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What preachers can learn from the European elections

Brexit Party supporters in Chester (Getty)

I was once sent on a television coaching course in which a tutor in communications endeavoured to teach a group of us how to get our point across in a public debate. Those attending included commentators and political activists – and, if I remember correctly, some also had preaching and pastoral responsibilities.

The coach asked the assembled company how many debating points a person could successfully communicate in one session of public speaking. There were suggestions of three, four or even six points.

The tutor held up an index finger. “One,” he said. Just one!

The results of the European elections on Monday rather proved that proposition: the political parties that did best made just one unambiguous point.

For the Brexit Party, it was exit from the European Union. For the Lib Dems, who enjoyed a reviving surge, it was “stop Brexit”. For Scottish nationalists, it was independence. For the Greens – remarkably successful in Ireland – it was “save the planet”.

The parties that were divided, or tried to encompass complex or muddled ideas, were largely rebuffed.

In our world of so many competing and jostling ideas, maybe the “just one point” is more applicable than ever. Don’t get over-complicated. Don’t occupy the middle of the road – you’ll get crushed by both sides.

Is there a lesson here for the pulpit, as well as the political platform? In composing a homily, make one point, clearly and unambivalently. And doesn’t St Paul warn us against the trumpet giving an uncertain sound? As so often, a modern insight can be found in the wisdom of the New Testament.

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The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a hugely popular story for young children, written by Judith Kerr, who died recently aged 95. It was also a successful theatre performance for youngsters. I took each of my three grandchildren to the show, and like all kids, they were enchanted by it.

It’s a quirky, engaging story. A little girl, Sophie, and her mother entertain a tiger to afternoon tea – and the tiger, unsurprisingly, gulps down everything in sight. The surreal element works well on stage, with an actor zipped into a tiger suit, performing suitably tigerish body language which prompts laughter.

Judith Kerr came to England as a small child, as her Jewish family fled Hitler’s Germany. Some commentators suggested that the tiger represented the Nazis, though she always denied that. It seems unlikely, since the tiger, though voracious, is playful.

I wonder if children like the story because the family represented is so conventional. Dad goes out to work, briefcase in hand, while Mum stays at home looking after her little girl. In this safe and cosy domestic set-up, even a tiger appearing at the door doesn’t threaten the social order.

It is a well-known fact that children are born conservatives …

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In our seaside town – Deal, in Kent – there’s an annual ceremony of “The Blessing of the Sea”, performed towards the end of May. I attended it last Saturday.

The pastor and members of the local Church of England parish, St Andrew’s, carry aloft a crowned statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, processing from the church premises to the beach, reciting the Litany of Our Lady, followed by the Ave Maria. Then there’s singing For Those in Peril on the Sea, and a reading from St Mark about the Apostles being caught in a storm at sea. The sea blessing takes place accompanied by flowers being thrown upon the waves.

The theme of water in the Christian narrative is evoked, from the water of Creation, through Noah’s flood, the waters of the Jordan river and of Holy Baptism, and then prayers “for all those who make their livelihood upon the Sea” – like Peter and Andrew, fishermen.

It’s an Anglican tradition, but townspeople of all faiths (and perhaps none) attend, often accompanied by their dogs.

Fishing is still a dangerous pursuit and we should remember those “in peril on the sea”. Across this Channel of water, too, come desperate migrants in fragile vessels, which gives pause for thought.

One local did remark that “the sea needs blessing – for there’s almost no mackerel to be had at present”. Pollution of the seas could be one cause of the shortage.

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4