Speakers line up to sound off in pulpit

For a Suffolk church the usual pulpit speech was replaced by a queue of more than 30 people sounding off on issues close to their hearts.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to hear the merits of French beers, school restructuring fears and the decline of friendly twins.

Those may be the last words you would expect to hear in a church sermon from your local priest, but for a Suffolk church the usual pulpit speech was replaced by a queue of more than 30 people sounding off on issues close to their hearts.

So instead of fire and brimstone sermons or moral lectures,

St Mary's Church, Halesworth, echoed on Saturday to concerns over education, bell ringing, being a Christian lawyer and local hunts.

As the procession of speakers took to the Jacobean pulpit, they showed few nerves about preaching in front of an intent group of listeners, who enjoyed the chance to hear about local concerns.

But thankfully, no one took the opportunity to copy the sermon of doomladen Father Mapple in the classic novel Moby Dick or the comical capers of Dawn French in the hit BBC comedy the Vicar of Dibley.

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The pulpit marathon, which ran from 9am-6pm, was organised by the Rev Edward Rennard to help raise £16,000 for church repair works on its walls and roof and to engage more with the local community.

One of the first speakers was Julian Mamo who extolled the virtues of the Halesworth twinning society and made a plea to attract fresh members to the organisation.

During his speech, Mr Mamo praised the qualities of French and beer and wine from Bouchain and said that twinning groups were in decline nationally because people found travelling to Europe easier these days.

He said: "I was a bit nervous and found the pulpit to be a bit small. But I play in the band and so am used to appearing in front of a live audience. I suppose today was like a nice version of Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner."

Other sermons included churchyard wildlife, Greenpeace, working with young people in the town, sheep

and goats and membership of the

town's University of the Third Age.

Dr Jean MacHeath used her time in the pulpit to express concerns over plans to replace the three-tier school structure in Halesworth and praise the work of the Patrick Stead Hospital.

During her sermon on education, she criticised education chiefs for not fully explaining how Halesworth would be affected by any changes.

She said: "We have a lot of questions but not too many answers."

Speakers made a donation to speak for up to 15 minutes at the 17th century pulpit, which was specially moved to the centre of the church for the marathon.

Mr Rennard, whose sermon explained why he got involved in religion, said: "As well as fundraising, today was all about opening up the church to people to encourage them to engage more with the wider community. The quality of all the speeches was amazing and we heard some worthy and forthright views."

So far about £14,000 has been raised in various appeals for church repairs.

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