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.
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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