Pilgrims make for preacher's progress

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The Independent Online
A 65-year-old Roman Catholic Scot yesterday won the Preacher of the year competition, beating four other contestants in Southwark cathedral.

Canon William Anderson of Aberdeen was the winner over a short 10-minute course in front of judges who included the writer and broadcaster Sir Ludovic Kennedy, representing atheists everywhere, and Ms Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent of The Times, which sponsored the event.

The judges had claimed to be looking for "an interesting and well-delivered sermon combining the personality of the speaker with an identifiably Christian message".

The provost of Southwark, the Very Rev Colin Slee, said afterwards that he had been enormously impressed with the winner's sermon, which showed a degree of craft and care which is seldom found in church. The thing that was so good about it was that he had done his homework and talked about the prologue to The Canterbury Tales; and about pilgrims moving from Southwark to Canterbury."

Canon Anderson used the pilgrims' progress as an analogy for the progress of all Christians, themselves imperfect, like Chaucer's pilgrims. His sermon also moved through the history of British poetry, from Chaucer, thorough Robert Burns, to TS Eliot.

The chairman of the judges, the Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev Michael Turnbull, said: "Bill Anderson was very evocative and thoughtful. He was not an upfront, big, gesticulating preacher. We felt in the end that he had the depth of content we were looking for. There are around 50,000 sermons preached in public every week, and what we want form them is clear information, a little inspiration, and a little vision for life in the rest of the week."

Two hundred and fifty preachers submitted written sermons to enter the event, organised by the College of preachers. The youngest finalist was the Rev Christopher Burkett, 44, of Cheshire. The oldest, at 70, was Arnold Kellet, a Methodist who has twice been mayor of Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

One woman made the final, Anne Peat, of Hertfordshire, who started preaching after helping her vicar write his sermons. She sang in the course of her sermon, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land", as part of a plea for the church to preach accessibly.