Well, it seems that the preach I inflicted on a congregation in the college chapel service this week went quite well in the end. I did spend the two hours before I preached in a bit of a fog, wandering round college too many times rather aimlessly as I tried to kill the time! At those moments, all I can ever think through the haze of nerves is, ‘why did this seem like a fun idea at the time when I agreed to do it?’
I’m not normally this nervous when I preach at church but preaching in college was a bit different. To start with, it’s strange preaching to a congregation that I don’t know in the way that I know our people.
I’ve never preached anywhere else to any other congregation.
Ah yes, except for two of my first ever preaches which were in an ex-Brethren church. I shouldn’t forget those, though the irony of being a woman preacher there was lost on me at the time! And there was a brief preach in a lecture room at the college many years ago as part of an undergraduate class.
But, those aside, I’m used to a small-ish congregation of maybe 50-60 adults. A congregation of people with many of whom I’d regularly have lunch, or drink coffee, or trade loving insults and other banter. A congregation which heckles me when I preach. Sometimes – as it was last Sunday – to such an extent that I break down into hysterical laughter for a full thirty seconds and am unable to continue!
(Yes, I did edit that podcast a little so you couldn’t hear too much of my over-amplified helpless laughter.)
So, anyway, I’m used to a congregation where I know and am known. A people who will hear the Word I bring because they love me and because they know I love them. Truth through personality – that’s how I see preaching. The Word is always embodied; it comes most powerfully when mediated through relationship.
Yet, at college, I am known only by some. To others, I am merely the girl with the smile who likes to sit in different places all over the college, curled up with her books. What would it be like to preach to them? How would I be able share truth when the relational bridge was limited?
And, added to this, I am an introvert. I don’t preach because I have always wanted to be on stage. I haven’t. And I also know that being an introvert means that I have to be aware of my self-presentation when I preach. In order to hope to share truth through personality, I have to project a bigger version of me.
Not a less true version of me.
But just an amplified one. One which doesn’t hide behind the introvert’s habit of quietness in big group settings but which shows my listeners the same Chloe whom they might see if they talked with me one on one.
It took me ages to learn this as a preacher. My pastor at the time used to say to me after each preach, ‘It was great but we didn’t see Chloe’. I found this feedback so frustrating and it took me months to figure out what he meant, because I had never not been me during those preaches.
But, eventually, I learned that when I preach – or indeed when I lecture or do any other form of talk to an audience – I need to project a bigger version of me in order to connect the truth I am sharing with my listeners.
I need to find a way to let people see the deep and quiet passion for Christ and his Word which runs through me.
I need to offer an amplified and technicolour version of me, the me that I truly am on the inside.
In essence, I have to offer to this large group of people the real me, the me who normally only dares to share herself in a one on one or small group context. And that’s hard because it’s contrary to my default preferences, even if it’s wholly necessary in order for me to even hope to communicate the very Word which – or, indeed, who – always comes to us embodied, incarnate.
So these were my fears in those preceding two hours. I suppose it didn’t help my nerves to know that a number of the faculty had told me they’d be there…if you allow yourself to think about it, it’s a little daunting preaching theology to those who taught it to you in the first place, much as I actually appreciated the encouragement they offered by the solidarity of their presence!
But, in the end, I’d decided that the preaching act itself was down to God. The work was done; the prayers had been prayed; I was as ready as I knew how to be. Now it was him or nothing.
In the end, it was him, I think. I was still nervous as anything when I got up there. I wasn’t even sure that I’d get through my very personal first illustration without the tears coming! Yet, within about a minute, I felt like I was flying. There’s something about doing what you were made for – a sense of convergence, of Spirit-empowering, of joy. Others saw it too, it seems, and were touched by God through that. Some of them gave me very detailed and wholly positive feedback and I am grateful for their generosity in this.
That feeling of untrammeled joy, though, has been making me reflect a bit today. When I preach – or lecture or do any other verbal presentation, for that matter – I am completely and utterly ‘in the moment’. I am not thinking about past or future. I am fully present as myself in the power of the Spirit. I can preach the Word in no other way than with the whole of my being.
And, as I think about how much joy I feel in being completely in the moment, in being fully present, I start to wonder why I don’t do that more often. Why I spend so much energy on living in the past or, more usually in my case(!), the future.
You see, to be fully engaged in the present, the now…there is something remarkably freeing about it. I am who I am at those times. All of me is being offered as a relational gift to others, nothing held back. It’s a risk, for sure; rejection from the other hits all the harder at those times because it constitutes a dismissal of our very person. But I don’t know. I think it’s one of those God-risks. You know…the ones that are utterly crazy and yet entirely worth taking!
I can’t quite get my head round the implications of this at the moment, but I just think there’s something in it. Something which is worth exploring. Something which might possibly allow me to live more conscious of the reality of who I am in Christ, rather than living in my self-constructed worlds of past or future…
What do you think? Is there something in this? Is there more joy to be had by a conscious choice to dwell in the present as much as possible, to know that God is with us in the moment giving us freedom to be wholly who we are?