10 February 2009

That annoying preaching voice

We all know someone who does it! In a one-to-one setting, they're completely normal. You give them a pulpit, a microphone or just a congregation, and they wheel out the preaching voice. Thanks to Maggi Dawn for drawing my attention to this post by Phil Cooke. It echoes an opinion I've held for a long time; preaching should be done in an accessible and familiar way.

I know a few ministers who suffer from this affliction, and it's not a pleasant experience from the cheap seats. There are some people who I want to give a firm shake by the shoulders! I want to ask them if they know what they actually sound like; they probably don't.

When I first started hospital radio, many years ago, one of the first things I was made to do was to listen to a recording of myself. It's a horrible but formative experience, and I think every preacher should do it too. You can, of course, go too far and become obsessive about the physical aspects of your voice that you can't change and that's not the aim of the exercise. It's useful to identify the little habits we all have, like the annoying repeated utterances such as 'um', 'er', 'like' and the ubiquitous 'ok', which you don't really notice until you're forced to listen properly.

Ultimately, sermons are a form of communication. To be successful, the mode of communication needs to suit the audience. The current audience is highly skilled in communication, and does not need/want to be talked at.

One final thought - the condition of the 'preaching voice' is often linked to CHAS (comedy hymn announcment syndrome). This is where the worship leader announces the next hymn by reading out the whole of the first 2 lines in a heartfelt and dramatic variant of the preaching voice. I have noticed that this seems to be more common in the more evangelical setting, though it does have a counterpoint in more traditional churches: 'Our next hymn is number two hundred and thirty three, TWO THREE THREE!' - sound familiar?


  1. If I ever acquire such a voice, please shoot me.

  2. There was a vicar in my last diocese who sounded like a Dalek. We told a colleague, who hadn't met the chap in question, who proceeded to shout:

    'The hymn number one one six. Verse three will be eliminated.'

    We all went, 'Yes, yes, that's him.'

    By the way the feller spoke quite normally when unrobed.