Image shows l-r: Jane Wright, Rector of the Barton benefice; Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester; Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; David Hartley, Parish Priest at Whitnash

Excerpt from full article (below): The bicentenary of Newman’s first sermon was celebrated on 23 June 2024 in the tiny Oxfordshire village where he had preached exactly two hundred years before, and in the very same church. 

Mgr Roderick Strange, Rector of Mater Ecclesiae College and author of Newman: the Heart of Holiness, gave a short lecture on Newman and his preaching, drawing on the text of his first two sermons. 

After tea at The Grange, the 130 guests crammed into the delightful church of Holy Trinity for Evensong, led by the Anglican bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins.

Hymns composed by Newman were sung, prayers of St John Henry were prayed, before the congregation – both Anglicans and Catholics – listened to the preacher, the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley.

In his sermon, the archbishop spoke about how much all Christians, whatever their denomination, can learn from St John Henry. Fittingly for the occasion, he revealed that recently the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had petitioned Rome for Newman to be made a Doctor of the Church.

The parish celebrated with a talk on Newman's ministry of preaching by Mgr Rod Strange, followed by afternoon tea and an evening prayer with Archbishop Bernard Longley, featuring some of Newman's hymns.

An article on the day and on Newman's first sermon has been kindly provided by Dr Paul Shrimpton:

Bicentenary of Newman’s First Sermon - also found on Newman Review

Two hundred years ago, on Wednesday 23 June 1824, John Henry Newman preached his first sermon, not in Oxford but seventeen miles north in the village of Over Worton. For the text, he chose the words of Psalm 27:14, ‘Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.’ 

 

‘Wait on the Lord’, preached 23 June & 4 July 1824 and 15 October 1826

Four days later, on Sunday 27 June, Newman took up duties as curate in the parish of St Clement’s, Oxford and preached his second sermon at a service presided over by the elderly rector. Based on Psalm 104:23, ‘Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening’, it was in fact the first sermon he composed, though the second to be preached.           

 

‘Man goeth forth unto his work’, preached 27 June 1824

The bicentenary of Newman’s first sermon was celebrated on 23 June 2024 in the tiny Oxfordshire village where he had preached exactly two hundred years before, and in the very same church.

Mgr Roderick Strange, Rector of Mater Ecclesiae College and author of Newman: the Heart of Holiness, gave a short lecture on Newman and his preaching, drawing on the text of his first two sermons. 

After tea at The Grange, the one hundred and thirty guests crammed into the delightful church of Holy Trinity for Evensong, led by the Anglican bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins.

Hymns composed by Newman were sung, prayers of St John Henry were prayed, before the congregation – both Anglicans and Catholics – listened to the preacher, the Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley. In his sermon, the archbishop spoke about how much all Christians, whatever their denomination, can learn from St John Henry. Fittingly for the occasion, he revealed that recently the Archbishops of Canterbury and York had petitioned Rome for Newman to be made a Doctor of the Church.

Jane Wright, Rector of the Barton benefice; Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester; Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham; David Hartley, Parish Priest at Whitnash

Newman’s reputation as one of the greatest preachers in modern times is so widespread that it needs no comment. It was during his years as vicar of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford, 1828–43, that he reached the height of his preaching fame. Besides deeply affecting his hearers, Newman’s influence from the pulpit reached countless others via the printed word. Most readers are acquainted with them as the eight-volume series Parochial and Plain Sermons, to be distinguished from his Oxford University Sermons, which were lectures in all but name. 

Newman preaching at St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

From 1824 to 1843 Newman was an active clergyman of the Church of England engaged in a continuous ministry of preaching. During his nineteen months as curate at St Clement’s, 1824–26, Newman prepared and preached 150 different sermons, a most unusual feat for a newly ordained clergyman.

Soon after arriving there, Newman began preaching twice on a Sunday, a practice he continued for most of his years at St Mary’s. 

In addition, there were the sermons which he delivered at Littlemore, and when taking services for friends or others elsewhere. Many of the sermons were used on more than one occasion – though not for the same congregation – in some instances as many as seven or eight times. 

In reusing a sermon, Newman made revisions and alterations which, in some instances, amounted to a virtual rewriting. During his nineteen years an Anglican clergyman, Newman entered the pulpit around 1,270 times.

The Newman scholar Gerard Tracey maintains that it was not until October 1831 that he hit upon his own personal approach to sermon composition. This means that over a period seven years, 1824–31, Newman was hard at work honing his style. What may console those who have to prepare sermons is Newman’s comment on 15 August 1824: ‘Two sermons a week very exhausting. This is only the third week, and I am already running dry’!

St Clement’s Church before its demolition in 1829

Newman’s pastoral sermons generally lasted forty-five minutes. The text was written out beforehand on some twenty sheets of paper, with the facing pages kept blank for alterations, in case the sermon was reused, and for comments.

He usually spent two to three days on each sermon. Once completed, he would read the sermon through, making alterations as he went along: adding or deleting a word, phrase or sentence, on occasions rewriting whole sentences, paragraphs, or sections.

Then, just before the service, he would touch it up one last time. During his nineteen months at St Clement’s, Newman wrote approximately one quarter of his Anglican output. At no other period did he compose so many sermons for such an extended period of time. 

Newman also compiled abstracts of his sermons, presumably as a way of analysing them, a practice he abandoned after leaving St Clement’s.

To judge from the comments on them, he was particularly critical of his early sermons. Comments range from ‘scanty’ and ‘very indifferent’ to ‘not quite correctly analysed’, ‘deficient in division, matter, and practical application’, and ‘decidedly the worse I have done’.

Despite the fact that his preaching soon began to attract students and academics from the university, Newman did not consider that his early sermons ‘worth anything in themselves’.

Newman undertook hard reading for his early sermons as he tried to sort out his theological ideas and gain inspiration from others. His notes on Sermon 16, for example, indicate that he consulted ten different authors, mainly of an Evangelical persuasion.

It was not long before Newman began having second thoughts on the Evangelical view of such matters as baptismal regeneration, predestination, justification, and ‘real’ and ‘nominal’ Christians.

 

St Clement’s Church

In the months before his ordination to the diaconate in the Established Church on 13 June 1824, Newman had been concerned about whether his voice was strong enough for preaching.

This concern was rekindled shortly after preaching his first sermons, on being told that he had not spoken loudly enough from the pulpit. The following Sunday, after preaching three sermons, he noted in his diary, ‘think I have found out the secret of my great weakness of voice – drank several glasses of wine today […] and my voice was pretty strong’.

A week later he says that he has ‘adopted the measure’ on a regular basis! No personal reminiscences have come down to us from those who heard his early sermons, but those who heard him preach a decade later at St Mary’s describe how he addressed his congregation in a ‘low, soft, but strangely thrilling voice’ which ‘left unforgettable memories with many of his listeners’. He also avoided the then-usual oratorical devices of the pulpit.

The commemorative event was made possible thanks to the work of Fr David Hartley, Parish Priest of Whitnash, and Jane Wright, rector of the Barton benefice, along with help from local parishioners, both Anglican and Catholic, in particular the Schusters for their hospitality in hosting the lecture and tea.

This article draws from two longer ones that can be found on Newman Review, the online publication hosted by the National Institute of Newman Studies in Pittsburgh, USA. 

Dr Paul Shrimpton teaches at Magdalen College School, Oxford. Over the last thirty years he has published articles, chapters and books on Newman and education. His Newman and the Laity will appear in 2025.