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Swapping sermons for stand-up

A group of Baptist ministers embark on a comedy course, complete with a night performing at the Liverpool Comedy Festival

Seven Baptist ministers, a youth worker and a journalist walk into a room – and learn how to be funny. 

That’s what happened in Liverpool recently, when the North Western Baptist Association ministers and an Echo reporter took part in a six-week comedy course, culminating in a night of live stand-up as part of the Liverpool Comedy Festival.

RickWorking with the Comedy Trust, the group learnt about the art of being a comedian, such as techniques on using a microphone and how to deliver the punchline. Their progress was charted in a regular column by Echo reporter Ben Turner, who was also participating on the course.

And despite understandable nerves, all coped admirably with the pressure of the live show at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre earlier this month. They are now looking at how to transfer what they have learnt to their ministerial roles.
‘The course went really well,’ said the Revd Rick Preston (right), minister of The Church at the Centre in Skelmersdale. ‘It was good to look at how we put together a comedy routine from scratch and see the different styles that folk used. We were all encouraged to use material that was unique to us and reflected our own likes/dislikes or situations. I focused on my recent move to Skelmersdale.

‘The Festival performance was a good experience, as the folk there had come to be entertained rather than be preached to, as is our usual audience!’

He added, ‘It would be good to see how we can now use these new skills to talk about the gospel, or bring a gospel message as well as entertain. I would love to see if we can tell Bible stories in this way, creating a funny routine, but with a real ‘message’ punch line – I have a feeling that this is what Jesus did with many of his parables.’

Tom Grant (below), the Eden Project worker at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Netherton, Bootle almost quit the course – but is glad he didn’t.

Tom‘The first time I tried doing some jokes in front of the others, it went horrendously. I’ve done lots of public speaking, but it’s so different standing up and having to be funny.

‘But Allan (Finnegan, Tom’s minister and someone who had previously done the course) persuaded me to stay on.

‘On the night it was terrifying, but everyone did a really good job. We were told to prepare about five or six minutes, but in the end each was on for about 10 minutes. It was a brilliant night.

‘It was completely out of our comfort zone, and all the ministers got something out of it. In terms of being a minister and preaching, it’s all about being really disciplined about what you’re trying to say.’ 

The partnership between the NWBA and the Liverpool based Comedy Trust came about after Regional Minister the Revd Phil Jump's daughter Laura attended a course run by the trust as part of her drama training. Phil was impressed by the way her general presentation and up-front skills had been improved and developed through the programme.

He met course director Sam Avery and discovered that Allan Finnegan had also participated in the course, supported and encouraged by Northern Baptist Learning Community. Allan was very clear that the training had significantly improved his speaking and preaching skills, and in fact mirrored many of the key elements in more traditional homiletics training.

Phil said, ‘We live in an age that many describe as one in which preaching has had its day. Yet at the same time we have seen a significant rise in the popularity of stand-up comedy - just one person standing on a stage, speaking to an audience, sometimes for some hours. It is this reality that prompted the partnership.’

He added, ‘We are very clear that this is not about trying to turn every minister in NWBA into a comedian, but part of our commitment to do everything we can to be effective communicators of our God-given message.’

Related: The Liverpool Echo coverage of the course

Pic credit: Tony McDonough
Baptist Times, 24/10/2013
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