Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Everyone is Welcome

As I study for my sermon, then begin to write portions, I think about my listeners.

I consider the needs of my congregation by thinking about issues they discuss like health, family concerns or what's going on in the community. I review national events and what implications these might have worshippers. Most of my people are gardeners, so I think about what is blooming. I'm almost an hour south of them so I can anticipate what will be blooming by looking at my own garden although down here we are often a few degrees cooler. (Lord knows that's significant because this morning, it was 89 degrees at 4:15 am.)

Exegeting the "buzz" of my particular congregation is a blend of observation skills, understanding their history as individuals and as a group, and intuition. I suppose all of us do this prep work unless we are composing sermons to place on top of listener's heads. I hope sermons go into people's hearts not in an emotional labile manner (I'm Presbyterian afterall) but in a way which integrates the Gospel with life.

The Bible is our story. Read the lives of the people in the Bible and it becomes easy to see how their lives are a mirror of our own no matter how separated we are by time and cultures. Something extraordinary happens to the disciples at Pentecost and the general public dismisses it as drunkeness. The woman with the issue of blood makes astounding resonance with a menopausal woman. Jacob and Essau are examples of sibling rivalry. The early Church upsets with outside influences, inclusion and doctrine are like the conflicts we discuss now.

But, I digress.

Sunday, as I drove the country roads to my sweet Church, I wondered who would be there in the congregation. Members are vacationing, going to weddings and graduations so I expected some empty pews. I thought about visitors. Of course, I want us to have visitors. Our bulletin of the order of worship is designed to explain why we do what we do for first-timers to a Presbyterian service. I explain anything and everything as I go through the service so that it is clear why we call our readings "lessons", for example. Visitors are welcome and we mean it.

However, visitors, because I do not know them can't be exegeted. If they are adult children visiting parent members, I can disciper something about them. At least I think I can. Adult children visit for Mother's and Father's Day, holidays and on a parent's birthday. If they visit other times, my ears prickle to find out what is going on.

We get visitors off the street and some become members. First off, I notice if they are twitching over a clergywoman. Not much I can do about that. I've had visitors who come in, look at me then keep looking at the door of my office wondering when the boy preacher will come out and take over. Some beam at me from beginning to end, mostly women do this, thrilled to see a woman in the pulpit. Or, my paranoia escalates into wondering if they are just very entertained to see me a la Dr. Johnson. Remember, I'm in the dark Backwater. I try to see the worship service through the visitor's eyes. Just guessing with this, but trying.

Over the years I've learned to interpret my congregant's faces during the service. I read their expressions and body movements. I know which families share little jokes during the service. Which members grimmace through the sermon (that's how they concentrate), which sit slack jawed listening to me, which will doze if I don't change the pacing of my speech, etc. With visitors, I don't have a clue.

What's your thinking about this?

1 comment:

Preacher Mom said...

Visitors are a puzzle, and I love puzzles. I try to read their body language (heads high? eye contact? trying to look invisible?) I gauge their reaction to my gender. (I've had a couple who became very flustered and rushed out. They thought they were going to a PCA worship!) I weigh the likelihood of their return. Since a LARGE percentage of my congregation is elderly, they younger the visitor's age (or the higher the number of children with them), the less likely that they will be back. I HATE that! Some stick around and join. Others stick around and become permanent "visitors." Either way, I'm happy.