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Voice of one of the most eloquent preachers still speaks to me

Thought for the weekend

By Rev Allen Sleith

Each branch of the Church has its distinct traits. My own would lay claim to the crucial role that preaching has in the weekly gathering of a congregation for Sunday worship.

I too affirm that conviction as a strength of the tradition to which I belong and in which I serve.

Hence my sadness when I learned back in May that Colin Morris, an English Methodist minister, had died at the age of 89.

Simply put, he was the best preacher I have ever heard.

Morris had a long, diverse and illustrious career - not just as a missionary but also as a politician, journalist, author, broadcaster and administrator. But it was as a public speaker that he especially excelled.

To see and hear Morris preach was to become aware of how compelling Christian proclamation can be: his modus operandi was impressive enough, given that his profound insights, winsome eloquence and remarkable fluency were delivered without any notes

But style was never an end in itself. Instead, it was always in the service of the truth of the gospel, and how that connects with the contemporary context to redeeming effect.

In his wonderful book on preaching called The Word and the Words, he wrote: "Every Sunday throughout the Christian world, millions of words are spoken in the course of what many people within the Church and outside it regard as a parody of true communication - the sermon."

Morris, as a preacher, was a marvellous riposte to the indifference, caricature or contempt hinted at above, and every time I prepare for and subsequently preach, the high bar that he set acts as both inspiration and aspiration, though without the crass attempt at imitation.

Morris describes the nature of preaching the Word of God's grace in Jesus Christ through a series of intriguing paradoxical affirmations that form the chapter headings of the book mentioned earlier: The Word - Debased yet Revalued; Inadequate yet Eventful; Personal yet Corporate; Relevant yet Divisive; Prophetic yet Priestly; Liturgical and Sacramental; Structured yet Spontaneous; Silent yet Active; Decisive and Final.

The world's throwaway phrase may well be 'Don't preach at me', but I hope that preachers will subvert and convert that mindset with words that proclaim the reality of new creation in Christ.

Belfast Telegraph

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