The process of self-discovery can feel intimidating, overwhelming, and esoteric. It is not uncommon to hear people turn over the care of their journey to the ministers. Now some of this is due to an unconscious projection on the minister. You hear it in phrases like “Of course they can preach. They went to Seminary. They were trained to do this. I could never be that articulate.” I have heard this many times and it always makes me sad.
Because the truth of the spiritual journey is that it is just about practice. When it comes to exploring the inner voice calling us to, I don’t have a special gift that others don’t have. We all have it. So over the years, I have tried to create a dynamic that shows what happens when people put in the work to the spiritual search. I called it the lay Ministry. You may have heard this term elsewhere. Sometimes people also use the term worship associates. But very often this role is little more than reading a meditation chosen by the minister. Maybe it includes welcoming the congregation and any newcomers.
I do something very different. In its simplest form, I teach people how to write and deliver homilies, which are mini-sermons. And every Sunday they preach with me from the pulpit. And while it looks like a preaching program, the real purpose is to inspire the people in the pews. When they witness a peer preach they begin to see how attainable it is and there is a swelling of desire for the spiritual search.
I have included a few homilies from Lay Ministers I have worked with in the past. Please take a listen. Each of these people said they could not preach. But they can and so can you. All it takes is a little training and a little practice.
The closet is a dark place by Will Sims
An image of nativity by Brigid Fox
47 Steps by Peg Hall
Grown up just like me by Peter Mockridge
Lay Minister UUTC
I was not at all a spiritually competent person. In the past, I have even been so uncomfortable with it that my friends, those who really know me, enjoyed watching me cringe at the use of words such as “intimacy” and “faith”.
Somehow Ian saw around that and invited me to participate in one of the most gratifying and incredibly healing experiences of my lifetime. By asking me to participate in the Lay Minister program, he gave me a key to a door into my own spiritual and emotional space. The key was there, I just had to use it. While I am sure no one experienced the program in the same way, we were able to nurse each other’s wounds, support each other’s creativity, understand each other’s hesitations, and push each other’s boundaries. I felt both safe and exposed.
During this experience, Ian was available. Knowing that each of us was vulnerable, as our choice, he was loyal to us and guided us in choosing expressions that reflected our selves in healthy and healing ways. We had many laughs, tears, and life-altering discoveries.
Sharing ourselves with the congregation in this deeply personal and authentic way made space for new relationships within our community. While not every homily was a big hit, the sincerity of reflection from others was full of a human richness that I had not known existed. While my motives may have been personal healing, the manifestations of my openness were kindness, compassion, interest, love within my community.
At the end of the program, when Ian moved on from his interim position, our service returned to using “readings” before the sermon. While these words are moving, I missed the personal connection of the one who’s heart from which they came. The readings seem to minimize the power of the community we have within our fellowships. What if we each were heard as important as Gandhi, Whitman, Levertov, Angelou? They often say “it” better, but context is so easily altered or misplaced.
Ian was so much more than our Lay Minister program. His ability to be personally attentive as well as professionally respectful was significant. He made himself accessible while also maintaining his own important boundaries.
Interacting with a community with so many varied needs seemed natural to him. He identified sources of conflict within our church and actively attended to them. I was impressed by Ian’s ability to incorporate the church’s financials so effortlessly, being personally engaged with the people he was speaking to and finding a comfortable approach with money. I was also witness to the growing attendance at our services when Ian was speaking. His sermons struck chords that resonated in our community and drew more and more folks in. Ian’s ability to be fearless in what he spoke about was powerful (and raised some eyebrows at times). It was both inspirational and challenging in our small town.
Ian’s time with our community was invaluable. What he taught me in the short months he was here will continue to fill me up. Doors within me have opened, and my journey is on a much more compassionate, beautiful, grace-filled, and celebrated path.