Tomorrow morning I get to play preacher and I'm SO nervous! It's always been amazing to me to think that I have the same seminary degree that many pastors receive in order to be ordained and yet I have never felt equal to them in a professional sort of way. There are probably several reasons for this, of course, but mostly I think it's because I've never really led a worship service in that kind of role. The only preaching I've done was for my preaching class - and I don't think anyone would say that I was stellar or a natural at it. Ask me to come talk to a group of people in an office about Habitat for Humanity, I'm fine - I'll even volunteer to do it. But ask me to preach to people and I get VERY anxious. I don't even want to pretend that I have any kind of authority more than the people in the pews. I don't have it and I don't want it - whether I claim it for myself or others bestow it on me. I think that's one of the fundamental flaws with a lot of organized religion - we always seem to be putting a hierarchy on it when I'm not convinced God sees things that way. The only thing I have on John & Jane Doe in the pews is that I've read some books that they maybe have not. And I know there are books that they've read that I have not.
So anyway, I bet you're wondering how I got into this position in the first place. Well, it's Annual Conference weekend here in Missouri which means that all the church leaders are meeting down in Springfield leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves. Churches all across the state are using "guest preachers" from among the masses of retired clergy, students who aren't yet a part of the conference on an official level, or other oddballs like myself that don't necessarily fit into a neat category. I'm seminary trained but not officially connected to this conference. I haven't been commissioned as a Deaconess yet (hopefully in April that will happen), and even then I will basically get a nod of recognition from the Bishop before claiming my seat on the conference floor. That's one of the cool things about it - I work as a part of the Annual Conference in which I serve, but my "chain of command" it actually outside of the conference hierarchy and lies with the General Board of Global Ministry. So, with no church position and no obligation to attend annual conference, two friends of mine who work at the same church (one as associate minister and one as interim pastor) asked if I would fill in for them while they're gone. I wanted to say no, but there was a part of me that thought, "No, you should do this. You don't get the chance very often and it will be good experience for you. You can grow from this." I dragged my feet on making a decision for about a week and a half before I said yes. And I've regretted it ever since.
Filling in for the pastor and associate is more than just writing the sermon - why didn't I think about that before?! I'm supposed to say prayers and lead activities that I've never had to do before (and in my Catholic upbringing, I never thought I would). I'm the one people will look up to to know when to sit or stand, when to say Amen, etc. and I'm not sure that I have a clue what I'm doing. It's not like I haven't been to church before, but I've never really paid that much attention to what it would be like to be the pastor. My only saving grace is that this is a small church, and when we've been there in the past to support our friends, everyone has been very friendly. I think they know that this isn't something I normally do and will be very gracious. I know that after the fact I'll be able to laugh about it, but right now I'm just dreading tomorrow morning. I know we've got some pastors out there - any advice for me?