It was Saturday night, the night before I would give my first sermon, my first real sermon behind a real pulpit in front of a real congregation. Following the sermon, the congregation would vote, as dictated by our polity, on whether to hire me as a co-lead pastor alongside my husband, who had been serving as lead pastor solo for three months.
It was late on a balmy May evening, before kids and bedtimes and the perpetual fatigue of parenthood. As was my custom, I walked across the street from our parsonage to the church building around 10 pm to practice the worship songs for the following morning’s service. But on this night I brought over not only my notebook of sheet music and chord charts, but also a 5½-page manuscript of my first sermon.
I made my way to the piano bench and ran through the songs with ease, playing and singing effortlessly and freely. I went over every tricky part and even the not-so-tricky parts more than was necessary. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I realized: I was stalling. I had come over to practice the songs, yes, but really I had come over to preach my sermon to an empty sanctuary, to try out my voice, to work out the kinks. And yet, I couldn’t seem to get up from the piano.
As I sat there evaluating my hesitation, I finally made eye contact with “It.” The pulpit. It wasn’t like I had never stood behind the thing to do announcements, lead songs, or read Scripture. But this was different. It loomed before me like a dark, shadowy someone in any alleyway.
I felt as if I were glued to that wooden piano bench, as if something I could not articulate was holding me captive right there on that seat. Was it feelings of inadequacy? Nerves about speaking? Concerns about the quality of my content? Fears about the response of the congregation to my presence in the pulpit? I sat unmoving for a solid five minutes, wondering why on earth I could not bring myself to stand, wondering what it would take to get me upright and up to the platform.
After a few false starts, I finally managed to pry myself from the bench, and I began to circle “It” like a curious, yet fearful puppy investigating a mysterious and terrifying butterfly. The overwhelming sense I had as I inched my way closer to was that of presumption. Who am I to stand here? Who am I to assume the mantle of authority attached to this strange piece of furniture? Who am I to presume to speak on behalf of God to a group of people made up of individuals who have been Christians much longer than I have been alive?