From the Pen of Rev Steve

Recent copies of the minister's letters from Rev Steve. These are reproduced from the monthly Newsletter.

October 2023: Preaching Houses

Preaching houses within Methodism were the precursor to the chapels and churches that we frequent today. They were primarily places for Methodist people to meet, listen to the word, sing hymns and pray. They were not designated as churches as there was no altar or communion table, such things were catered for at the Anglican church. It was only towards the end of John Wesley’s life that he realised that Methodism was inevitably going to split from the state church and that communion tables were slotted in below the high pulpit, or triple decker pulpit. It was at this stage that the term preaching house began to wain.

I had the good fortune of occasionally preaching at one of the early preaching houses in the Huddersfield circuit. It was a simple building designed to get as many people in as possible in the space. The pulpit dominated the architecture internally, with the addition of a substantial balcony around three sides of the building. Originally the ground floor had no pews, as people would stand to listen to the visiting preacher of that day. Much of the building stock remains the same as the original, or heavily influenced by the origins. SIdmouth Methodist Church is slightly different in as much as your eye is drawn to the sanctuary area at the front with the communion table taking centre stage. The pulpit’s bulk and height still symbolises the importance of the spoken words, but its relationship with the communion table is more in keeping with a church rather than a preaching house alone.

This last week, a new sound system has been installed in the church, followed some time soon with a new system to project hymn words, videos and music. It would be interesting to ponder what John Wesley, or one of his contemporaries, would have thought about our system! Yet the motivation behind it isn’t that dissimilar to the original preaching house. The high or triple decker pulpits were designed so that the maximum number of people could see the preacher, and the balcony was designed in order that the maximum number of people could hear without the need for projection. A good preaching house with close to perfect acoustics meant that congregations could hang on every word spoken from the front, whether they be booming words of condemnation, or the whisper of grace.

Whilst we are no longer used to 30 minute monologues in my view preaching certainly isn’t over. I must stress that we must banish the myth that the minister or preacher is the oracle on all matters religious. Instead we must embrace personal responsibility for our spiritual development and see the sermon, and the whole of the service for that matter, as a catalyst for further discipleship development. So microphones and speakers will help us hear the word of God. However it is through the Spirit of God within each of us that the spoken word becomes real for us and our personal situation. So yes, we are installing a new sound system, but a principle always to bear in mind with regards to our church buildings is, churches facilitate the mission of God, they are not the mission themselves.

“So we can’t do the will of God if you don’t know the word of God”. My prayer is that we can all hear the word of God as a result of this new system. Grateful thanks to the contributions towards these alterations.

Whilst our harvest celebration, which took place on the 24th September, often has a focus on produce, perhaps this is also an opportunity to give thanks for God’s many other provisions. I invite you this week to be attentive to people that are around you. The lady who smiles in the street, the man who listens to your concerns, the children with energy and innocence on the beach. Whatever it is, I encourage you to be mindful of your surroundings, and if you can pause and say a prayer of thanks to God for what you have received.

The harvest is here
Earth’s bounty we bring!
And as we draw near,
God’s mercies we sing
From greenhouse and garden
Allotment and store
These love gifts we offer
And praises outpour.
(Dominic Grant: 128 Singing The Faith)

Every Blessing

From the Pen of Rev Steve
We must embrace personal responsibility for our spiritual development.