Evangelical v. Anglo-Catholic Preaching: An Anecdote

Every so often some friendly internal debate occurs online among the Reformed Anglicans. In a crude caricature, one “side” suggests that the overlong sermon is not entirely in keeping with the Anglicans who value the whole liturgy and not simply the sermon–something which many see as leaning toward a more “Anglo-Catholic” approach (which the Reformed advocates of shorter sermons would disagree with, we should say). Others argue that a 30-40 minute evangelical exposition is fully compatible with a full Anglican liturgical service, and always has been.

I’ve recently been reading Timothy Dudley-Smith’s 1999 biography of John Stott, the great British evangelical Rector of All Souls, Langham Place, and I came across this very amusing anecdote which felt too good not to share. It comes from Stott’s curate at All Souls, under the previous incumbent, Harold Earnshaw-Smith. I offer it without agenda, simply hoping others might recall it for their own amusement or illustration when discussing sermon lengths and liturgy, and the difference between evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics:

Perhaps because of the subjects chosen for his sermons, and perhaps because of the nature of his preparation, John Stott was beginning to gain a reputation for sermons longer than those to which the people of All Souls were accustomed. His Rector used to tease him out of this habit since it was not wholly popular with the congregation. On one occasion, Earnshaw-Smith had been invited to preach at the neighbouring church of All Saints, Margaret Street, noted for high church practice and elaborate ritual. At the end of the service, having said good-bye to the congregation at the church door, disrobed in the vestry and taken leave of the vicar, Earnshaw-Smith strolled home past All Souls to see if there might be any lingering members of his own congregation whom he should greet. Instead, he found the service still in progress, his curate well-settled in the pulpit expounding in some detail Pilate’s question ‘What is truth?’. It was an occasion he was not allowed to forget for some time to come.[1]

  1. Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott: The Making of a Leader (Leicester: IVP, 1999), 235-236.


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