The Hazards of Preaching

I am a petite person, 5′ 3″ to be exact, and it’s been a half-joke that I need a step-stool at Pres House when I preach so that people can see me over the pulpit. Well, this past week we visited Salisbury Cathedral where I discovered one possible solution to my vertical challenge:

Ha! Well, in fact Pres House used to have a pulpit that you had to climb up into, though certainly nowhere as ornate, impressive, and large as this one. However, I’m definitely glad I don’t have to preach from this pulpit—too intimidating for my taste!

One of the things I most eagerly anticipated about being on Sabbatical was the break from preaching. I have a love-hate relationship with preaching. On the one hand, I have grown, been stretched, and experienced God’s grace through the ministry of preaching. On the other, I have spent countless nights hunched over my computer in an agonizing and seemingly futile effort towards creating a meaningful message. It’s a crass image, but what I often compare sermon writing to is being constipated—it’s uncomfortable, a struggle for every single word, and often leaves you exhausted with not much to show for it.

Perhaps that’s a bit graphic, but you get the point. In the past couple of years, I frequently wondered why anyone would think a pastor could possibly have enough interesting and worthwhile thoughts to share week after week, year after year. It was a sign of my own fatigue and need to be reminded of the true nature of worship.

Preaching, and leading worship for that matter, is a risky affair. I don’t know what all the symbolism means in this imposing pulpit at Salisbury, but I do wonder if that wooden “crown” that sits atop it is to keep the head of the person who occupies it from floating away or getting higher than it should. Worship is so much more than the words that pour forth, the music played, and the prayers offered.  It’s hazardous for the person who regularly climbs up there because it can be easy to forget the dramatic story they are presiding over. As Annie Dillard says,

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” —  Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

It has been good to step back from the role of preaching and reflect upon this. Perhaps when I return from Sabbatical I should start wearing a helmet and armor! But don’t count on me using a step-stool.

–Erica

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4 thoughts on “The Hazards of Preaching

  1. I loved this rumination about the weight on a preacher’s shoulders. Blessings and rest to you during this precious season.

  2. I love your reflection, Erica! Certainly, it is worth the time that you spend on your sermon writing. Your sermons are always insightful. I also loved the Annie Dillard quote. Are you reading that book now? I wonder what the significance is of the big wooden crown or if it is just ornamental. Enjoy writing and reading for your own nourishment.

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