Saturday 5 March 2011

Keeping people awake during sermons

Oh dear, I knew this would happen. Hnaef does quite pride himself on his oratory.

But I've asked Mrs Hnaef to confiscate his Amiga 128K for a week or too, so he can't read the following. Because I feel I owe it to anyone who was going to follow Hnaef''s instructions on preaching, to let you know this.

Now Eileen's a bit of a paradox sometimes. You could say that she's quick to anger, remembering sins unto the 83rd generation, regarding the best balance between justice and mercy as being pitiless retribution. But she is loyal to her friends. And she doesn't like to see Hnaef hurting. So she asked Young Keith and I to organise some ways to keep the congregation awake during his sermons. Now, we looked at the book recommended by Revd Catriona, but that was written from the perspective of the people in the congregation - the "punters" as Eileen calls them, or the "victims" as she sometimes refers to Drayton's congregation, or the "audience" as Hnaef accidentally says occasionally. And we needed something more top-down. So when the Moot House was built, we built the following in as gentle ways of keeping people awake during particularly dull sermons. Some of them, oddly enough, overlapping with Bernie Ecclestone's methods of livening up Grand Prix.

So first for the obvious and most clearly Beaker-approved - we burn rosemary oil in the scented oil burners, as a quick aromatherapeutic method of keeping the people alert.

And then, aware that some think aromatherapy a quack pseudo-science, we use far more scientific homoeopathic methods. We put one grain of cocoa in the early-morning coffee in the Dining Room before Sermon Days. We reckonthat that, infinitely diluted as the Beaker Folk drink strong black coffee to wake themselves up after the previous night's celebrations, the homeopathic reaction caused by the cocoa will cause alertness. We think the black coffee may help as well.

On a more immediate basis, we can use direct physical techniques. For example, during particularly boring sermons we blow progressively colder air through the Moot House to wake people up. However this can have a regressive effect - when the Archdruid preached on "Some finer points of the spiritual significance of the  microcrystal geology of the Rollright Stones" we were blowing freezing cold air through at hurricane force.  Several Beaker Folk had to be treated for hypothermia.

But we found that people started wrapping up as well as an Anglican in April, to stop themselves being rudely awakened like that. So then we tried the "gentle use of the fire sprinklers" technique. This had a couple of disadvantages - one being that it became hard to see the words of the choruses on the screen through a forest of umbrellas.  The other being that some people, finding they were sitting in puddles of liquid, thought they'd had an - ahem - "accident". Still, the rapidity with which they left the building woke up some of their neighbours.

And of course the "indoor rain" technique had a synergistic effect the day we experimented with giving people mild electric currents through their seats. A couple of people received such a shock that they thought they'd had a spiritual experience.

The "randomly spontaneously combusting hymbooks" technique is great as well. You generally find that the old MHB can hold more fuel, but then there are those who think "Mission Praise" deserves it more.

The other thing we occasionally experiment with is the voice synthesiser on the pulpit microphone. You'd be amazed how people wake up when we drop Hnaef's voice a couple of octaves (or just the one, in the Archdruid's case) and add an echo chamber. If you're half-asleep in church it can give you quite a stir to think that God's just started talking to you.

But occasionally with the Archdruid we have to go to the opposite extreme. Young Keith and I also keep large stocks of lavender to put in the burners, and Enya ready on the PA. Sometimes when Eileen's preaching we have to calm people down quick, before they rush the pulpit. And of course that's when we also have unleash the flock of chickens into the Moot House. She can then normally make her escape in the confusion.


  1. They had a much simpler solution where we lived in Africa. A man would wander down the aisle of the small church and if anyone fell asleep he would poke them with a stick till they woke up. It worked a treat.

  2. How do you link an Amiga 128 to the internet?


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