Easter is a big weekend for the nation’s churches, with more people than usual in attendance hoping for an inspiring sermon from the pulpit.
But for those who come away frustrated by the message – as well as for those to whom Easter morning is a chocolate bunny – the Canadian magazine Geez is offering a chance to write the sermon they would most like to hear. The contest, the magazine’s third on sermons, is a call-out to the “churched and un-churched” to share their take on social justice and spiritual issues in 750 words or less.
“We wanted to create a platform to hear from people on the fringes of society,” says Aiden Enns, publisher and co-editor of the five-year-old ad-free quarterly, which gives an irreverent, liberal take on spiritual matters. (The magazine’s tag line is “holy mischief in an age of fast faith.”)
While mostly from a Christian background, Geez readers “are asking deeper questions and thinking more broadly than the narrow confines of religion,” Enns says.
Though the quality and content of sermons vary widely across churches and denominations – and many congregations will hear the very social justice message that Geez is trying to foster – this central part of the worship service has been a regular target for the magazine. A few years ago, it picked one Sunday and analyzed the sermon content being preached in the 10 largest churches in both Canada and the United States. Every one had “a health, wealth and prosperity” slant that focused largely on the notion that coming to church and praying would improve a believer’s personal and financial circumstances, Enns says.
That’s not the kind of sermon the magazine received in 200 submissions when it last held a similar contest in 2008. They heard from activists, atheists and disenchanted churchgoers articulating social and environmental problems. There was the “conviction confliction sermon,” and the “ethanol sermon,” about our gas-guzzling society. A few arrived in the form of a poem.
Enns claims the magazine also heard from ministers “sending us something more radical than they would ever say in church or else they would lose their jobs.”
The winner of the 2008 sermon was a Vancouver artist who wrote a letter to a homeless woman she had encountered in the city’s east end.
The contest was “a big hit. People had a lot to say,” Enns says. “A lot of people leave the church frustrated.”
This year’s submissions will be accepted until Sept. 1, with an entry fee of $33 which also gets entrants a one-year subscription to the magazine (making the contest a savvy marketing tool as well). The winning sermon writer receives a $500 prize.
For his part, Enns, who attends the Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, says today’s ministers have a challenge to make their sermon relevant. “We are a culture so inundated, so saturated with words, and what we need is not more words. We need to pay more attention to feelings.”
But even in a world of many words, he says, there is plenty of room for the truly powerful message. “If you want to see me cry, click on one of Martin Luther King’s sermons on YouTube.”