Should sermons be scripted?

Posted in Blog, Christianity

Last month I wrote about G T Manley who, as a devout Christian, came top of the list of mathematics graduates at Cambridge in 1893, beating the atheist Bertrand Russell. Another very clever Christian was (my hero) Frederick Temple who was Bishop of Exeter from 1869 to 1885. Although he grew up on a poor farm in Devon, his family found enough money to send Frederick to Blundell’s School, Tiverton, from where he won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. There he worked long and hard and achieved a double first in classics and mathematics which led to a college fellowship and lectureship in mathematics and logic.

In 1869, he arrived unceremoniously in Exeter as bishop on a farmer’s cart,  there having been a misunderstanding over the provision of a carriage. But crowds turned out to greet him and the diocese soon became aware that it had been sent a masterful bishop. Having worked for the Government as Inspector of Training Schools and serving as headmaster of Rugby, Frederick Temple took a special interest in education. He argued that conditions of the working clas

ses should be improved and that that would best be achieved by helping them to help themselves through better schools. The ancient endowments of some privileged schools were therefore diverted to new secondary schools that were open to the poor, and scholarships were provided to enable them to rise through the best schools to university. By the time Temple left Exeter, Devon schools were said to be the among the best in the country.

When he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1897, Frederick Temple used to drop

into a village church for Sunday Evensong and simply occupy a seat at the back. Once, having endured a particularly long and disjointed sermon, he approached the preacher and asked him why he had no script.

‘Once I was congratulated on delivering a scriptless sermon,’ replied the preacher, ‘and I vowed never again to take notes into the pulpit.’

Temple replied, ‘I, Frederick, by divine providence, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan, do hereby dispense you from your vow!’

What of Frederick Temple’s own sermons? Well at this Easter time we may remember that his son William, who also became a much-loved Archbishop of Canterbury and who was born in Exeter, recalled that his father, though known (for his outspokenness) as ‘granite on fire’, could not preach about the cross of Christ without tears in his eyes.