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Practicing What They Preach: How La Jolla clergy write their sermons

A bible sits open on the altar of a Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland
(COURTESY)

You would think there are as many different ways to write a sermon as there are to write a song. However, when the Light asked four local clergy how they find inspiration for the task, their answers were surpisingly similar. We also asked what tips or tricks they might follow on those mornings when they just don’t feel that inspired.

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Rev. Leah Booth, Rev. Mark Hargreaves, Father Patrick Mulcahy and Rabbi Ron Shulman
(COURTESY)

Rev. Leah Booth
La Jolla United Methodist Church
6063 La Jolla Blvd.

“I think the Holy Spirit is in my process. But I do kind of follow a more academic sermon-writing process. I usually preach from what’s called the lectionary, which is a series of scripture readings in three-year cycles that many churches use — Roman Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian. Usually, I preach from one of the four lectionary passages for that Sunday — whichever one resonates with what I think needs to be said or what I think the congregation will find helpful or useful. But when have a topical sermon I want to preach, I will either know a passage off the top of my head that I want to connect that topic with, or I’ll Google what passages might connect with whatever topic I’m trying to expound upon that day.

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Also, my favorite part of sermon prep is digging into the languages of Scripture and finding fresh ways to understand what I read from learning more about the Greek and Hebrew words in each passage.”

Rev. Mark Hargreaves
St. James by the Sea Episcopal Church
743 Prospect St.

“In our tradition, the Bible readings are all set, laid out. So on Monday morning, I look at what readings are set for the next week and I think about what themes are in them, what they might have in common. Then, I look to make connections. I go through the week thinking about them and looking for things. For me, inspiration is suddenly being able to make a connection with a story in the Bible and connect it to something happening around us — making that passage relevant so it’s not just an old story.

On Thursday morning, I go to a yoga class. After the class, I sit at my desk and just draw together whatever thoughts I’ve had during the week. And if it’s a good sermon, it’ll come together in an hour. The harder it is to write, the more difficult it will be to listen to.”

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Father Patrick Mulcahy
Mary, Star of the Seat Catholic Church
7669 Girard Ave.

“Obviously, prayer is at the heart of it. But, for me, I’m trying to make a homily relevant. It’s got to be aware of the world and the local community. So, as we approach the Sunday, I take the reading and look for resources online — just trying to get the basics of the passage. At that point, I root it in prayer with current events. Then, before I get up on Sundays, I always pray to myself. It’s a simple prayer, the gist of which is let me get out of the way and let God speak.

There are struggles, but here’s the thing. It’s not about my skills and all of my effort. I have to be humble enough to recognize that God’s going to work through my inferior abilities sometimes, and I have to just trust that. I’ve given homilies before where maybe I didn’t think they were the greatest, but people will still come up to me and say, ‘Oh father, you touched my heart.’ ”

— Father Mulcreplaced the recently retired Father James Rafferty on July 1.

Rabbi Ron Shulman
Congregation Beth El
8660 Gilman Drive

“Three things come to mind as I think about what I want to speak about. First, I think about who’s going to be sitting in front of me, so that my message is something I believe the audience is ready to have. Second, I look at the weekly Torah passage and try to determine what moves me or speaks to me in that text; what interpretations or historical perspectives that I might bring for a message relative to today. Thirdly, I’m thinking about a current event or community matter, or something I want people to think about.

There are definitely times when I feel less inspired. It’s a weekly challenge that I enjoy. And when I don’t find a personal or internal inspiration, that’s when I’ll either go see what others through history have said about this text or, sometimes, I’ll I have a conversation with my colleagues about it. But most of the time, it comes from thinking about the moment in which I’ll be speaking.”


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