While in seminary, I had probably 15 or so chances to preach (not counting Homiletics classes and chapel). Just this summer, I’ve bumped that up by half again. And while I’ve got tons more to learn, I have made some good strides and don’t have that “Dad, don’t let go of my bike” feeling every time I finish the Prayer for Understanding.
This morning, I was reflecting on why… what was it I had picked up over the summer? Part of it is that my instructors live in my head (thanks Dr. S and Dr. H). Here’s how their classes have translated into my real world.
1. We all have a preacher voice, and it’s my job to find mine. You’d think an alto who got stuck singing tenor or soprano in choirs over the year would hear that with gratitude. But it was harder than I ever imagined to “find my range.” I will be forever grateful to the broken sound system at Howie-in-the-Hills for giving me no choice but to project to the sweet old lady on the back row while paying attention to phrasing and inflection. By the time we got through the liturgy to the sermon, there it was.
2. Preaching involves the whole body. I can’t say I’ve done those vocal exercises since the day Dr. H had us feeling self-conscious in the library. But since my drive to any given church in our presbytery is at least 20-30 minutes, my car is my warm up room. This summer, the soundtrack to my warm-up has been the 2012 Cast Recording of Godspell. Singing along gets my head and heart and throat ready for worship (including the liturgy, hymns and praise songs). Walking the sanctuary or grounds, rather holing up in the pastor’s study also helps.
3. Know what your body is doing. Owning the fact that I am an expressive talker has helped. Thinking about gestures ahead of time and feeling the freedom to use natural gestures means my hands aren’t looking for somewhere to go. Thinking about how I might use my stance to enhance a gesture keeps the feet from getting fidgety, too. When I try to be completely still, it all goes out the window. I’m not that gal- which goes back to #1 in a more holistic sense.
4. Preach every sermon with conviction. AKA- “Walk your dog proudly.” This has been an important thing to remember as I’ve preached seven sermons in six different congregations over the past ten weeks, two of which are in the midst of painful splits. Only one followed the lectionary, but they didn’t expect a guest to follow it. Wrestling with the text faithfully and trusting the Spirit to speak through that effort is humbling on any Sunday. Even bathed in prayer, choosing a passage and writing a fresh sermon for an unknown community feels like a shot in the dark. Hearing from just one worshiper “that was just what I needed to hear” reminds me that God is up to so much more than I can see or imagine. Seems foolish (and poor stewardship) not to say what I’ve been given like I mean it.
5. Let the text speak, but look around you for an entry point. That’s a bit of a twist on the “Bible in one hand, newspaper in the other” axiom, but I’ve found that dinner conversations, Pixar films, the Olympics, my dog, and the crazy that is social media have all helped me find a way into the world and words of the text. Sometimes these connections make it into sermons; sometimes they remain subtext for my own reflections. My favorite moment is when the living Word starts to shine its light on all that studying and noodling. Even if we’re still 3 drafts from ready, it’s the moment that excites me to my core about being called to a life that includes preaching.