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God’s word in my mouth


Len Ewert (left) and David Friesen practice reading text with difficult to pronounce names.

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July 14, 2012
-Dan Dyck

Vancouver, B.C. — Presenting scripture in worship is a holy and humble task that adults need to take more seriously.

So says Ken Hawkley who led the very intentionally titled workshop, God’s word in my mouth. “It is both a terrifying and awesome responsibility that deserves to be treated with reverence.”
The tips Hawkley offered were simple – but do require effort and advance preparation:

  • “Maikja. Harim. Hasshub. Pahath. Shallum, son of Hallohesh.” The single most important thing to do is work on pronunciation ahead of time, and preferably with the speaker. Make it easy for congregants to connect the dots when referring to the same biblical characters throughout the service. Different pronunciations can throw off the listener.
  • Let God’s word seep in. Read the scripture ahead of time to get familiar again with the story. Hawley said he can almost always tell when a scripture presenter has not prepared at all.
  • Read it out loud to yourself – several times.
  • Memorize part or all of the text so that you can make eye contact with the congregation (“People are too ashamed to fall asleep when you’re looking at them,” he joked.)
  • Add appropriate drama.
  • Use your voice dynamically: vary volume, tone, pitch, speed, and emphasis.
  • Access the emotions in the text itself.
  • Use pauses effectively, especially before starting to read.
  • Chose clothing that doesn’t draw attention to yourself. Hawkley suggests wearing all black, as in the theatre, allowing the listener to focus on the words.
  • Pay attention to your posture and attitude.
  • Use occasional single gestures rather than repetitive gestures.
  • Static visual displays are helpful. Projected images should be carefully chosen to enhance reflection, and should avoid rapid sequencing so as not to detract from the word.
  • Carefully chosen background music can help enrich the text.

Workshop participants eagerly added their own suggestions: Effectively used, costumes can help bring a text alive. Scripture read by children may shed new insights on a familiar passage. Humour used in juxtaposition with a serious point has the potential to hammer a thought home.

Hawley suggested congregations set up a “prophet’s guild” to coach scripture presenters on the finer points of bringing God’s word to the people. A short video clip of Hawkley making a point can be found at

See complete coverage of Assembly 2012