Not so much looking down as across..

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Preaching to the converted

Preaching to the Converted

Most religious sermons and party political speeches are a waste of time. Most priests and politicians are preaching to the already converted. Their time would be better spent preaching to the unconverted, it would seem...

My late sister Kate lived in the quaint and beautiful rural city of Lincoln. The county of Lincoln is wide and large; where flat fertile farming land stretches out as far as the eye can see. I was reminded of the year I spent in Salamanca, Spain, a Cathedral city also surrounded by a vast plain – in its case the Mancha of Castile that also stretched into infinity...

I was struck time and again when approaching Lincoln along the road among the monotonous sleepy fields by the craggy crop of rocky hill that jumped out of the dull plain. The Romans had the bright idea of founding Lincoln on that outcrop of rock; the city in turn crowned by the proud towers of the Cathedral that predates the Reformation. Regularly while visiting Kate who lived a mere fifteen minute walk from the historic centre, I would slip out early on a Sunday morning while the rest of the family dozed and snored and attend the wonderful sung services in the cathedral where I and any wandering stranger were warmly welcomed and brought into the very heart of the cathedral beside the choir. The services reminded me of Mass in the Catholic Church pre Vatican II. It was very High Church with lots of smoky incense and fluffy white surplices.

One wet morning, it always seemed to rain on Sunday mornings, I took my seat in the ornate pew within the gallery. I heard one of the best sermons ever, and I have had to endure thousands of sermons over the years, mostly my own fault. The priest referred to the news which had broken in Lincoln the previous day, Saturday - the iconic department store was closing down after one hundred years in business. I had recently bought some garish shirts at half price in one of their continual sales. It would be the same if Clerys in Dublin or Harrods in London announced their demise. The store was more than a shop - it was part of the history and heritage of the City. The problem was precisely that - people regarded it fondly as part of their past – not their present, and nostalgia generally doesn’t put food on the table.

The preacher went on to say the department store had done all the right things. Or so it seemed. They got in the expensive consultants. The consultants after much time and expense suggested they talk to their customers. All extremely sensible, you might think. They got feedback from the customers, they again wrote and e mailed them and took into account their dwindling customers’ wishes. The problem with that approach is that they missed all the people who did not shop in the store, and increasingly they were fishing in an increasingly depleted pool. Instead of questioning the many who did not shop at the store they increasingly questioned those who did.

The preacher went on to say this was exactly the problem of the Anglican Church – their numbers were reducing all the time. The traditional response to ask the same group of people the same questions was not achieving any success.

Once in a generation – if we are lucky, we will discover a religious or political leader who has his finger on the pulse and connects with the public. For the rest –we are wasting our time, those sitting in the pews and those in the pulpits.


  1. Very good reflection. The ones that remain in the church -and the shoppers- don't need the nagging... I liked the analogy.

    Did you bump into Don Quijote by any chance? :-)


  2. I read a little Don Quijote when studying in Salamanca Spain. One of my colleagues persevered and now teaches this topic to University students somewhere in the Western United States. I must have another look at don Q after all these years!