writes the Boy in the Bands.
The problem is that, as an oral/aural form, listeners need something to cue this is the end, and one thing I don't remember ever learning was that I needed to develop a sign-off. You know, like "And that's the way it is," or "Good night and good luck" or "You stay classy, San Diego." All we were told was, "Don't say 'Amen.'"
So all lot of us ended up fresh out of seminary, preaching our sermons and then simply walking away from the pulpit when we'd finished our prepared text. It feels really awful--at least to me, kind of clunking at the end. So I end up saying Amen because I've never thought about how to get out of the sermon aside from sitting down.
I think you need a ritual ending to signal the close of certain kinds of ritualized speech. A "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America" kind of a thing. (Also a ritual beginning which, in most Episcopal churches I know, is "Please be seated.")
I did learn about this in storytelling classes that I took some time ago--once upon a time, even--that listeners need ritual beginnings and endings to enter and exit the story. There's "And they all lived happily ever after," of course, but there's a lot more: "And if they have not died, they are living there to this very day," for example. My favorite is Jackie Torrence's, "And that's the end of that." (I love this list of endings--and note it includes "Amen.")
Yesterday, the preacher at the church I attended ended with, "I speak to you in the name of the Savior," which, even though I had never heard her preach before, I knew was the cue to say Amen. So there are other ways to end it!
I would feel a bit nervous about claiming that I speak in the name of the Savior. I'm going to have to work on a good closing line. In the meantime, I'm sticking with Amen, prayer or no prayer. It's quick, to the point, and signals closing in a way that people understand. Although I confess I'm tempted by, "You stay classy, Saint Swithin's," or whatever the name of the church may be.
And that's the end of that.