Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Most Beautiful Thing I've Read Today

My friend, Julia, had posted something striking when researching for class, and I must admit that I had a similar experience this evening. I consider it a blessing to enjoy this project so much. As I read each word of the biography of Anna Howard Shaw, I learn to appreciate her in a new way, feeling as though she is a friend of mine, which is exactly what Dr. Lobody intended (or at least what I think she intended) with this project. After Anna (because I honestly feel that we're on a first name basis) has struggled on her path to become educated she moved and saw her first woman preacher. Here is what she writes. Her words moved me to tears... "Her sermon was delivered on a Sunday morning, and I was, I think, almost the earliest arrival of the great congregation which filled the church. It was a wonderful moment when I saw my first woman minister enter her pulpit; and as I listened to her sermon, thrilled to the soul, all my early aspirations to become a minister myself stirred in my with cumulative force. After the services I hung for a time on the fringe of the group that surrounded her, and at last, when she was alone and about to leave, I found courage to introduce myself and pour forth the tale of my ambition. Her advice was as prompt as if she had studied my problem for years. 'My child,' she said, 'give up your foolish idea of learning a trade and go to school...'" Beautiful. Powerful. Moving.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Appreciate Your Pastor

You can't ever win with sermons. Well, ok, maybe sometimes you can, but today was certainly not one of those times for me. Let me preface this by saying that the month of October is my least favorite month of the year because of some immense personal and community loss I experienced during this month. No matter how hard I try to enjoy it (and I do try, believe me), it always turns out to be more hard than I thought it would be. This month is no different.

All that being said, my genius, novice pastor self decided to preach on the Job lectionary text this week, the Sunday before my infamous "dead-mom" anniversary (sorry if it sounds insensitive... it is how I cope). The sermon I was going to preach was no doubt going to be difficult for me to preach on a very personal level, but I decided that I was going to preach it anyway. Now, I am typically a manuscript preacher, but on this occasion I stuck a little bit more closely to the manuscript than I normally do, fearing that if I strayed, I would make myself cry like a 13 year old girl after her first heartbreak.

One member of my congregation loves to tell me his reaction to the sermon. Even when theological criticism, I generally really enjoy the conversation. As he approached me after the service, I was kind of excited to hear what he had to say. He very plainly told me that he would be offering me constructive criticism and proceeded to tell me that I had great oratory, but a very poor sermon. He then said that the way you put babies/children to sleep is by reading to them, and I did that to my congregation today. I told him that, unfortunately, that is one of the pitfalls of being a student pastor... I don't always get the time to do more than simply prepare my sermon, let alone memorize it or try to deliver it from an outline. Sometimes it is just not feasible.

I continued with the cordial handshakes of parishioners. Each time I thought about this man's comment, tears would well up in my eyes. Not wanting to cry in front of people over sermon criticism, I retreated to my office. After gathering myself, I started packing up my things to head home for the afternoon and was greeted by a string of three people who told me that they really enjoyed my "different" approach to Job, stating that the sermon was just what their wounded hearts needed to hear that day. I was truly touched.

... but as I drove home, the uplifting comments were drowned out by the replaying of the comments of the one man who had told me that my sermon was not very good. He had no idea that I needed to stick to my manuscript for personal reasons, nor did I care to tell him. And no matter how much I told myself that his comments should not bear much weight, they did.

This situation just reminds me of a blog post that my friend,
Michele, wrote about how preaching is like making visual art. Preachers put so much solitary time, energy, effort, pray, personality, and emotion into a sermon that when we deliver it, instead of feeling relieved, we (and by "we" I really mean "I") feel exhausted and sometimes a bit paranoid that people did not hear the sermon the way we meant them to. I felt that this person had so horribly misunderstood my sermon that all I wanted to do was go home and curl up and never preach again.

And yet I know that God used my words to touch the hearts of listeners, and I have to remind myself that constructive criticism at least means that someone listened...

What a great first Pastor Appreciation Day...