Sunday, January 2, 2011


I have just read one of the most amazingly poignant and beautiful sermons I've ever encountered anywhere. 

And remember, I have been a member of two churches in which outstanding preaching is a weekly expectation, I've been to seminary, and I've heard dozens of sermons at Chautauqua, where the best of the best tend to show up each summer.  I'm pretty clear on what an A+++++++++ sermon is.

This particular sermon was preached in our home church this morning (we're on the road, so I wasn't there) by a friend and elder colleague, the woman with whom I planned the Blue Christmas service.

And it got me thinking.  Part of what makes it so elegant and lovely is her willingness to be vulnerable, to share the intimate essence of her spiritual experience.  Something which yes, I would be comfortable, to some extent, doing in my home congregation.

But elsewhere?  I'm guest preaching pretty regularly these days,  and I find that I am not much inclined to open my heart to that degree in situations in which I am unknown.  I am thinking about what the people to whom I'm preaching might need to hear, and I am not imagining that that has much to do with me.  What I pour out in my blogs, what I might use for some essays or a book on the spirituality of surviving loss ~ if any of that shows up in my preaching these days, it's extremely oblique.  I think.

I wonder: Has seminary ruined me for preaching?  Do I even know, contrary to my assertion above, what it means to preach anymore?  Or am I being appropriately sensitive to context?

Weigh in, you preachers out there. How and where and when do you draw the boundary lines?


  1. I hear what you are saying. During my call process I did quite a bit of supply preaching. I did become a "regular" once a month at two churches.

    It varied from Sunday to Sunday the level of "vulnerability and essense of spiritual experience" I shared. It still does.

    It really depends on the congregation. Some want the intimate human connection, others cannot, or will not allow, their pastor to be human. Some congregations just cannot "go there" because of where they are collectively on their level of development.

    Sounds like your friend was totally connected with the congregation (and you) which is wonderful. If I were sitting in your congregation, hearing you preach from words like you have written on your blogs...priceless. You have an amazing gift, Robin.

  2. Years ago my mentor said to me that it takes ten years for a preacher to find her/his "voice." I've been preaching for eleven years and think it took me about eight before I had a sense of how I want to preach... and now I'm working to develop that. It is part of why my blog is called "SeekingAuthenticVoice."

    I spent 18 months preaching once a month in my first call/parish; eight years in the second - where I preached 47 weeks a year; 18 months at St. Homeostasis; and 15 months supply preaching at a different church every week - so many different preaching experiences.

    I rarely share much or deeply from my personal life. I often preach about the universal experiences that I lived: loss, sorrow, brokeness, pain, illness, hospitalization, hope, faith, love.

    Because I have lived those experiences my ability to enter into the feelings and preach from my heart as deepened.

    I don't think I'm a "great" preacher - but for some reason people respond to my sermons when preached....I think it's a Holy Spirit thing.

    So. Yes, within the context that you feel comfortable, sharing from your life and your journey is always appropriate. How literally you connect that to the actual events of your life will vary based on your connection with the congregation. That connection may be there with a place you have served a long while, but it may also be there for a place you have only preached in occasionally.

  3. Is the sermon on a webpage you can link to, Robin? Or just circulated for church members and or pastoral staff/volunteers? I'd love to read it.

    I am still a relative novice as a preacher, having only done so to speak of in the six years I have been ordained. And in that time not every week, nor even every month, until this year (most weeks on Thursday at the home chapel, and from yesterday on every five weeks at the downtown community). I think I am perceived, from feedback, as usually solid and occasionally excellent, and I look forward to really finding my voice and deepening my skills now that I get more opportunities to practice consistently. I am very chary about direct self revelation in the pulpit--in serious contrast to my blog and other writing--because I have seen it both be very powerful and very self-indulgent. However, like Terri, my own experience and reflection on it deeply informs what I present in more general theological/scriptural/spiritual/human experience terms.

  4. PS Do more self-revelation, on reflection, in the chapel mass which is very small and informal and in which everyone shares pretty consistently, in contrast to the downtown community with 30-50 in attendance and a guaranteed sharing opportunity which only 5 to 10 may take advantage of in a given week.

  5. PPS Like your first commenter, I trust that if and when you do speak from deep experience of very difficult stuff it will be powerful and at the service of the community.

  6. I've preached once, so let me chime in. I want to hear a story about how the scripture resonates inside the preacher, how personal it resonates is for the preacher to decide.

  7. Stratoz, I like that way of putting it--thanks. One of the first things I read in my preaching class was an essay from a famous Episcopal preacher from the nineteenth century whose name I forget completely. But I remember his definition of preaching as "truth through [or maybe it was a different preposition] personality"

  8. Thanks, everyone.

    Laura, I'll let you know when it's up on the website.

  9. I use personal stories (my own and others'), anonymous, when more appropriate, as often as possible to help apply the lesson of the scripture to our lives today ... and while I'm not an A++++++++++++ preacher, congregants express that they learned/understood better

    p.s. Like Laura, I'd love the read the sermon you mention, when it's posted