Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Sermon Experience

A couple of commenters asked on the last post for me to talk about the experience of preaching for a day as a layperson. I am happy to oblige, mostly because I planned on writing a post about it anyway. ;-)

First, I’m going to address the whiney part. Yes, I’m a bit whiney about one part of what happened. There were three people in the world that I specifically wanted to have attend, mostly to provide me moral support so I would know 100% that I could look to them for encouragement and see someone at least feigning interest in what I had to say. Two of the three I specifically invited to attend. The third is generally there anyway so I didn’t bother to extend a specific invitation although I did make sure this person was aware I would be speaking that day. As it turns out none of the three were there. I felt let down. I have addressed it with each of them though in a very casual way so as not to let on just how hurt I was and received apologies that were probably appropriate for the level of care I expressed. So now it’s time to move on, let go of those hurt feelings, and never speak of it again. Amen.

Preparation for the sermon was interesting, and daunting, and not something I think I would want to do on a weekly basis (though if I were a seminary trained minister I could more quickly access the types of information I sought and would have had a firmer foundation from which to start, so there is that). However, it was quite enlightening to me to see just how much research could be done via the internet. I could read several different versions of the Bible passage and compare them quite easily without having to surround myself with several large books. I could read sermons by others based on the same passage or theme. If I were inclined to pay for the privilege I could have had an even greater wealth of information available to me. Yes, I took the task seriously and did not just “throw something together.” I prayed before and while I wrote. I honestly feel that God drew me to my topic and many of my words. It was indeed a spiritual experience to prepare a sermon.

I had the sermon finished, for the most part, almost a week in advance. That is when I started tweaking and rethinking and eventually overthinking much of it. When all was said and done though it stayed pretty much as it had been other than switching the order of a couple of sections of it to improve the flow. I don’t know why, but I kept putting off rehearsing it out loud. I went over it time and again in my head, but I only spoke it twice before actually giving it at church. If I hadn’t needed to time it I’m not sure I would’ve gotten it spoken even that many times ahead of time. It timed out to 14 minutes by the way, which was well within the 8 to 20 minute range that I was told would be acceptable.

N and I arrived at church for the Sunday School hour, and while he attended Sunday School I made a pest of myself to anyone I could find who was in charge in any way. I was nervous so I wandered about like a puppy dog nipping at the heels of one person and another. Finally, I sat in the very back of the sanctuary and meditated for a while to calm myself.

I was responsible for nothing during the service except the sermon. Someone else led the service, and a third person read the scriptures. I was lucky to be able to sit behind the pulpit largely unseen until sermon time. I was also lucky that there was a particularly full sanctuary that day. I believe it would be harder to speak to a sparse crowd than a thick one, easier to look out at the masses than to meet eyes with a few, at least for me.

In the past, when speaking before crowds my hands would shake and become clammy. For whatever reason, last Sunday this didn’t occur. Yes there was some nervousness, but there was also an overriding calmness. I felt safe. I felt accepted. I felt at home. We should all feel that way within our church communities though I haven’t always in other churches I’ve attended. I was pleased as I looked out on the congregation that for the most part people looked attentive rather than bored or distracted. People actually seemed to be listening to me! I even got a few chuckles at times when I had hoped people would. It was a most uplifting experience to be there in that pulpit sharing a message I felt strongly about and having it well received.

Afterwards I received much praise from people in attendance. It is so much my nature to not believe most praise, to think that it is said in politeness more than anything. However, I am trying to trust the genuineness of people when they say nice things and to reply with a simple “Thank you” rather than protesting against compliments. I don’t know why, but I expected there to be criticism that my sermon was lightweight, not learned enough, perhaps even to have someone point out some theological error that I made somewhere (hence all my earlier research to try to prevent such things). However, none of that happened. Perhaps people were kind because I am, after all, just a layperson, or perhaps they sincerely were touched by the message I shared just as it seems some of my readers here are.

Whatever the case, overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and might entertain the offer to do it again sometime in the future. The one thing I’ll change next time is that I will not specifically expect anyone to attend to be my support system. It turns out I stand on my own two feet pretty well with God as my support system.


Sailor said...

I'm glad you felt that acceptance, it's really a great thing when the feelings that we *hope* to find, in our communities, in our churches, is real don't you think?

I didn't comment on the sermon itself, but I have read it a couple times- and I like it, very much. Speaks to a few little corners of my own heart, and that makes it special as well.

Great job, hugs for you- and thanks for sharing this.

Fusion said...

I'm glad it was such a good expierence for you True. I sure could never speak in front of a large group, a small group of ten or more makes me nervous!
And I bet those three people wish they had been there now...

Your sermon sounded well thought out and presented too, good job!

Cocotte said...

I'm certain that all the compliments you received from the congregation were sincere. They were probably all thinking, "I could never do that!"

It's one thing to be able to put together a 14 minute sermon that's applicable to people and flows nicely. And it's another thing to get up there and present it.
Sounds like you did a fine job on both accounts. Congrats!

Trueself said...

Sailor - Real acceptance seems to be a rare quality, but I do agree that it is really great when we can find it.

Fuse - Heh, yeah I hope those three people wish they had been there. I have been, strangely enough, reticent to share my sermon with them. If you can't be there when it's happening oh well. . .

Cocotte - I had several people tell me they could never do that. It's really not all that hard to speak before a group, just deliberately blur your vision when you look out at the crowd. Then you can look like you're making eye contact without the discomfort of actually making eye contact. At least it works for me!