Religion Magazine

Never Mind the Length…

By Richardl @richardlittleda

…measure the depth

As a preacher and occasional trainer of preachers, it has not escaped my notice that many of them love the sound of their own voices. Some of them seem to work on the premise that if they speak for long enough, the mundane will become profound, the dull will sparkle and the pedestrian will quicken its pace to a brisk trot. In this they are mistaken, I believe.  Oddly, though, congregations often collude in the myth – measuring the value of what is said by length rather than depth. If fewer words, no matter how well-chosen, have been said – they feel short changed that there were not more of them. Presumably, such people would endorse the sentiment of the hoarding I spotted at a a station yesterday:

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Former BBC correspondent Martin Bell would probably agree. One of the things which propelled him out of journalism and into politics was his frustration with the restrictions of condensing a traumatic story into a tiny segment of television news.  Seeing his own face on a working television in a bombed out pub talking about the reasons such bombings occur made him consider a career change. Some things should not be condensed.

There is a difference, though, between condensed and edited. Properly done, a condensed piece of writing or speech has a ‘flavour’ more intense than its more wordy cousins. Consider, for example, BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent – with an elegance of format which captures the atmosphere behind a current news story in a matter of moments.

Tomorrow I shall be in a BBC contributor studio recording six two-minute pieces for BBC Radio 4’s Prayer for the Day. They must be 120 seconds long, with precious little leeway either way. In that time they must evoke enough curiosity to be interesting and touch enough of a spiritual nerve to help at least some listeners engage and pray. It is a tall order, and I am indebted to the critical ear and diplomatic skill of the producers with whom I have worked over the years. For some of the thousands of listeners, those two minutes will set the tone of their day – for good or ill!

Years ago, when I was approaching my first set of BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought recordings, a friend told me that ‘every preacher should be produced’. I now have some idea what he meant. As those who can often speak for as long as they like – the discipline of having someone else tell them that enough is enough is no bad thing!

It does ‘take time to tell the full story’, but sometimes the storyteller’s art is to tell just a part of it, and to set a hare running whose name is ‘curiosity’.  Do you agree?


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