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 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 might lose your place! So let’s break up the sentences into shorter line lengths, add in paragraph breaks, and highlight certain keywords. This should encourage you to go a little slower and help you not to stumble as you read.
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. To give you an idea of how I might read this passage, you can watch and listen by playing the video below:
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.
Here are my Top Ten Tips for reading at a Carol Service:
- Print out your reading out with shorter lines and add in paragraph breaks.
- Highlight the most important words in colour or bold to help you emphasise them.
- Use a minimum size of 14 font (or above depending on your age!).
- Practice reading it aloud at least five times before the service.
- Use the same sheet that you will use on the day, so you get used to the layout of the lines.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Look up at the end of each paragraph to connect with your audience.
- 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.