Never Have I Ever: What I learned from behind the pulpit

Being the wife of one preacher, the daughter of another, having a seminary degree and resume filled with church positions, it may come as a surprise that I have never actually preached a sermon. Admittedly, it was a fact I was rather proud of up until recently. I had decided long ago that “preacher” wasn’t the title I wanted, and, unlike many friends who had to fight for people to take them seriously in that role, I had to fight people to let me out of it.

No, a conference here or there would do for me, I thought. I do my preaching with my ears and my eyes with just one person sitting across from me. Pews full of people, except for the front 3 of course, weren’t the audience I as seeking.

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to remove this from my “never have I ever” list. Where we live, and, let’s be honest, anywhere there isn’t a seminary within 30 miles, finding someone to preach when the pastor is out of town is IMPOSSIBLE! I didn’t quite realize what a royal pain in the neck it was until Stephen and I started planning vacation time. I’m the planner in our family, but Stephen claims that title when a Sunday off appears in the not so distant future. So when a local pastor got wind that I was seminary trained, I couldn’t help but want to help out, hoping that the Spirit would bless us with pulpit supply easily the next time we want a weekend away.

This is when the lessons began:

  1. Something will happen within the time that you say “yes” and the time that you preach that will leave the sermon you prepared early in the trash bin. 

There is nothing light, or funny, about what has been happening the past few weeks in Orlando. The shooting of the singer while she greeted her fans. The worst mass shooting in American history at a night club predominately filled with LBGTQ individuals. A little boy snatched by an alligator that fought off a frightened and devastated father. I now know why pastors tend to write their sermons towards the end of the week. There will be something that informs the text, and that the text informs, that cannot be ignored.

2. The Spirit lives as much in the text as it does inside of us and around us.

The pastor of the church I was preaching at convinced me that I should preach on the notion that I have a background in pastoral counseling and that the church would be welcome to sermon around that topic. When I read that Psalm 42 and 43 were in the lectionary for the week, I felt a little more at ease. David sounded like many of my clients. I could respond to that in a 10/15 minute sermon. In light of the news, the need for the text became even more apparent, and the stakes rose from “lamenting is good for you” to “lament is at the very heart of grieving and healing process.” This was a jump I wasn’t sure I was ready for, as I crumbled up the sermon I had written without procrastination, or really, meditation. I spent the week with the scripture on my mind, meditation and prayer written into my schedule and a plea to the Spirit to be my mouth. The plea wasn’t necessary. The wild goose of a Spirit had already grabbed the hearts of the people in front of me, inhabited the text before me and inspired the words inside of me.

3. Writing is a process. A unique one. I forgot what mine was. I remember now. 

When I finally sat down to write my second sermon, I found that I have to do a few things first, like organize my office that has been cluttered for weeks months, check ever social source of communication I have for updates, stretch a little, get some water, find a snack, adjust my chair, pull up my hair….you get the picture. As can be seen on the blog, I haven’t written in a while, and I completely forgot just how much time it takes to prepare procrastinate before I can sit down and put something in writing.

And then there’s the issue that I cannot, for the life of me, write something creative on the computer first. Even my typewriter is a creativity sucking vortex that my pen, for whatever reason, feels too hipster for. No, I need to have a journal or a legal pad do my best work, and only then can it grace the keys of my computer. I blame my father. He’s been doing writing this way for years. It’s definitely not because I’m a hipster. Just look at my closet.

4. They are watching.

Whether I’m working out, typing out a research paper (I can do those on the computer first), having a snack, talking on the phone, cooking dinner, there they are. Audrey and Elsie have to be near by. Not out of the way near by but, “Whatcha doin?” “Watch how cute I am?” “Don’t you hear me whining?” “Let’s do something fun…like…not this!” near by. It never fails. Writing this sermon was no exception, only, I found them to be somewhat comforting presences rather than obnoxious distractions. It is because of this that I have no doubt they found a way into the words I wrote. They are there.

5. It’s harder than it looks. 

I saved this one for last because I can’t tell you the number of times I annoyed my dad to play with me after church, or how often I beg Stephen to help around the house or go do something with me after the service ends. They are the same in that both of them spend Sunday afternoons exhausted and in need of a nap. I now know why. After picking the hymns, the liturgy, discussing the elements of worship with everyone who’s involved, saying the prayers, making sure the timing is right, nothing is forgotten, everything is said, the sermon is delivered with hot cheeks and shakey legs behind the pulpit (ok, maybe that was just me) and shaking every hand and listening to every word of every person in every pew (except the front 3), YOU’RE TIRED! I admit it. I went home, crawled onto the couch having not even changed my clothes and slept for 2 hours. So hear is my admission: To my Daddy and to my Hubs, I now understand. I apologize for wanting to have in depth conversations or activity with you on Sunday afternoons. You can go back to napping now.

All that said, it was an incredible experience. And while I still don’t want the title of “Pastor,” it probably, hopefully, won’t be my last time standing nervously behind the pulpit. I experienced God in a whole new way from a whole new vantage point. My eyes are open. I ready to see what the Wild Goose has for me next.