Being a Preacher

On tax day, my husband and I welcomed our first child, a healthy daughter named Annika Christine Marie.

Because I am on maternity leave for the next several weeks, I realized the title “working preacher” doesn’t currently apply to me. Unfortunately, my search for a witty substitute came up empty. “Resting preacher” doesn’t work as we’re not getting much rest, and “working mother” has its own definition. I suppose it’s indicative of a larger transition that I’m experiencing, as I’m trying to sort out where all the pieces of my life fit in our new reality.

I remember a similar feeling during seminary when I began to think of myself as a preacher and a pastor. I wasn’t sure what “being a preacher” felt like, and spent significant time and energy figuring it out. My seminary education provided ample opportunity for me to practice and to explore my new identity. I completed coursework, read books, had countless conversations with student colleagues, and spent a whole year on internship. I watched video recordings of myself in order to evaluate my gestures and get a sense of my presence in the pulpit. And after every attempt, I received feedback from professors as well as lay experts who had been listening to sermons for decades.

Although much more informal, a similar process has been at work in the transition to becoming a parent. Books, courses on labor and delivery, and plenty of feedback from family, friends, parishioners, doctors, and strangers in the grocery store are all sources of education, as is our little one. As she grows and develops, I know I will need to learn much more in order to keep up with her and support her. My sense of being a parent will change over time as I try to respond to her needs with my own gifts and despite my limitations. Although the idea of being a parent will become more familiar, I hope I will continue to seek ways to grow and learn, so that my parenting skills will be sharp and fresh for Annika.

This realization has brought new perspective to my role as preacher as well. I do a fair amount of reading, but I confess that it’s most often on Tuesdays to “get an idea for Sunday.” I read to discover a nugget that will become the coming week’s sermon, rather than exploring my role as preacher, digging into a text, or contemplating the task of preaching. I don’t engage feedback about my preaching beyond the comments I receive when I greet people after worship and through Confirmation sermon notes (The latter are usually more informative than the former!). Probably the single most important thing I do to develop my sense of myself as a preacher is write this column.

Life does get in the way, and sometimes all we can manage is a quick response to an interruption or unexpected challenge. However, important vocations in our lives such as parenting, partnership, and preaching do require attention and reflection in order to remain vibrant and fresh. In my case, I’m hoping that change in one area will help bring about change in another, and that my definition of “working preacher” might expand to include more than just “sermon-writer.”