The Call to Preach

"Would you ever want to preach sometime?"

I was asked this question about ten years ago when I was a young mother, still in my 20s, just barely emerging from a very conservative evangelical upbringing. 

Truth be told, I never aspired to preach. A few years earlier, I had carefully rethought my position on women in the pulpit, but never thought it would be me. I could count on one hand the number of women I had heard preach in my entire life, and only one had been ordained.

But here was my pastor, having spent hours with me in conversation about his own preaching, asking if I wanted to preach. I said yes and the Spirit rushed in.

It was a gift to begin preaching with no precedent. I had never read a book or been in a class.  I was years away from becoming Presbyterian, where the entire service is built around the Proclamation of the Word, and where the historic trajectory is filled with articulate, intelligent preaching. I was simply a young woman with strong ideas about the life of faith and someone asked me to start sharing them.

I preached in maternity clothes. I preached to reluctant male listeners, one of who left the service when I got up to speak. I preached in a high school auditorium. I preached in jeans. I preached without a podium.

I preached and the Spirit came. A young couple struggling in their marriage came on the Sunday I preached about marriage. A person struggling with traditional Christian faith came on the Sunday that I preached about the church's failure to join right practice (orthopraxy) with right belief (orthodoxy). I preached grace, constantly worrying that I wasn't being decisive enough, but feeling strongly that in the end, grace was all (and the best) I had to offer. 

The Spirit came. It was apparent to my parents who still hadn't decided what they officially thought about women in the pulpit. It was clear in the joy I had in preparing and thinking. It was undeniable in my lack of confidence and the way the Spirit moved in spite of me. 

It seems hard to believe now after years of formal education and worship in mainline settings that I was given such broad permission to preach, but it was the Spirit's movement in these first forays into the world of preaching that gave me confidence to move forward in my education and call to the ministry through some dark days and years. Despite having to start over again in a new church system, to become a beginner in studies of Greek, Hebrew, theology, and even homiletics, the imprint of the Spirit's movement in those early days stayed with me.

My dear preaching professor, the Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith, had a mantra that we repeated every week in preaching class:

I am a preacher. I am a preacher. I didn't come to seminary to become a preacher. I came to seminary to become a better preacher. A better preacher.

I imagine this new Preachers Portal will be filled with technique and finesse.  Certainly, I will be guilty of talking about how I became a more sophisticated and knowledgeable preacher.  But it seems good to start with the simplicity of God's call, the miracle of another's invitation, and the mysterious work of the Spirit as she blows through human words to work transformation in the lives of others and in the life of the world.

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