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Just this past week, I started a new call in my hometown.  I am ecstatic to be the senior pastor of this congregation, and they are excited for this new chapter in their church.

As this is a congregation with a variety of political and theological views (like most in my denomination), I’m finding it tough to know how prophetic I can be in my sermons at this stage of my tenure.

I was in my previous congregation for seven years.  I had walked alongside of them during the tough times.  By the final year of my tenure, I believe they knew what I was like.  I felt comfortable enough to preach on a variety of issues – worrying some on how it would impact my ministry but not allowing my concern to hold me back.

But now that I’m in a new space, I feel more self-conscious about my prophetic preaching.

We, in the United States, are faced with issues such as mass shootings and the detention of asylum-seekers.  Some of our siblings in the human race are at the receiving end of discrimination and violence.  Many in our faith still support the powers-that-be who have constructed systems which traumatize and oppress.  When they come to church, they do not want to hear political sermons.  Many in our pews believe it would be nice if we could only preach that sermons that speak to our individual faith journeys.

I agree.  It would be nice if we wouldn’t have to preach on social issues of our time.

It’s a place of privilege for any us to expect sermons focusing exclusively on individual piety.  Granted, there will be weeks in which we speak to our siblings in faith about their prayer lives or how they can strengthen their spiritual selves.  Yet, I feel that if I only preach on how we connect with God and forget how we connect with all of humanity, I would be sinning as a preacher.  If God’s children are suffering and dying and I am preaching on how the privileged can improve their lives, I am forgetting the connection we have with all of humanity.

Sometimes, this means preaching prophetically in baby steps.  While we are still learning about our new congregation, we are listening to stories and building relationships.  But to completely stop speaking to the systemic evils of our time would widen the gap we have with all of creation.

This week, the text is the beheading of John.  As he continue to follow his calling as a prophet, pushing the buttons of Herod and Herodias, John is arrested and executed for his preaching.  Like John, are we willing to lose all we have for the sake of the Good News?  Are we willing to be fired, arrested or killed as we stand up for the least of these?

I’m working on my courage, friends.  I’m not setting aside my prophetic preaching – even if I have to approach it from another angle or modify my words.  I am attempting to be as authentic as a pastor as possible from the start of this new journey.

May we all be “strong and courageous” whether we are in our first call or fourth call and whether we’ve been in our call for two weeks or ten years.

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The Rev. Michelle L. Torigian is the Senior Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ, Belleville, Illinois. Her essay “Always a Pastor, Never the Bride” was in the RevGalBlogPals book There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She also has chapters in the books Sacred Habits: The Rise of the Creative Clergy and A Child Laughs: Prayers for Justice and Hope. Torigian blogs at http://www.michelletorigian.com.

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3 thoughts on “The Pastoral Is Political: Being Prophetic in a New Call

  1. Thank you for this! It’s what my spirit needed this morning as I prepare for my fifth Sunday in my first appointment. This congregation is also quite diverse and I’ve similarly struggled with how prophetic I can be without shutting people down. Yet, I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the sinfulness injustices we’re witnessing. It’s a hard rope to walk, and I don’t know that I’ve figured it out yet. So thank you for your encouragement!

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  2. This is hugely helpful to me. At this stage my ministry is mostly writing after 37 years pastoring in churches. But I guest preach — yes, almost every week. In a year and a half I’ve been in 27 churches — sometimes more than once and often returning. The pastor is on vacation or having surgery or the church is waiting for an interim to be free. I don’t actually know who is on what political point in the spectrum. I try never preaching a “political” sermon (sometimes I fail), but also never to preach a sermon that does not have a political moment/paragraph (sometimes I fail).

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  3. Prophetic speech in a new and diverse congregation and broader community does need to be done in way that doesn’t cause people to close their ears and hearts. I sort of take my lead from Paul who teaches us this about congregations and bends himself to fit the context – even when bringing his offering to the church in Jerusalem (where he goes through the ritual bath and practices what he no longer preaches.) I tend to think to myself, is this appropriate for a one way conversation? And if it’s not – I modify. BUT prophetic speech is also not limited to the pulpit. My most prophetic speech takes place when creating coalitions of folks designated to take on the issues of race, privilege, bias, addiction, etc. I think this is the best way to cause movement and change. Worship cannot be devoid of challenge or bend the gospel to fit the broken ways of the world. But neither is it the only place a preacher preaches and teaches.

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