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Sleepers Awake!

When I first started preaching, what feels like a long time ago now (well its about a decade, so I guess it is) I used to preach now and then at a small church in Warrington where the Area Superintendent was in membership (see, it was l-o-n-g time ago, who even remembers such a role now?).  There was an elderly woman who sat towards the front, right in the centre, right in the eye line of the preacher, and as soon as the sermon began she closed her eyes for a 20 minute nap.  It was a known feature of congregational life, almost an in-joke.  For the novice preacher it could have been very off-putting but you could guarantee that towards the rear of the church sat the Super, who smiled encouragingly in all the right places, and there would always be someone who said something about about what you'd said.  For all its limitations, it was place I enjoyed preaching and I am grateful for the encouragement they gave me as I began the path towards ordained ministry.

Fast forward to 2008, and yesterday's service when I came within an ace of giving up on the sermon!  It was a hot afternoon and maybe my kind offer to allow people to remain seated for most of the songs/hymns was mistaken, because they simply set into a soporific blob.  Sorry, lovely people, but you did.  I have a few sleepers, I know who they are, and usually it doesn't bother me, usually there is some response from someone.  Not so yesterday.  Jacob's two encounters with God formed the basis for the sermon (afterall having worked with the accounts for other acts of worship I might as well share my thoughts) elicited almost zero response.  Twenty years in six pages... zzzz two weddings in a week... zzzz large herds of speckled and spotty goats and sheep.... zzz amazing encounters with God.... zzzz.  Perhaps people just connected too much with Jacob sleeping at Bethel and decided that was for them?!  All I do know is that I left feeling discouraged, and wondered how many other loyal and hardworking ministers and preachers had the same kind of experience not just now and then but week after week?

Perhaps I am just a very boring preacher, perhaps my congregation need to sleep - but as I start to prepare for next Sunday "come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest" I quite sure we will moving around a bit more, if only to keep people awake a bit longer!  It is also tempting to preach total heresy (if I can think of any!) just to see if anyone responds!



  • Catriona, I think you did reasonably well yesterday. I had someone in the congregation yesterday who had to be carried out because she fainted with the heat. She was totally out cold! It's rather off-putting when half a dozen people, one by one, leave as you are getting to the climax of your sermon, and then come in with glasses of water, etc. And when that could not revive the dear lady, they brought in a wheelchair, bundled her in, and pushed her out of the sanctuary.

    What do you do at that point? I wasn't sure whether to carry on regardless, as if I hadn't noticed; or stop for a moment of prayer which might have embarrassed the poor woman even more than she was already; or bring the service to a hasty conclusion. In the end I did the latter. I think that there are some who are grateful that we lost probably seven or eight minutes of sermon, and I reckon that there will be those who think that perhaps they ought to draw up a rota to make this a weekly occurrence.

  • PS I love your idea of preaching heresy. But you do run the risk of people actually listening, and agreeing with you!

  • Ahhh ... that reminds me of the time in a congregation of nine 5 fell asleep... honestly I was embarrassed (for them).

    Now I have two 21 inch Fans that I am strategically at the congregation. £50 well spent I think.

    On the subject of Heresy, you almost certainly have preached heresy at some point, most of us have!

  • PPS I do have a gentleman in the congregation who tends to fall asleep every week. I think that what concerns me, and the rest of the congregation, is not the fact that he falls asleep. Rather, it's the loud snoring!

  • Thank you for your shared experiences. I have a snorer - but I have an older woman with sharp elbows who usually sits near him!

    Next week I have decided that with Isaiah 55 and Matthew 11 I'm going to have something about refreshment and hand out ice pops (so it'll probably be cold and raining...). If anyone sleeps I could strategically apply an ice pop to their person - after all they can only sack me once.

    Graham - I meant really BIG heresy not the little ones I do all the time!

  • Our pastor kept us awake yesterday by getting us to do line dancing!

  • Glad I wasn't at Kirby last week then!

    One Minister I knew used to clap loudly when people were falling asleep. I imagine it was very funny from his point of view!

  • I knew a minister in East London who used to swear at the midway point in his sermon loudly enough for people to hear but in a context that made them question what he'd just said and nudge each other, saying 'did he just say what I think he said...' Invariably those who were asleep were awakened by the nudging while those on the cusp of dozing off were suddenly alert again. Not sure if would work in your context - I certainly haven't tried it in mine!

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