Ministers I Have Heard

There were four main classes of preachers: the long-winded, the dry, the concise, and the interesting.

By ROGER ALTMAN, Secretary-Treasurer, South American Division

Having been born and reared in the Seventh-day Adventist faith, coming upon the scene of action at a time when it was customary to preach long sermons and plenty of them, and being the child of a min­ister who did his full share of moving about, it has naturally fallen to my lot to listen to a great many sermons preached by ministers in different parts of the world. Rarely was I Permitted to leave the place of meeting before the sermon was over, however interminable it seemed to my childish ears. I therefore fell into the habit of classifying the sermons which I heard, and labeling the speaker so that he fell into one of certain categories which I had mercilessly marked out.

There were four main classes of preachers: the long-winded, the dry, the concise, and the interesting. I could tell during the first ten minutes of a sermon whether it was going to be interesting or not. If the speaker was interesting, I put him down as one whom I would like to hear again. Even if he inclined to be a little lengthy in his remarks, I did not mind much, and tried to keep from squirming in my seat until he got to the welcome words "is my prayer." A sermon that was both inter­esting and of what I called a proper length was extremely rare in my boyhood experience as I look back at it now.

Even if the speaker did not interest me particularly, I respected him sincerely, feeling that he really knew his business, if he spoke clearly, and did not say, "Now in closing," more than once or twice. I understood in a vague way that what he said was good, and that I ought to assimilate it even if it was not exactly suited to my few years.

After the sermon began, I waited for one of two things—for the speaker to say some­thing that interested me; or for the hands of my mother's watch, which she allowed me to look at surreptitiously now and again, to crawl around to the end of the hour. It was gen­erally an endurance test. I soon learned not to set my heart upon the preacher's stopping when the hour was up. Once in a great while he did, but not often enough to affect the average very much. After the hour had passed I would say to myself, "Well, maybe within the next thirty minutes we will be standing up and singing the last hymn." If, after the hour was up, he came with a burst of elo­quence to what would have been a first-class peroration, I learned not to be disappointed

when he said, after pausing for breath, "But we must hasten on." I knew what he meant by that, and felt inclined to ask why he hadn't done a little of that hurrying during the first half hour. It seemed to me that he had either been approaching the subject from a great distance by painfully slow degrees, or had already given us a pretty clear outline of the subject for the evening and had been en­gaged during the last half hour in saying the same thing over again.

In the back of my mind I think I came to look upon the attending of long church services as an exercise not unlike that of penance. Perhaps the protracted sessions would make me able to bear hardship when I grew up, and so I sat on hard seats which were too high for me and breasted the waves of words with what fortitude I could summon.

Of course there were times when I felt within me the rising tides of mutiny. If 'the preacher read a long chapter of thirty or forty verses with copious comment before he even started to preach, I felt that I was being im-. posed upon. If, after a presentation of ample length, he got into the habit of saying, "Now just one or two more texts in closing," so often that I lost count of the number of times, I began to wish that something would happen to interrupt the tireless flow of speech and let me go home.

As I look back on those boyhood experiences. I am rather astonished to discover that I feel almost exactly now as I did then. I do not relish a long, uninteresting discourse today any more than I did years ago. The sermons which interested me then are the type that interest me today, and I have the same kind of difficulty, though not to the same degree, in concentrating upon the other kind.

When I was thirteen years old, Elder J. N. Loughborough visited Scotland, where we lived. He came to attend a general meeting, and naturally took a good share of the time explaining the rise and the progress of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. I never looked at the clock while he talked, and I do not remember ever becoming weary. I know he must have spoken for considerably more than an hour nearly every time, but I never tired of listening to him. After the last meeting, I happened to be standing at the edge of the tent as he passed by, and he reached out his hand to me and said, "Good night, dear boy." I almost felt that I had been in the presence of an angel. I never saw him again, but I hope to someday.

H. R. Salisbury was a speaker of an entirely different type, and yet he never failed to grip my attention and hold my interest. Whether he was quietly talking to a group of young men in the dormitory, or delivering the com­mencement address on some formal occasion before a large audience, he never failed to

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By ROGER ALTMAN, Secretary-Treasurer, South American Division

January 1938

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