Add some sparkle to your Christmas Reading

Being asked to read in a religious service is a great honour, whatever our faith. But for many, it can fill us with dread – whether we are there in person or reading via video conference.

As we head towards Christmas, one of the biggest challenges with reading a well-known seasonal Bible passage like, for example, The Shepherds go to the Manger, is that most of the congregation will have heard it every year since they were children. It’s very easy for them to hear the words but not really listen. What tone should we take? How fast should we go? And how can we make a well-known passage sound new and relevant today?

One of the easiest ways to help the audience listen is for the reader to slow down.  You can help yourself here by simply making the lines on the page shorter in length.

As an example, here are the first few lines of this reading, as laid out in the King James Bible:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

It would be hard to read aloud from this layout because you don’t know where to breathe and every time you look up you’ll lose your place! So let’s break up the sentences into shorter line lengths and also add in paragraph breaks, as here:

And there were in the same country

shepherds abiding in the field,

keeping watch over their flock by night.

 

And, lo, the Angel of the Lord

came upon them,

and the glory of the Lord

shone round about them:

and they were sore afraid.

 

That’s much easier to read. Now, let’s highlight any important words we want to emphasize. Then, as you speak, add a tiny pause after each highlighted word. This allows the congregation to feel the majesty of the story and gives you a chance to read ahead. I’ve marked up the whole passage here, so try sight-reading this passage aloud:

 

And there were in the same country

shepherds abiding in the field,

keeping watch over their flock by night.

 

And, lo, the Angel of the Lord

came upon them,

and the glory of the Lord

shone round about them:

and they were sore afraid.

 

And the Angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold,

I bring you good tidings of great joy,

which shall be to all people.

 

For unto you is born this day, 

in the City of David,

a Saviour,

which is Christ the Lord.

 

And this shall be a sign unto you;

Ye shall find the babe 

wrapped in swaddling clothes,

lying in a manger.”

 

And it came to pass,

as the Angels were gone away from them

into Heaven,

the shepherds said one to another,

 

“Let us now go

even unto Bethlehem,

and see this thing

which is come to pass,

which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

 

And they came with haste,

and found Mary and Joseph,

and the babe lying in a manger.

 

Did you find that easier to read? Did you find yourself going slower? Did you stumble at all? And did you actually enjoy reading it?!

As a general rule, it’s best to aim for around 150 words a minute.

If your passage tells a story, which this one does, try to imagine that you’re describing an actual scene. Just as you would if you were describing to a friend something that had literally just happened.

There are many styles in which to read a passage like this. It will depend on the audience, the time of day, and the atmosphere of the whole service. Just like when giving a speech. To give you an idea of how I might read this passage, you can listen here:

 

 

Here are my Top Ten Tips for reading at a Carol Service:

  1. Print out your reading out with shorter lines and add in paragraph breaks.
  2. Highlight the most important words in colour or bold to help you emphasise them.
  3. Use a minimum size of 14 font (or above depending on your age!).
  4. Practice reading it aloud at least five times before the service.
  5. Use the same sheet that you will use on the day, so you get used to the layout of the lines.
  6. On the day, walk up to the front and then wait two or three seconds before you start to read. This will help you compose yourself.
  7. If there’s a microphone, you don’t have to shout. Try using your own, natural voice, as if telling the story to one person.
  8. Speak slowly and leave a short pause after every highlighted word. An old building, like a church, might have a slight echo so it’s best to speak in shorter sentences and let the sound fall off before starting the next one.
  9. Look up at the end of each paragraph to connect with your audience.
  10. At the end, wait a couple of seconds to allow the congregation to feel the majesty of your reading before going back to your seat.

If you have the honour of reading one of the traditional lessons at your festive Carol Service this year, I wish you the very best of luck. And if there are lots of candles on the night, it will only add to the magic.

I wish you and your family a safe and happy time this Christmas.

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Simon Brocklebank-Fowler

Founder, Firehouse Communications

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