Mystic Mondays October 31, 2016
I think I saw a glimpse of the future yesterday morning.
The church where I serve decided to use the 5th Sunday of the month as time to experiment a little. I have served churches before where the 5th Sunday is used as an Old-Fashioned Hymn Sing. It often comes at the request of older members who miss the cherished hymns of their childhood and early childrearing days. I get it! I grew up on the music of John Denver, Dan Fogelberg, Bread, and the Carpenters. I still find myself humming, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and “Run for the Roses.”
But Bethany put just enough of a twist in this 5th Sunday Old-Fashioned Hymn Sing to make it feel less like a retreat into memory lane and more like a foretaste of the future. We did sing a handful of oldies and personal favorites, but the worship planners also invited poets and wannabe poets to share on the theme of “Saints Among Us” given that All Saints Day was just two days hence.
What seven poets offered yesterday far outshone anything this one pastor could have done from the pulpit. The poems themselves were powerful, touching, vulnerable and clever. But it wasn’t just the poems that made the morning worship so special. It was the fact that the authors of the poems, the ones who had the lived experience shared them. We preachers sometimes find just the perfect poem to make a point, but the preacher is at least one step removed from the experience. Reading a poem of someone else’s experience is a poor second to hearing the person’s actual experience. A preacher can give something for people to think about, but when a person’s actual experience is shared it connects us to and with each other.
For this one-Sunday-only event we invited people to share poems about those people who had shaped them, molded them, and made them the people they are today. We witnessed a wonderful display of the power that people play in our lives. One man spoke of the love of his wife of sixty plus years. A woman recalled the way her grandmother cleverly used games to teach her the lessons of life. Another shared how her beloved animals had taught her patience, grace, and a sacred approach to life. I spoke of a history professor who acted more like a mentor to me than a distant, robed-up academic. One man, who admitted that he hadn’t always been a “choir boy,” spoke of the intimacy he feels with Jesus. Another woman read poems that she had written shortly after people had died. The last poet, a teacher, gave a nod to the two tenured teachers, members of the congregation still, who had nurtured her along as she began her early education career. A liturgist got up shortly after and reflected on how the whole congregation are saints to each other in one way or another.
Religious trends’ researchers are telling us that the preaching pastor is going through a major metamorphosis. The 3-point lecture from a pulpit is out. In its place are pastors who are storytellers and facilitators of dialogue and conversation. No longer are people satisfied with a preacher who has enough education to talk about God; people want to experience God in the preaching moment. People don’t just want to know what to think or believe about God; they want personal access to God.
I often tease that a good pastor is one who is constantly working himself or herself out of a job. I still have quite a bit of job security. I doubt the congregation is ready to jump from a four-times-a-year, 5th Sunday, open mic format to suddenly making it a weekly event. But the tears, the cheers and the clapping that accompanied this Sunday tell us something–they didn’t miss this preacher’s sermon one little bit. In fact, just the opposite happened. The personal vulnerability, the sharing, and the stories coming from the pews raised their congregational self-esteem. I teased toward the end of the service that “I might just have to give up my pulpit more often if this is what we get in its place.” I wonder if they caught that I was only have kidding.
I am pretty sure I saw the future yesterday. Which means that if I do my job right I’ll slowly work myself out of a job. I wonder if there is any way that I can get that to perfectly coincide with my retirement!