Reclaiming the Pulpit
In 2001, when I was a newly ordained pastor, I once stepped away from the pulpit in the middle of a sermon to illustrate a point with my whole body. Once I was out of the pulpit, I couldn’t figure out a graceful way back into it, so I just finished the last few minutes of the sermon from memory.
It was a simple and unplanned moment. And it was magical. For a few minutes, there was nothing between me and my parishioners: no pulpit, no manuscript. They loved the sermon, maybe more than it deserved. And I loved their clear focused engagement with the sermon.
Looking back on it, I think a sermon preached from memory without the benefit of notes just seems so much more authentic. It’s like we’re all thinking, “He’s not reading this, so he must really believe it.”
As a result of that moment, I preached most of my sermons from memory between 2001 and 2020. And then Covid arrived in the United States.
At first this meant preaching online. I could have preached from memory, but why bother when you’re 12 inches away from a camera in an otherwise empty room? Later when we returned to in-person worship, we were simulcasting with some gathering in-person and others with us online. This meant that I needed to be in a fixed location for the camera and the microphone. I was stuck in the pulpit week after week. Now, it’s been two years and we’re still simulcasting.
And although my return to the pulpit was involuntary, I’m enjoying the change in location and perspective.
It has always been the case, that the pulpit was a tool to help people see and hear the preacher more clearly. Beyond that the pulpit became a symbol of the proclaimed word and the office of the preacher.
And while I am using notes again, I think my sermons are about as sincere as they’ve ever been. That is…’completely sincere.’ And with my notes, it may be the my sermons are a little more crisp than my memory otherwise allows.
So I wonder if I’m in the pulpit to stay or if the Spirit will one day lure me back out on the tightrope without the pulpit or my notes for a net. Like all things, time will tell.
©️ 2022, Pastor Bill Bernau.