St Bride's: Sermons

Harvest of the Printed Word

Taken from a sermon preached on Sunday 14th October

Words, words, words. In front of us today are literally millions of words, printed words, in this splendid collection of national, regional, local and international newspapers arranged in St Bride's to celebrate the harvest of the printed word. It is an impressive collection of papers from around the world, and thank you to everyone who has contributed to this harvest collection. They will all be recycled!

Words... human beings are creatures who communicate, and we do so, perhaps supremely, through the written and spoken word. Words are fascinating things - they describe, they soothe, they excite, they entice, they sound nice in themselves - antidisestablishmentarianism (one of the longest words in the English language), supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (nonsense word), we love to play with words. But then string words together and they make phrases and sentences that have power to influence and inspire and move us. And to change situations - "I love you" or "You're fired" - words are powerful things.

This part of London has been associated with words and writing and printing for many centuries, and the link between words and the Christian Church has always been very strong. Wynkyn de Worde, Caxton's assistant, set up his press here at the corner of St Bride's Churchyard in 1500 and ever since words and printing have been a part of our parish.

The Bible was the first book to be printed and clergy were the natural buyers of books. Even some of the technical words of the trade reflect this link between church and printing: font means a receptacle for baptism or a set of type; justification refers to being freed from the penalty of sin or the arrangement of a column of printing; a chapel is a place of Christian worship or an association of workers in a printing office.

The relationship between print and the church is unique, partly because words and the Christian faith are deeply intertwined; and the message this gives us as we celebrate the harvest of the printed word is quite simply that words and pictures have power, they can build up and they can destroy, as journalists and newspaper editors know well. One of the main worries which members of the public have about journalists and newspapers, local and national, is that they can get facts wrong or intrude unnecessarily into peoples private lives, and cause a huge amount of damage in the process. If you look at the adjudications of the Press Complaints Commission, which are published twice yearly, most of them relate to unnecessary intrusion or factual inaccuracy, sometimes relatively trivial but often causing real embarrassment and distress to those involved.

There was a slogan much used in World War II, "Careless Talk Costs Lives", which could be rephrased as "Mischievous or Malicious Talk Costs Reputations." It is something we all need to remember, but particularly those who work in newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

Words are powerful things; they influence our minds and mould our thinking and because of that they are always to be used with respect, whether we are writing a letter, or an email, or doing a report, or a reference, or a piece for a newspaper.

We are responsible for the words we say and the words we write, and this is something we take particularly seriously within the Christian tradition, with its focus on the "word made flash" with its connotations of wisdom, rationality, truth and integrity made real and living in the person of Jesus. Wisdom, reason, truth, integrity - all these are values to strive for in our dealings, personal, spoken, written, with and about other people. These are the values for which St Bride's stands today.

There is a sign in our Crypt museum beside the open Bible that reads:

"Words mould the minds of men. St Bride's stands for the reconciliation of all our words with the word that is God."

Amen to that as we celebrate the harvest of the printed word.

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