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Priest suspended for plagiarizing sermons

Priest suspended for plagiarizing sermons

All clergy use material from one another and read others’ thoughts and sermons on the Sunday lectionary but how much is too much to use?

An Episcopal priest in Massachusetts has been suspended for plagiarizing sermons according to theCape Cod News,:

The Rev. John E. McGinn, 65, who has led the 300-plus families at St. John’s Episcopal Church since 1993, was placed on administrative leave amid allegations that he plagiarized sermons dating back to 2006, said the Rev. Mally Lloyd, canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, a position equivalent to the bishop’s chief of staff.

As many as 15 sermons have been identified as direct copies, Lloyd said. They were allegedly taken from a book called “Dynamic Preaching,” which can be accessed only with an online subscription.

The bishop’s office pointed out a Dec. 11, 2011, sermon as an example. The sermon is still on the church’s website.


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Adam Spencer

And then, of course, there’s stuff like this:

Seriously, friends, if clergy don’t want to write a sermon, I’d honestly love to hear a priest whip out one of these olde homilies or read something from one of the Church Fathers or a selection from a mystic etc etc. I value a well composed sermon as much as the next guy but there are certainly other acceptable and creative options, I think, for commenting on the day’s appointed texts for those preachers less inclined to write something breathtakingly original each and every week.

But, yeah, plagiarism is crappy. Stop it.

Susanna DesMarais

I completely agree with Dawn; I often use other people’s written thoughts but I always give them credit. We know what plagarism is, for pete’s sake. And undoubtedly, there’s a story behind this incident. But stealing is stealing, and plagarizing is stealing intellectual property. That one even made it into the big 10 of our laws.

Paul Woodrum

I seem to recollect that a dean of a cathedral in California had a similar problem. Perhaps our priest of the day had become so bored with his own sermons he simply wanted to hear some one else’s.

In notebooks I collect sermons and commentary I think is good or different or amusing. I’ll read through it when the appropriate Sunday or occasion arises looking for a phrase or idea that has that wow-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that factor (giving credit where it is due) that I’ve missed and around which I can build my own sermon. I also speak extemporaneously (I think it provides for more direct communication) so, confusion, malapropisms and all, the sermon is definitely mine. Blessed be the saints who have gone ahead to prepare the congregation.

Dawn Leger

“All clergy use material from one another and read others’ thoughts and sermons on the Sunday lectionary but how much is too much to use?”

As one of millions of preachers who spend at least 8-10 hours per week researching and composing my sermon, I resent being lumped together with a plagiarist.

How much is too much to use? Anyone who ever wrote a paper since grade 8 knows. The offense is not quoting other clergy. Claiming anyone’s writing as your own is an offense. That’s why Rev. McGinn’s license has been suspended.

It would also be interesting to ask this question to many Anglican churches. If your priest had a sudden cancellation and an afternoon freed up, what should s/he do with it?

A) visit the sick

B) spend some time in prayer

C) work on a sermon

D) take a warden or someone influential out for coffee

E) do some professional development

My experience is most churches will say a or d. If congregations don’t acknowledge that a good sermon takes time to prepare, they will end up with shoddy preaching or plagiarism.


A few years ago, I was visiting a parish in another city for the GVEaster. The rector preached a memorably good sermon.

Then I read it online a few days later (not written by said rector!). I wonder if this phenomenon is really quite common.

JC Fisher

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