Dear Preachers and Storytellers: Your Anecdotes Matter

A recent Telegraph article urged “vicars to reign in the jokes and rambling anecdotes” in their sermons. Now I dislike pathetic attempts at humour and anecdotes that seem to never end as much as the next person, but I also think that if someone is gifted as a storyteller or in making people laugh, God can – and does – use those gifts in incredibly powerful ways. The primary reason I didn’t like the article was because it was misleading; asking people which aspect of a sermon is “most important” is different to asking whether other aspects also have value. For me, the anecdotes that preachers use are often what sticks in my mind. I find myself, years later, being reminded of a story, which leads my mind back to the teaching as well.

I graduated this year, and it feels like the whole year has been spent with people asking me, ‘What do you want to do when you finish?’, as if the third year would mean I had a detailed plan of everything I was going to do upon being handed my degree certificate. And as I was stressing about this, a thought popped into my head from our college chaplain.

He told us a story about how his 5-year-old son had wanted to be an “emergency-police-ski-rescuer”, running around the house in a fluorescent jacket, police hat and long poles, as he skid down stairs and cushion mountains and so on. And what he’d been talking about is how, when we’re young, it’s all about who we want to be. And then we pick a job – regardless of whether it exists – based on that. Then as we grow up it matters what we achieve, what house we buy, when we get married, and so much else. But to God, none of that matters; I don’t impress God by getting a better job or a bigger car – it matters who I am and who I want to be.

Stories connect us together as people. And after I’d heard that story in that sermon, I’d gone back and shared it with my friends. It was funny, it was real and most people like hearing stories. And because of that, when I was experiencing confusion over this constant need to know what I’m doing and what I want to do – it popped up in my mind again and reminded me to seek, instead, after who I am and who I want to be in Christ.

I try, as much as possible (and as much as I remember!), to reflect on a sermon on a Sunday afternoon - soon enough afterwards that it’s still in my head, but after it’s settled. I talk to friends who were there, or sometimes friends who weren’t. I also love writing blog posts, so sometimes I look at how I would explore what I’d learnt in a blog post – sometimes I even post them!

But I just give myself space to reflect and to engage. To allow myself to have questions and to not agree with the preacher on everything; and then to ask those questions and grow in my faith as I do. When I do this, I usually find that there was something in the sermon, even if only one small thing that week, which keeps coming back to me and growing in my heart. When they are needed, these are the ideas and thoughts that I hope will surface again throughout my life, drawing me closer in my relationship with God.

Written by Rebekah Blyth, an SCM member at the University of Cambridge who recently graduated with a degree in theology and is now beginning the process of discerning and applying for Methodist ordination training. She loves church, theology, social action, the great outdoors and being creative - and blogs about all of these and many more topics on her website.