Surprised By the "Amen"

On Sunday evening, the Bolivar County Ministerial Association hosted its annual Community Thanksgiving Service. Even though there are at least four new ministers in town, this United Methodist pastor somehow ended up delivering the sermon at Calvary Baptist Church. We had a wonderful turnout from churches throughout the community, and I was humbled by this opportunity. As I shared back in September, after preaching at University Baptist Church in Starkville, it's as good for pastors to preach in different pulpits as it is for congregations to hear different pastors. This pulpit was such a change, and I realized it in the opening moments of the sermon.

Ever since I migrated back to the United Methodist Church during college, having grown up in mostly charismatic and Baptist circles, I've served and attended churches with traditional styles of worship. The sermon is something that the preacher delivers. The preacher talks; the people listen. I've grown accustomed to this style, as any of us do in the places where we regularly worship. Of course, I have to (and should) do a lot of listening to God and others to learn what to speak. But when we reach the moment of the SERMON in the order of worship, on a normal Sunday my voice is the only one heard amid some occasional chuckles or coughs (and yes, a once-in-a-blue-moon snore).

But this service was different.

I don't remember what I was talking about, but it must have been important because someone in the congregation said, "AMEN!" I will not lie: I was startled and briefly lost my train of thought. Yes, I was thrilled to hear the "amen." I used to say "amen" from the congregation when someone else was preaching. But now I was the "someone else," and I realized that I'd forgotten the value of the audible "amen."

Dr. Teresa Fry Brown taught the preaching class that I took at Candler School of Theology, and she frequently reminded us that we as clergy never preach to a congregation. We as clergy and laity preach with each other. I keep this truth in my head and my heart when I step to the pulpit each Sunday, but this was the first time in a while that I experienced "preaching with each other" with my ears. Ironically, the title of my sermon was "With One Voice," and I realized that I was in a comfort zone of my voice being the only audible one in proclaiming God's Word. I am especially grateful that the "one voice" of our community gathered on Sunday was not just mine. And I don't want it to be just mine or any other individual pastor. We need all of our voices in order to be one voice of change for the kingdom of God. And sometimes that means stepping out of our comfort zones.

Audible or silent "Amens" will not be requirements of worship services at Shipman Chapel or St. Luke UMC, but they will certainly be welcome! They might still surprise me, but I will embrace them. As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, I am especially grateful that we preach together. May our life as the body of Christ be one great proclamation to God's glory, for God alone is the only One deserving of our praise.

So--can I get an "amen"?

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian