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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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29: Sleeping preachers
capital Tsleeping preacherHERE IS NOTHING UNUSUAL, of course, about sleeping during a sermon. Unless it's your own. That takes rather more of a gift.

There are a surprising number of people who have had the ability to preach in their sleep, usually ones who were not allowed to preach when awake.

Helena Konttinen, for example, was a poor Finnish woman who started sleep-preaching in 1905, reading her sermons from books held for her by angels in her dreams. She went on for up to five hours, and suffered three attempts on her life. I'm not suggesting those two facts are related.

Ninety years earlier, Rachel Baker, a cloakmaker, was doing the same kind of thing in upstate New York. She would start punctually at 9pm with spasms and then speak for a mere hour, more articulately and forcefully than she managed when awake, and even answer questions from listeners. She woke up with no recollection of her sermons. They were so popular that she was taken on a sleep preaching tour of local taverns.

One of John Wesley's preachers performed in his sleep as well as during the day. One of the odder stories in Wesley's
Journal, this is an account of one of his preachers who gave sermons in his sleep. He would start in the early hours of the morning with a hymn, tell his congregation to pay attention, and then pontificate. Instead of scripture-bearing angels, he had hecklers coming to him in his dreams, and had to interrupt his sermon to argue with them.

And for those who don't have the gift of preaching sermons in their sleep, there's always the possibility of hearing them instead. John Newton had a lodger who heard a different sermon from a different person every night, and then recounted them at breakfast. "But when she married, she lost her gift."

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