I know I’ve been thankful for my church before, but it is such a fabulous place that I have new reasons to be thankful this week. This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach the sermon. It was an unforgettable experience. Sunday service is so different from behind the pulpit than it is from the pews.
Last spring, our minister offered a workshop on how to create a worship service. He called it “More than a Sermon,” and addressed all the elements of a worship service. We learned how to choose a topic, select readings to go with the sermon, and hymns. We wrote the beginnings of a sermon and practiced our delivery. After four weeks, we finished the workshop, though our sermons were incomplete. We finished them up after the workshop and eventually, we each ran a worship service.
I had a topic that I was passionate about. I wanted to spread the word about Dr. Masaru Emoto’s work with water crystals. (Link has an autoplay video.) I had learned about his work from the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? and it resonated with me on a fundamental level. Specifically, the point at which one character says to another, “If thoughts can do that to water, and we are mostly water, what do our thoughts do to us?” The exact words escape me, but that is pretty close and gets the gist of it. I spent the workshop writing up a service designed around that concept. I thought it would be wonderful to have a slide show so people could see the dramatic images in their full glory. Printing them in the order of service would not have done them justice.
The participants in the workshop were offered the opportunity to preach their sermon. Most people took Sundays in the summer, when attendance is much lower and the services are less formal. I wasn’t ready yet, though. I didn’t feel like my sermon was substantial enough. When I read it out loud to myself, it only took me about 6 minutes. That is too short even for a homily. It wasn’t time yet, and eventually, I just set it aside until I was more ready. In early September, our minister asked me if I would like to run my service. There was an opening in the schedule in November if I would like to have it. I agreed, and went back to work on it. After consulting with him on what I did have, I sat down again to write more.
Then the election came. I knew I had to address it because so many people in our church would be heartbroken or angry. Sitting down to write some more, I doubled what I had started with. My best friend is a writer, so I sought her input because I felt like some of my writing was clunky. She pointed out to me that Dr. Emoto’s work was lacking in scientific rigor. She also said, “The sermon doesn’t sound like you trust we will believe you. … You use other sources to back up your assertion that this is true, rather than keeping it to your own personal experiences of why it most certainly is true.”
I was heartbroken. That was the foundation of my entire sermon. As much as I loved the photos, and the idea of the slideshow, and the whole concept of Emoto’s work, I could not use flawed science to preach. It was Wednesday, and I had four days to rewrite my sermon. I did surgery on it. I took out everything about the water crystals, and everything that referenced them. All I saved was one of the images that we put on the cover of the order of service. Then, I was at peace with my work. It was complete. I knew it needed some minor tweaking, and I had an appointment to meet with the minister about it for his input. For the first time in my life, I had finished a project ahead of my deadline with time to spare.
On Thursday we put together the order of service and in the process, inspiration struck me. I wanted to do a musical prayer. I wanted the whole church to sing John Lennon’s Imagine. Frantically, I called my worship liaison who suggested I call a member who is a music teacher. The next morning he called me back and agreed to lead the congregation in singing. Everything was ready.
On Sunday morning, I printed out all my work and put it in a binder for easy reference and reading. I went in early to get the coffee ready like I do every week, then I met with the minister again for one last consultation and to prepare myself to stand in the pulpit. He advised me to read it slowly. I tend to talk fast, but I needed to go slowly because I was providing a lot of ideas and people would need to be able to process them. He said that if I thought I was going slowly enough, it was too fast. We ran through a paragraph to check my tempo so I had a reference for my speed. I sounded to myself like William Shatner. Finally, it was time.
I entered the sanctuary, spoke to a couple of people to make sure everything was ready, and then I went up and sat in the big chair. Two thrones (for lack of a better description) sit on the dais on either side of the altar, and I sat in one of them. The welcomer stood up in the pulpit and read the welcoming script that we hear every week. I looked out into the pews and saw all the people whom I see every week. Several people had remarked that they were looking forward to hearing me preach because they always like hearing what I have to say. Looking out there, I saw about sixty to eighty people waiting for me.
As we began the worship service, everything went just as I had hoped it would. It was beautiful. The children heard a story performed by another member of the church, we sang hymns, we listened to the readings, and the choir sang Amazing Grace. When we sang Imagine, I was completely overcome by all the love in the room. Generations upon generations of people had poured their love into the church over nearly 200 years, and it was palpable. I was moved to tears, and desperately hoped everyone was focused more on singing than on seeing me wipe my eyes.
When it was time for the actual sermon to begin, I started by thanking everyone for being there and for loving each other. I was so deeply moved. I have truly never felt anything quite like that before. It was humbling and uplifting. I knew in that moment that these were my friends. They really did want to hear what I had to say. Even if I stumbled over my words, or froze in my speech, they would not judge me for it. I felt safe and loved.
I noticed a woman in one of the pews signing to the person next to her, and I was happy. Watching her translate my words to sign language helped me keep my tempo in check. I didn’t want to speak so fast that she struggled to keep up. I was grateful for her.
After the service, we adjourned to the parish hall for coffee and refreshments. I was amazed at how many people came to speak to me. I think I spoke to more people in that hour than I had in the three months previously. One gentleman suggested that I should enter divinity school. Another asked if I could see all the minds going pop! pop! pop! as they were blown. Someone else asked if I am familiar with Emoto’s work and we discussed it a little. A lady said she recognized the image from that body of work. Several people asked when I was going to preach again.
After I got home, the praise continued to come in. Now I knew for sure that it was no false praise, as if my friends would do that. One lady called me up to thank me for my sermon, saying it was too important to leave to email. Another gentleman emailed me a few days later asking for a copy of the sermon so he could go over it all again.
I feel so honored to have been offered this opportunity to speak to people and show them how to live a little bit better. I want to say thank you to all the people who were instrumental in creating this worship service:
- To Rev. Michael for all his mentoring and support during the whole process.
- To Jenny for reading through my rough draft and helping me find my voice of authority.
- To Susan, the secretary, who put together the order of service and helped me finalize some of my ideas.
- To Betty, my worship liaison, who organized people to do various elements of the service.
- To Dave for presenting the readings with such heart and emotion.
- To Vladimir for the beautiful piano music and for leading the choir.
- To Lucius for leading us all in singing our prayer.
- To Murray for telling the story to the children and everyone else and making exactly the point I wanted to make even before hearing my full sermon.
- And thank you to everyone who came up to me afterwards and told me you appreciated it.
I hope I haven’t missed anyone, but if I did, please let me know and I will add you.