I came across something really cool today. Well, it’s really cool if you’re me. If you’re not me, perhaps not so cool. In one of the boxes of materials from one of the lay preachers is a manuscript book of hymns. I haven’t checked yet, but I am assuming this preacher didn’t compose the hymns, but rather transcribed them out of the larger and heavier printed collection of Methodist Hymns. (Pick up any hymnal from almost any Protestant denomination and check out how many of them were written by Charles Wesley, prominent eighteenth-century Methodist.) Here’s the cool part: at the beginning of this collection is a five-page essay written by this preacher on how to preach well.
Why is this cool? Because first of all, I have yet to find detailed written guidelines for or by Methodist preachers. Wesley published an elocution guide early in the century, but it doesn’t go into much detail about preaching itself. Second of all, this little essay is chock full of practical advice like how long to preach (“No one ever complained that a sermon was too short.”) and how to pick a hymn that suits the subject of your sermon, but not to worry if you realize after everyone’s started singing that you’ve made a bad choice. More than an elocution guide, it’s a snapshot of the cultural expectations and assumptions that went along with Methodist lay preaching at this time.
There is other nifty stuff in this box of material, as well, but I can’t reveal all of my research nuggets, now can I?
Because there is so much material like this that is, as far as I can tell, largely uncharted by the librarians here, it takes a long time to find the things I’m looking for. Things that may or may not exist, in fact. I’m not looking for things that I know are in there. I’m looking for things and hoping to find them. On the other hand, the payoff is pretty big, in my opinion, because scholars have not really written about this material in the way that I plan to (and, in the dissertation, have).