They Called The Pulpit Vacant

Last year, if my card index serves me well, I preached in fifty different churches; and every place I went they said, “The pulpit is vacant.” This could well be a comment on my preaching, and we can take that up on another day. What I am really worried about is who the take-charge guy is when a pulpit is vacant—especially who the man or woman is who is supposed to take charge of me when I appear on the scene.

Carnegie Simpson once said that you can change anything in the church except the order of service. This is not to say that the people are aware of what is going on in the church service. It simply states that if you change the order, it will be very noticeable and there will be great decibels of resistance. It happens, therefore, that when you show up at a different church every week, the odds are that you will cause flurries of excitement by being different—not because you want to be different, but because no one really knows how the service ought to be run. They only know when you run it the wrong way.

Try sometime to get anyone in the church to tell you whether the prayer comes before or after the offering. Even the deacons and the ushers will not know. And if you have some really interesting variations, such as baptisms or communion, you will probably get the answer I got in a country church once when I asked them to coach me: “Why, Reverend, we just have communion here the way they do in any church”—only they didn’t. In one church they brought the offering forward and put it on top of the organ, and I suppose the symbolism was that the organ was still to be paid for. For complete confusion, have candle lighting and the chiming of the hours. These things are very pretty, but it is hard ...

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