speaking extemporaneously.

1 Feb

I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Convocation at Meadville/Lombard – our Unitarian Universalist seminary located in Chicago. It was rejuvenating to be with colleagues – connecting with old friends and making new ones. It was enlightening to learn more about my role as Teaching Pastor to a Meadville student (who will be an intern at First U next year!). And it was challenging to bump up against something that I have been struggling with and to realize that I just need to do it – embrace the change and do it.

That “it” is to begin preaching extemporaneously. Without a script, and outside the pulpit.

I have felt confined during sermons – feeling as though my hand motions cannot be seen very well, feeling rooted to one spot when I really want to be moving around. And while I like the safety of having a script, I also am aware that it is when I go off script that service becomes more alive, more vibrant.

Worship in a Unitarian Universalist congregation is grounded in the relationship that the minister has with those gathered. I think that after overcoming an initial period of discomfort and struggle, my preaching will improve as I take what I have spent time learning and processing and deliver it within the context of that relationship at that very moment.

It may take more time on my part, at least in the beginning – more work to prepare, contemplate, and process the sermon. I am excited by this aspect, too, because I think it will help me to go deeper into the topic. It will be difficult for me to leave the safety of the pulpit and the script but I am looking forward to the challenge because I think it will bring the congregation and I into better relationship and make for better worship.

This move to extemporaneous preaching brought with it another realization: the question of attire. When I began at First U 2.5 years ago, I began to robe for worship for the first time in my ministry. I had several reasons for doing so: I wanted to create a feeling that what we do on Sunday mornings is special, that it is time set aside.  I felt that the liturgical robe would help. I also wanted a ritual for myself such that I put on the robe for worship, and then take it off for interactions during coffee hour. And there were some more practical reasons: Women ministers struggle with the constant critique of what we wear and how we present ourselves. I did not want my new ministry with a new congregation to be distracted by what I wore.

Now, as my relationship with the congregation deepens, I have found myself feeling confined, rather than freed, by the liturgical robe. It makes me feel stuck to the pulpit, it creates difficulties in interacting with the kids.  And for better or for worse it makes me feel like I am wearing a potato sack.

So there will also be another change starting this Sunday. Not only will I be delivering the sermon extemporaneously, not from behind the pulpit, but I will no longer be wearing the liturgical robe except for ceremonial occasions.

Sunday mornings are going to be a bit different. It is scary for me, and so very exciting.

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