26 March 2012

Preaching Advice #35

This morning I was the guest speaker at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans.  I volunteered to speak on the legacy of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  I have been carrying an idea for some time on RWE, I thought by preaching on this idea it would force me to flesh it out more - didn't happen.  Oh brother, from my p.o.v., it was a disaster.  But the people were gracious.  I had a good time meeting the people and reading to the kids.  I was saved, however, by a serendipitous hymn choice.  Being a freelance preacher I do not pick hymns, I leave it to the choir director.  The choir director saved my reputation!  She picked a rousing, lively, and thumping closing hymn.

This is my piece of advice: Nearly all, if not all, poor sermons can be expiated if the last hymn is a doozy. I learned this by accident one Sunday in RI.  The sermon was well below my standards, someone even dozed off, and most of the congregation had those "did I leave the iron on" look.  But the hymn was a rousing number the congregation had not sung in a while.   To my surprise as the congregation flowed out they were all smiles, humming the tune, and had nothing but great things to say about the sermon and the service.

Do not doubt the power of music!  As I left I had all kinds of people thank me for my sermon, told me they were going home to read Emerson, and someone even boiled my sermon down to such a concise essence it could have been a tweet.

However, the converse of this phenomena is true as well.  The best sermon can be ruined by a poor hymn following the service.  I have seen happy go lucky people walk out as if I had just told them they look terrible in plaid (even though I think everyone looks good in plaid)!

Now a few more notes on this morning.  Get this: nearly everyone sat up front!  The first two rows were filled!  And if that wasn't enough they put their best chairs in the back AND they were not filled.  Historical note: the church lost her pews in Katrina, now they have rows of cushioned chairs - the last row is a row of high back, large comfy chairs.  If I were a congregant I would arm wrestle for those chairs!

Since I posted this post this morning I have had several requests concerning what rousing hymn this post refers to, so here you go,  "Come and Go with Me"


Michele Benson Huck said...

I have read through this post twice and could find no mention of the NAME of the serendipitous, rousing, lively, thumping, closing hymn. Is this some cruel form of torture for those of us who could not make it to worship yesterday? I must know, WHAT WAS THE HYMN??

G. Travis Norvell said...

Michele. I updated the post and put a youtube version of the hymn. Come and Go with Me.