Believe it or not, I never ever set out to be a preacher.
As a young girl, I was always more comfortable dribbling basketballs than I was speaking or writing. I thought if I was made to do anything, it was to give a 30 second inspirational speech in the basketball huddle as a coach. When I went to seminary I was intent on earning a dual degree in social work and ministry. My dream job was no longer to coach basketball, but to lead a non-profit organization. Even today when people give me the title of preacher, I still squirm a little and want to say, “but I’m more than that…”
Quite frankly, the life of a preacher didn’t seem very exotic. As a preacher’s kid, I knew how early my dad got up on Sunday mornings. Plus, I learned early on that preachers don’t always get praise around the Sunday noon table (sometimes it’s the preachers’ daughters who are the most critical). Still to this day, I sometimes sit at home at noon on Sunday and wonder who might be roasting the minister for lunch. Maybe it’s okay that most sermons, whether they are good or bad, have a short shelf life.
I have come a long way in embracing and even enjoying the preaching role. And yet I still have moments when fear, anxiety, and insecurity lurk at the edges of my preparation. I’ll admit that some of these old and worn anxieties about preaching have bubbled to the surface over this past year as I have joined with others in designing and preparing for a new pulpit at Rainbow. Insecurity sometimes grew as I heard an impressive range of opinions, values, preferences, complaints, criticisms, and theological insights about preaching and the place of a pulpit. I would guess that the new pulpit has come up more than once as the Sunday noon roast.
Throughout the planning and design process, I have done my best to listen, learn, sharpen, and clarify my own evolving thoughts about preaching and the place of the pulpit. And so, as we prepare to dedicate our new pulpit this Sunday, I would like to share a few of my own thoughts and hopes.
First, the pulpit isn’t just about or for the pastor. The pulpit and preaching belong to the church. I heard the President of Princeton Theological Seminary Craig Barnes say once that the art of preaching is a conversation between biblical, historical, theological ideas, people, and experiences. All of these things should whisper to the preacher, almost like conversation partners/figures peering over books saying, “What about me?” Preachers, he said, should not only do biblical exegesis (exploring the history, theology of the scripture), but congregational exegesis (exploring the joys, sorrows, questions, and spirituality at work in a particular congregation). This is what compels me to spend time every week, sometimes early on Sunday mornings, not only standing up front at the pulpit, but walking around the sanctuary and the church. I try and take this work of congregational exegesis seriously.
Second, the pulpit is not an end in and of itself. One of my favorite pulpit-related comments made by a Rainbow member this past year was: “I don’t care so much about the look of the pulpit, as much as what is said from the pulpit.” We agreed that we know it is a good sermon if it plants something in us that grows throughout the week.
Third, preaching is about remembering the past, present, and future. During a recent conversation with retired pastor Clyde Coriell, he said that when he approaches a pulpit he feels surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. One doesn’t feel so alone at the pulpit when one imagines the words, prayers, and questions of those who have gone before, all of which may be mysteriously residing at the pulpit, perhaps preserved in the very wood.
Last Sunday at Rainbow Je T’aime Taylor talked about the Sankofa symbol used by the Akan people of West Africa. In order to know where we are going, we reach back into our history to honor the sacrifices, survival, and perseverance of those in previous generations. And so this weekend we will strive to do just that. I am thrilled that several former Rainbow pastors will be here this Saturday and Sunday to help us dedicate the new pulpit. We will use this occasion to reflect not only on preaching, but on what we are calling “Faithfulness through the years: A look back at Rainbow themes, challenges, events, and stories.”
First RMC pastor Stan Bohn will be the preacher for the morning and I will share a benediction written by Frank Ward for this special occasion (unfortunately he won’t be able to make the trip to Kansas City after all). Please check the church website calendar for more information on the special gatherings scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Hope to see you there!