At Nativity, we preach in “series”, using Scripture to explore inspiring and life-changing themes over multiple weeks. This is a practice that we originally adopted from our Evangelical friends but one that is right at home in the cycle of the Lectionary and the seasons of the Liturgy.
This week we kick off our last series of the 2020-2021 year, wrapping up a total of seven series: two in the fall, one in Advent, one last winter, one in Lent, our Easter series, and now the final one we’re calling “Transitions.” This week we also have a two-day “off-site” to plan the message series we will use next year, September through May.
Here’s how we do it:
Roughly, there are about five people on staff who are involved week-to-week in our message preparation process. Throughout the year they are on the lookout for themes and ideas that could be developed into series. Then once a year, we come together for our “off-site,” usually bringing in an additional handful of interested others to plot the course of the year and begin to identify the main themes of each series. Bringing in other voices allows us to hear what is going on in the lives of many different demographics that are present in our community. In recent years we have settled into the pattern outlined above, six or seven series, with two or three more each summer.
Once the major decisions are made, the project goes to Tom Corcoran, my associate, who, for each series, does the basic research, creates an overview and outline and eventually produces a draft homily. Meanwhile, two other staff, Kelly and Shana, consider how the series will be “marketed” that is, how it is presented to the parish and our online community. This includes what the series will be named, what it “looks like” and a “trailer” we sometimes create to promote the series on our website.
On Monday afternoons we have a weekly “Message Meeting” in which Tom presents his draft for the upcoming weekend, the team discusses it and provides comments. New ideas and comments are especially welcome as well as criticisms or critiques which are, at this point in the week, especially timely (as opposed to after the homily is given).
After that, the message is all mine. I usually don’t look at it again until Tuesday afternoon, when I give Tom’s draft a careful reading, reformatting the document according to my own style, and typically doing a little research myself. The real work comes on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons when I essentially rewrite the draft, putting it into my own style, adding stories or illustrations that occur to me and seem apt, making it “my own.” I do not leave the office on Thursdays until it is substantially/solidly a complete message I am comfortable with. And anytime I can devote to it on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning is when I begin to “speak it into life.” We rehearse it in church with sound and video (I use a “Scripture Screen” to highlight certain verses or points)on Saturday afternoon prior to the Vigil mass.
The final exercise in this process is an evaluation at that same Monday Message Meeting. From time to time we also watch a video of the message, which is an extremely painful thing to do but extremely effective when it comes to improving as a speaker.
The process isn’t important, however, and certainly, need not be as elaborate and detailed as ours. The point is the value of preaching in series.
Message series are engaging and effective in the life of a congregation, they can be a powerful tool in getting the parish on the same page, moving in the same direction.