Thursday, August 08, 2013

Wherein I am not in my comfort zone

This is a 2 or so week long overdue post about the day I got to play pastor at church. And apologies to those of you who do not believe in God... but maybe you'll enjoy my walk of how I got through this adventure.

Late last year, our pastor told us he was taking sabbatical, which all pastors are entitled to.

We had no problem with it. As a session, we decided that the worship committee would line up "Pulpit Supply," meaning pastors to come in and do the whole worship thingie soup to nuts.

At our annual meeting in January, the moderator of the session announced the pastor would be going on sabbatical and the 10 weeks of pulpit supply choices were laid out to the congregation.

They don't get to vote on it, per se, the session decides. But one woman raised her hand and asked "why are we getting pastors from outside the church to come in when the Elders are supposed to provide the pulpit supply when the pastor is away? When I was an Elder, I had to step up and do it. That's like $150 a week. Surely, some of our Elders can help defray that cost?"

Insert cricket noises here. read more after the break...

Um. Yes. You are correct, lady. We as Elders are supposed to fill in when the pastor isn't there. Especially with a good deal of notice. It is in the book of blah blah blah rules and order and stuff book for the Presbyterian Church.

Thing is, I don't think any of us wanted to do it, felt inclined to do it, and to be honest, I felt that doing it was way far out of my league.

Way far out of my comfort zone.

I often feel that I'm not that smart, not good enough or talented enough to hold an audience attention. I feel that this blog is the closest thing to expressing myself in a "sermon" sort of way by storytelling, and even then I feel I'm pissing into the wind. No one cares or is paying attention.

Thinking about what I'd offer for a whole congregation, I felt under qualified. Why wasn't the college professor doing it? Why wasn't the director of finance at a big Boston company doing it, he has to stand up and do meeting stuff every week! Why me? I am sure he could come up with something great.

At our next session meeting, three out of the ten of us decided we'd do it. We'd step up. And by we, I mean I was one of those three. I almost immediately regretted it, and started to worry.

It was April maybe. We found out we'd be losing the house. I was distracted by that and all my boundless sorrow and frustration. Geoff was getting ready to finish up the academic year in May. Things were challenging. There was stuff to do with Boy Scouts. Week after week went by and I had nothing put together for a service let alone an actual sermon.

Dude, I have to give a SERMON!

I put the service itself together in June. Weeks before I was scheduled to deliver it. I picked all MY favorite hymns. The Worship Committee chair told me "we just sang that one three or four weeks ago. Can you pick something different?" I told her I was pretty married to the hymn, that it worked with my sermon and the readings so... no. Sorry.

If I'm doing this, we're singing my favorites. heh.

It got to be early July and I was slated to be the Pastor for the last week of July. I now have four weeks to get all my shenanigans together, get a sermon written, make sure the service runs an hour and 15 minutes, and make it so.

My dad ended up in the hospital. Geoff went off to summer camp. We picked him up the day before I was going to play pastor...

It's all kind of funny, but once again, I felt like I was in college. Every possible road block in the world is stopping me from getting this done. It is going to have to be last minute.

Worship Committee chair asks me for a title for my sermon. I make up one. "How Bono, Jesus and Job help me through the miry clay and other tough stuff."

Initially, I was going to do a sermon on Boy Scouts and outdoors and hiking and mountains and peaks and valleys and stuff. My hymns were all my favorites, which happen to be good outdoorsy, happy, worship and nature and creatures praising God and the like. I like all those hymns. But I took a sudden and drastic turn in my planning. I changed my mind, and decided I really wanted to talk about was how the music of U2 helped design my faith as a young person and still to this day, 30 or so years later, sustains me. Bono may have a messiah complex, but as long as he writes great music that pulls from scripture and makes me feel closer to God, he can do whatever he wants. There are a lot of really great resources out there on U2 and the Gospel. I have a friend who actually teaches a seminar in it where you listen to songs and talk about them. I would pick his brain. I'd get some good stuff.

There ya go, Great Sermon. Woot.

What ended up happening is Job somehow managed to work himself in there, what with all the stupid suffering and all the dumb struggles and things I've had to endure for the past few years. Job and his boils and ash heap were in the forefront of my mind. Every single time I tried to sit and write, I'd start with U2's "40" and the original text from Psalm 40 for my call to worship, thinking of being pulled out of the miry clay... and Job would come to mind.

Eventually I gave in, and that is what I wrote about.

I think I wrote a pretty good sermon. I asked two trusted friends for their feedback and critique. I didn't let Doug read it, though repeatedly he said "you're not going to embarrass me or anything, are you?"

Doug doesn't like to share as much as I do. I have a tendency to over share. So I worked hard over the course of a week crafting this sermon. My friend Beth emailed me on the Wednesday before asking how I was making out... told her I was in the final revisions and that I was good and ready. She was quite proud of me. Seeing as she was away on vacation, I sent her my final draft  via email so she could read it. She texted me the next day after church (she waited so I wouldn't change anything based on her comments) and told me that I made her cry, that it was a simply superb and beautiful sermon and she was absolutely disappointed that she wasn't there to hear me say these things out loud.

Her husband, the college professor, emailed me four or five days later saying that unbeknownst to me, Beth had made him read my sermon too. Considering he'd read one of the other volunteer Elder's sermons and told her it was too long and needed to be edited and strayed from the point and blah blah blah (and made her cry because of that) I was a little worried about what he would say. He agreed with Beth, and was kicking himself that they didn't come home a day early just to go to church.

Imagine that...

My friend Carrie had read my sermon (one of the two trusted friends) and in the beginning of my original I spend a lot of time apologizing for being up in the pulpit. I apologized because of my lack of skill, because this was going to be a weird sermon which incorporated stuff about Bono and U2. I am usually one filled with self-effacing humor, I like to make fun of myself and talk about how I suck and then maybe blow your socks off with something kind of awesome. That was sort of my goal with the humorous apology at the opening.

Carrie corrected me based on a recent experience with a pulpit supply minister. She told me that above and beyond everything else, I had to present myself as being up there with the authority to BE there... mostly because I'm a woman. A lot of time still in the Church in the 21st Century, there are people of both genders who think women lack authority and should not be in leadership positions... so she wanted me to step up there like it was the 9th inning with three on base and two strikes on the count and make the grand slam. Like a professional something. Own it.

My other friend, who is a super duper evangelical and everything is about Jesus, doesn't doubt my authority at all and thought my opening was lighthearted, playful, engaging and very personal. She told me that it sounded like I knew my audience, our congregation, very well and she loved it. "I hear your voice, and you so do things like this. You say it is going to be kind of lame or disappointing and then you nail it perfectly and beautifully! It's what you do..." so she understands me quite well.

I went with Carrie's feedback and reworked the entire opening. I only apologized for not being a theologian, for not having a bunch of letters after my name indicating that I'd worked hard on advance degrees... but that I felt I'm still a great storyteller and hoped they'd enjoy my tale.

So, how did it go? I will say it went great. I got a lot of post-service kudos. At the beginning of church a man came in who was visiting from Pennsylvania. He was an ordained Baptist minister and a radio host on a program in Scranton PA. Oh no. A professional evangelical. Here at my church. The day I'm the pastor. ugh.

After church he commended me. He said he had some ideas about Job, and shared them with me. I was afraid he was going to give me a hard time about my sermon being way off base. After all, he was a professional evangelical. But he seemed genuinely happy with my sermon and the worship service.

As for my regular peeps, my congregation, my friends and fellow parishioners, I made some of them cry, most of them gave me an A+ and tons of hugs.

It was a successful venture out of my comfort zone. One I might do again.

If you want a copy of the sermon, I can send it to you if you ask in the comments. I won't post it here. Mostly because I don't want someone stealing it. I don't know who actually reads this blog. Mostly spammers, I think.


  1. This is awesome -- congratulations!! I saw you post a while back about it on Facebook and was hoping you'd do well. Glad to hear you did, but I'm not surprised, because your writing is really enjoyable to read, so since you were essentially just speaking your words out loud instead, of course it was great!

  2. thank you jamie. that's super sweet of you.

  3. Congrats!!!I would love to read it!!! Do you want my email?

  4. Hey girl - I've been mia because I was busy moving and having twins (9 weeks early but that is another story!). I've been thinking about Job a lot lately and would love to read if the offer to share stands!!

    1. twins! What! woah! lady!!!!
      Yes i will send it to you - i think i still have your email. would love the update on the family and the babies. x0x0x0x0