Gathering Our Voices

When I used to imagine the life of a pastor, I envisioned a heavy, imposing desk with large, good-smelling books open all along its ample surface, cherry wood bookcases lining the walls and filled to the brim with commentaries and complete sets of systematic theology.  There was a lamp, green of course, angled in the corner to help me see the small print of my Greek New Testament. My office was cordoned off from the world by a French door that allowed me to see what was going on elsewhere while not having to hear a word of it and the option of pulling the curtain if necessary.

I presumed the life of a pastor was to sit in this sort of environment and think big thoughts, and then write them down in compelling sermon style until they were honed and ready for delivery come Sunday. Perhaps some of you preachers do just that. For my part, my office sits at the top landing of our stairs, open to the rest of the house's noises, buzzing as they are with kids and dogs and washing machines. I sit at a desk my parents passed along when they upgraded. I can often open up a book next to the computer, but if it's big I have to angle it in my lap. There is no room for a lamp. I've found that my preaching preparation happens in the thick of life rather than in a musty-book-smelling cavernous escape. And I think it has made a difference -- a positive difference -- in the way I engage the text.

In our community, the line between pastor and community members is intentionally opaque. We tend to eschew most thinking about a "clergy class" and a (lesser) "layperson class" in favor of an emphasis on the whole. We believe the gathered voices of the whole are always greater than one seminary-educated voice alone. We're Gestalt-y that way.

In this column, I hope to share glimpses of what communal life, and preaching in particular, looks like in the context of a gathered set of voices. I'll share moments from our previous Sunday gatherings, talk about our process, and share the struggles of balancing different opinions and ideas. 

Recently, of course, life around the community has been knee-deep in Advent preparation. One of our primary places of collaboration happens at Teaching Team, a tradition for the past eleven years of Journey's life. Teaching Team is open to anyone in the community, and we meet weekly over lunch. Teaching Team is where we decide on which lectionary texts or scripture to encounter, brainstorm ideas for upcoming conversations, and focus on the specific content we will engage on the coming Sunday. If I'm preaching, I come with a few ideas and musings, and we bat them around until we find something that we feel is meaningful, relevant, and important. Ideas get honed and stretched and clarified, and then we set the rest of the table -- music, liturgy, response.

Our Advent conversation began with an email to Teaching Team, listing all the Year A lectionary readings from which we could choose. One community member suggested we spend all four weeks on the four Isaiah passages. We liked this idea best, so we began to craft our Advent themes around visions of swords and plowshares, lions and lambs. Wednesday we met up for lunch at a Mediterranean buffet, and between dips of hummus we decided on a general theme for Advent (Seeds of the Kingdom) and then discussed the First Sunday in more detail. I then take these ideas back to my un-cavernous office and try to find a way to speak with and for all the voices I've heard.

Wednesday night the community was invited to dinner at one of our leader's homes, and a different group of community members talked about ways we wanted to celebrate Advent this year. Along with the decision to continue some Journey traditions, we also decided to launch Journey's first ever Choir. (Is it strange that a choir seems completely avant-garde to us?!)

After a series of Advent conversations throughout the community, the season is taking shape and preparations are underway. The process of listening and gathering our voices has been life-giving, exciting, and creative in ways I dare say my dream office could never offer.

Check back every other Tuesday for the latest from Preaching In Community, a new featured column at the Patheos Preachers Portal.