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How he learned to stop snarking and love the screen

How he learned to stop snarking and love the screen

Skeptical about preaching from a screen, projecting images during your sermon, or otherwise incorporating new (ish) technologies in worship at your parish? Give this thoughtful detailed essay–complete with film clips–by the Rev. David Simmons a read.


Simmons says he was reluctant to introduce a screen into this church because he feared that staring at a screen would encourage passivity. But, he writes:

I had an epiphany last year at the Festival of Homiletics. There were many incredible preachers and moving sermons. Near the end of the conference, Brian McLaren preached. His sermon was excellent. It could have been given without any visual aids whatsoever. Icons dissolved on the screen to imprint a doctrinal point he was making. Pictures illustrated modern issues and mission. Single words or simple phrases emphasized important points. Video was used mainly for backgrounds to keep visual interest. I was mesmerized and wondered if this was what I was looking for…

Simmons and his parish made the leap, and now he is glad that they did.

What I have noticed is a discernible uptick in the number of people who say that they remember and think about the sermon the following week. It’s not that I have changed my sermons so much, but that I now provide visual keystones that help fix concepts in the hearers’ minds. Much as presentations help with teaching, they can help with preaching, which has a growing pedagogical element in our post-Christian culture.

In concluding his essay Simmons offers some solid practical advice on what makes a sermon accompanied by imagery work.

Would you feel comfortable giving a sermon accompanied by imagery? Would you be interested in having this practice introduced in your parish?

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Jim Hammond

Forty two years ago I used a multi-media presentation for my “senior sermon” at SWTS. The Dean permitted it but boycotted the event, as did about half the student body. It seemed appropriate to me in the chapel of the seminary. The “sermon” consisted of slides set to music and in those dark ages required importing a stereo system and suspending “screens” (white sheets) on the rear wall.

What seemed appropriate for the academic community of faith of the seminary where we are called into a relationship which necessarily is focused on experimenting, testing limits, and challenging preconceived ideas seems less appropriate for Sunday a.m. worship in church, at least to me. I would not have given that presentation in a church back in 1972, and I would not now — but I might have given it as part of an education hour in a parish hall!

The most significant reason why I would not use multi-media of any kind today in a Sunday morning setting has not to do so much with technology as it does with relationships. For most of my career I have preached without a text, occasionally a printed quote on a 3×5 card for accuracy, but otherwise a thoroughly and carefully prepared homily without any text at all. Because I am free of text I can watch the congregation, meet the eyes of worshipers and gather feedback as I go. Sometimes I shift directions on the fly as I watch body language — smiles, frowns, the occasional nodding eye lids.

One cannot engage a projection screen. One cannot engage the people whose eyes are fixed on a projection screen. I want to engage the congregation when I preach and I cannot imagine being able to do that well if the eyes of worshipers are directed somewhere other than towards the preacher.

My major in undergraduate school was “human communications”. What one remembers from any presentation, monological or multi-media, is only about ten percent of what is presented. Listening, truly listening, is hard work even for trained listeners. Sermons are good vehicles for reinforcing behavior and belief, but they are inappropriate ways to attempt to motivate people to action or even to change minds. Effective preachers come to know the limits of a homily, and, find a way to engage the congregation personally as they speak. That, at least, is the goal!

Respectfully,

Jim Hammond

retired cleric

Winchester, VA

Mary Caulfield

Don’t underestimate how much work it takes to do this and do it well. Searching for images, collecting, and categorizing them takes time, as does organizing them into a meaningful and coherent visual story. We’ve read a great deal about the amount of stress laid on the shoulders of clergy, and I’d hate to see homilists feeling pressured to provide a sophisticated multimedia presentation every week. I’m sure there are many homilists with the skills to do this, but to my mind it’s the icing on the cake. Multimedia can be exciting, but nothing replaces the person-to-person communication of a heartfelt sermon.

Adam Spencer

The sermon is, by far, the least important part of worship for me anyway. I appreciate a well-crafted and delivered sermon, don’t get me wrong. But what happens on the altar matters much more than what happens in the pulpit.

MEM

It made me more skeptical than ever. I think the distractions destroy the spiritual intimacy.

Mary English Morrison

added by editor

Ann Fontaine

Don’t think so yet – still rely on people’s imagination and painting word pictures.

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