Talking in church
Today I spoke in front of my church congregation. Twice. I went out on a limb, about going out on a limb. I get my God-on at a fairly liberal protestant denomination, a United Church of Christ. Churches like to say that they are inclusive and welcoming. UCC churches go a step further by issuing an “Open and Affirming” declaration. Since UCC churches are congregational (we answer only to our congregation, no centralized governing body), each church has to individually bring to vote an Open and Affirming statement.
A “yes” vote on an Open and Affirming statement means that our church will join other churches that have chosen to publicly declare that we include and welcome persons of every gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ability, age, race, nationality, economic and social status, faith background, marital standing and family structure.
This is a big deal for even a fairly liberal church, because in our society it matters when you make such statements boldly and publicly, especially a statement full of societal (and Christian) taboos. Our vote is coming up later this Spring and feeling strongly enough about supporting this declaration, I was asked over a month ago whether I would be willing to make a “faith statement” on the topic during both worship services. [Gulp] sure.
I’m no Henry Rollins
Public speaking. Does just reading those words strike terror deep within? A Google search produces 21 million hits on the key words “Public Speaking.” A search of “Top Ten Fears” returns 30.3 million hits. In every list of fears I read, I find that the fear of public speaking is usually number two after death, flying, or snakes.
A message for public, verbal delivery is different from blogs or news articles. Here, I click publish and off it goes – I don’t have to go door-to-door to all my subscribers like some deranged Christmas caroler. With public speaking, I still write the words, but then my mouth has to say them. No matter how much time I spend crafting the message, I fear that my delivery could ruin the whole thing. Is my voice or my hands shaking? Does the microphone work? Will I flub? Is my hair sticking up?!
Good to the last drop
I write my faith statement over the course of a month. My first draft is lofty stuff, provocative and full of great UCC history references. But it runs over 3 and a half minutes; a lot of time during a carefully orchestrated service and an eternity in front of a crowd.
Four versions later I have it pared down to about a minute. Over time I am able to find my core message and that puts me at ease as it makes my little speech a true “faith statement.” My core message is buried in that first glut of words, like the enduring sound bite born of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign.
I’m nervous and my socks are too loose
My outfit is more polished than usual (jeans are permitted at our weekly God-fest), and I arrive a little early. Having done some research on public speaking, I have my speech printed in a huge font, double-spaced, with wide margins – about half the words per line than typical printed text. I have props – a DVD and brochures. I leave the microphone in the stand. Um…I’m ready?
I climb out onto the limb. My “good morning” is returned with warm “good mornings” from around the sanctuary, startling me for a second. Hard to ignore all the people out there when they talk back!
I have seen the promised land
My faith statement made, I breathe again. Finding and then delivering a core message, the kind that people need to hear, is hard, but rewarding, work. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., could have made reading a box of corn flakes a compelling experience. But his message was one of historical proportions, and what we remember is the bold message as much as the bold voice. It makes a difference when you go out on a limb to declare bold messages out loud to anyone who will listen.
The second worship service begins and I’m less nervous having delivered my statement once, and also having heard the sermon: In Genesis, God commands Abraham to pick up and move to a land far away where greatness and blessing await. He goes. Now that is going out on a limb. Much easier to do when you put faith in the core message.
**Extra credit for readers who “get” my section-heading pop culture references! Shout ‘em out if you know ‘em!