Three years ago this week, leading up to the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, I was unpacking my books at my first Interim Ministry job, wondering if I would know what to say when the time came to preach on that first Sunday. On Baptism of Christ Sunday I said farewell to Small Church, my first call, a place full of people I loved. (I still do, though I make a point of doing it from a distance.) I learned how to do many ministry tasks there; I'm appreciative of how gentle they were with me, mostly, and how much room they gave me to experiment. When you know the congregation, when you know your context, you can do that.
In the past three years, I've learned three new congregations, and said goodbye to two of them. The towns, the people, the churches have all been very different from each other and from Small Church. So much of preaching is understanding location: geographic, socio-economic, historical and personal. I suppose I should say theological, too, though it's harder to clarify that sometimes. I know mine, but Congregational UCC people don't tend to verbalize theirs. You have to watch for it in practice.
To each preaching relationship, I bring my own locations, my own preferences, my own stories, and I have to hope they work together for good.
This week my personal location includes:
- just back to work after almost two weeks away
- colleague away on study leave
- son still home from college
- lots of program details to oversee or carry out myself
- haven't preached in this church for over a month
One of the challenges of an Interim Associate position has been preaching less often and also feeling less empowered to speak to the transition from the pulpit. I'm not saying anyone told me not to, but rather that I don't feel I have that position in this case. Or I haven't felt that way.
But this week, we have the gospel lesson about Jesus turning water into wine to keep the party going, and this church has been talking since before I arrived about how to be more welcoming, and while I was away a piece I wrote that included thoughts on hospitality was shared at a congregational meeting.
So I think it's possible my context for preaching this week is more like Interim Ministry and less like the Associate's "turn."
I'll keep you posted.