Preaching on Purpose. A Divine Renovation Handbook for Communicating the Gospel
Alex Colautti, Simon Lobo, Rob McDowell and Christopher Ryan
Three Keys Publishing, 2022, £16.00
In 2010, Fr James Mallon was given charge of St Benedict’s Parish, in Halifax, Nova Scotia and set about transforming the community’s culture to move it ‘from maintenance to mission’. He told the story in Divine Renovation – which became the name of a renewal movement in the Catholic Church.
A central plank of Mallon’s approach is ‘The Priority of the Weekend’, investing in high quality hospitality, hymns and homilies, the latter principally serving as calls to conversion. Now his successor at St. Benedict’s parish has produced, with three colleagues, Preaching on Purpose. Their starting point is Mallon’s own, namely a deep dissatisfaction: ‘Our models and approaches to pastoral ministry, including preaching, are perfectly designed to give us the results we’re seeing: decline.’
Preachers are urged to commit to ‘strategic preaching that pierces hearts, inspires personal conversion to Jesus, unleashes missionary disciples and helps the entire parish break out of maintenance to ignite the world with the power of the Gospel.’ Their response to the ‘rival good news’ that has achieved dominance in secular culture is to urge a gripping and consistent proclamation of the kerygma, combined with the gradual removal of ‘the cultural roadblocks to faith’. Not only should the kerygma feature in every homily, but the community’s own vision ought to be rearticulated at least monthly to keep mission centre-stage.
They advocate using the same basic structure in every homily (moving through a ME – WE – GOD – YOU – WE pattern) and they subscribe to Mallon’s dictum that ‘If the core message of a homily cannot be summarised in one sentence, it probably should not be given.’ Maybe. But preaching shouldn’t be a constant sales-pitch. Other modes are also needed. That said, they are surely right to focus on the application of Scripture to hearers’ lives: the homily is indeed meant to be ‘an instrument for personal transformation.’
The writers make big demands on preachers. They suggest one hour’s preparation for every minute of preaching and recommend teamwork in producing the homily, involving a variety of folk (ordained colleagues, lay members of the parish team, etc.). These proposals may sound somewhat unrealistic to the average parish priest, who has neither a pool of colleagues with whom to share the task, nor much time to discuss draft notes with them, but some degree of collaboration might well be beneficial.
They also propose that one preacher might cover all services on a given weekend (having dedicated a large part of the previous week to preparing the homily), leaving other clergy simply to act as presiders. That, again, is likely to collide with the realities of parish life, while their proposal of ‘homily series’ lasting several weeks stands in tension with the ideal of preaching from the lectionary.
Lastly, they include a chapter on preaching on ‘hot button’ topics, a lot of them focused on issues of sexuality and birth control, while omitting war, peace, poverty and corruption. It’s worth asking both how many of these issues can usefully be addressed from the pulpit in the first place and (in the Roman Catholic context) whether a celibate male is the right person to talk about them.
In sum, sometimes I find their diagnosis more compelling than the proposed fixes. Nonetheless, I recommend it as a goad to reflection.
 James Mallon, Divine Renovation. Bringing Your Parish From Maintenance To Mission, New London CT, Twenty-Third Publications, 2014
 Alex Colautti et al, Preaching on Purpose. A Divine Renovation Handbook for Communicating the Gospel Today, Three Keys Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2022, p.67.
 Ibid, p.82
 Ibid, p.48
 Divine Renovation, p.127
 Preaching On Purpose, p.166
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