Between Two Worlds Day 7
Wow! I could have never guessed how a random picture choice on Google would take my blog post to the next level. Yesterday I wondered out loud whether the Age of Proclamation was giving way to a new time we might call the Age of Listening. My ponderings were prompted by my own intuitive sense that we need to be creating space for people to dialogue with each other, listen, and discover the voice of God in community rather than depending on a single pulpit voice.
I randomly chose a picture of a pastor who looked like he fit in my Protestant tradition standing behind a traditional pulpit and wearing a preacher’s robe. What I didn’t know and what surprised a certain reader, Mary, was that picture was her beloved former pastor who had a profound impact on her spiritual life. I had tossed the picture in casually with the caption, “A generic preacher doing his thing!” But, of course, this was no generic preacher. This was Mary’s preacher! It would have been like discovering that someone had used a picture of my son on the playground and said, “Just any old child out playing” and I would have shot back, “He’s not just any child; he’s my child!”
But Mary had the depth and the patience to work through her reaction and provided the material to deepen what I had written the day before. She concluded her thoughts this way and it became the fodder to explore this topic further. She wrote:
“You know…as much as I was ‘turned off’ by seeing Bishop Hanson’s photo…as I interpreted it as a ‘negative’ example of church, it did stir up within me how much I appreciate his ministry of presence…of how his very being influenced who I am today, of how he actually ‘proclaims’ to those around him in a meaningful and relational manner.”
That was it: “how he actually ‘proclaims’ to those around him in a meaningful and relational manner.”
It brought to mind a conversation I had on my first pilgrimage in 2011. I was less than a week into it when one of the church members of Eastminster, where I was serving, happened to be visiting family in the town I was traveling through next. I stayed at his family’s home in a cushy and comfortable bed (which was far better than my broken and almost non-functional tent). At dinner I shared the experience of having met another cyclist at a campground a couple days prior. We got into a nice conversation about our bikes and bike touring when the subject turned to my profession. I told him that I was a pastor and I immediately felt the air escape from between us. Tub, the church member said, “Brian, that doesn’t make any sense at all. You’re one of the easiest people in the world to talk to.”
But it did make sense. I wasn’t just any old pulpit preacher to Tub. I was his preacher and his pastor who was there for family funerals, surgeries, potlucks, and church clean up days. In other words, his respect for me wasn’t because I stood behind a pulpit, but because we were in relationship and leaned on and learned from each other. My biking buddy knew nothing of me and the authority of the pulpit clearly either meant little to him or even made his spine tingle.
I wonder if this is the change that is happening. The traditional symbols of authority have broken down.
It’s not that there isn’t a place for preaching anymore, but that the office of the pulpit no longer holds much authority. Mary named it. What still does make a difference is the person of the pulpit, not the office of the pulpit. People still want relationship, connection, authenticity, wisdom, integrity and compassion. And people don’t automatically assume that those qualities will be present just because someone is in the pulpit, wears a robe, waves a Bible and has Reverend before his name.
Maybe the problem isn’t the pulpit, but that the pulpit needs to used and seen and re-imagined as the catalyst for the conversation. The pulpit not as the final word, but as the beginning word.
Mary, thank you.
So that makes me think, “With the precipitous decline of membership in mainline churches should pastors be re-imagining their pulpit presence or should they be taking their pulpits out to the people in new forms and other avenues?”