank you St Peters. Happy Christmas.