Getting preachy (not really) about the pulpit

If you were to check my internet search history at church or at home this past year, you would find many pages, articles and images pertaining not only to the Royals but to church pulpits. Boring? Hardly! Just look at this variety:

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Here is what we are currently using at Rainbow:

It’s flexible, lightweight (so lightweight it wobbles a little), it offers a handy place to rest notes and papers and provides a great deal of transparency. That is, the speaker isn’t set apart, placed behind some wall, barrier or within a bucket. There is a lot to affirm about all of this. Of course the purchase of these wooden stands wasn’t ever thought to be a long-term pulpit solution. This is why a pulpit committee was appointed back in 2013.

I had no idea working with a church pulpit committee would be so educational and yes, challenging. The committee itself wasn’t the challenging part but rather the task at hand. Most pastors (and congregational members for that matter) don’t get assigned to a pulpit committee and certainly not in their first year at a church! But Rainbow, I’m slowly learning, is sometimes unconventional and so back in November 2013 there I was, scratching my head with the rest of the committee wondering not only about the size, style, design, and functionality of a new pulpit but about the importance of a pulpit and what we will say (and not say) about our beliefs as we begin to design a pulpit. Our architecture is its own sermon in a way: It communicates something about who we believe God is and who we are in God. Again, most of us make due with the architectural/theological decisions of those who came before us. Very few of us are given the opportunity to make a suggestion regarding a pulpit that will impact generations to follow.

I told the committee early on that this was an opportunity to wade into some important theological matters. I don’t know if I ever voiced this but I was working with the assumption that disagreements would surface about all sorts of matters: preaching, leadership and authority, aesthetics, worship, money, etc. Along the way, I tried not to feel threatened by disagreement but rather see it as an opportunity to share our differences and find what common ground there was to be found and perhaps even find some new ground to stand on together.

And sure enough, ever since the committee began unveiling and proposing a specific design, I have heard a whole range of opinions and reactions. Tears have even been shed, both in favor and against this proposal. I’ve heard (and thought) it all: “How could we spend this kind of money on a piece of furniture especially when there are hungry people in the world?” To which some have responded:  “This isn’t just furniture. This is the place where Scripture is read and where the Good News is shared. We therefore must not diminish the power of the Word.”

I certainly support and affirm the work of the committee and the skill of the designer we hired (see design below). I also believe this needs to be a congregational decision.

My prayer is that everyone will feel free to voice their opinion and that people will do so by articulating what they value and not just what they like or dislike. I also hope that for anyone who plans to speak up at the congregational meeting on Sunday, that you consider this: Will you spend just as much energy listening to what others have to say as you do in shaping what you plan to say? I’ve been to some meetings where the person speaking can’t say what they planned to say until they summarize what the person said right before them. We won’t set that as a rule but I think it’s an interesting practice.

And as we all prepare for Sunday I will leave you with some more reflections. Consider it a culmination of things I’ve read and thought about over this past year. Please note that these are things I read and thought about not necessarily things I agree with or advocate!

  • There doesn’t seem to be pulpits mentioned in the Bible and Jesus certainly didn’t ask for a pulpit. He preached as he walked among the people. Plus, Jesus was often sitting down as he read Scripture and taught. Did the early church use pulpits? The answer is unclear but it is clear that they mainly met in homes, at least until the third century. It is also clear that the people, especially the teachers often stood to read and preach. Eventually, pulpits became more commonplace and therefore ornate (see slideshow above).
  • During the Reformation of the 16th century, there was renewed interest or emphasis on the sermon and the centrality of the Word. This triggered many debates over the location of the pulpit. Many churches began to move the pulpit to the center of the sanctuary, giving more centrality to God’s Word. Plus, large pulpits were constructed not to to set the preacher apart but to make the minister look small in order to magnify the Word. Raising the pulpit above the people was symbolic of the authority of Scripture over God’s people. Anabaptists meanwhile had too many other concerns on their mind. I doubt if there were many debates about the location and height of the pulpit as they met in homes and in other secret locations! Plus, I tend to agree with those who say that “Forty minutes of solid biblical exposition will do more than 400 pounds of wood!” (Well, maybe not the forty minutes part.)
  • From what I can tell there is not an Anabaptist-style pulpit or prototype. I would venture to say that there is as much pulpit variety in Mennonite congregations as in other denominations. If there is one consistent Mennonite practice, it would be the importance of the communion table. Perhaps that will be another Rainbow committee in the future!

Finally, here is the proposed design. Cost is estimated at $22,500. No, it doesn’t rotate or spin! Click the following link to read more information about this project: Frequently asked questions about the RMC pulpit project(1)

IMG_2508Here ends this sort-of sermon from this gal who started preaching at a very young age.

ruth preaching


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