For the season of Epiphany, I took a cue from my time as a seminary intern at First United Methodist in Huntsville, Alabama, and I preached my first sermon series. Now let’s be honest, this is not my natural inclination. Trust me, I was more than a bit uncomfortable taking this leap. However, during my time as a rector thus far, I have found it refreshing to rethink how I am communicating with my parishioners. And a shorter season of Epiphany seemed the perfect time to try to teach in this new way.
Knowing that there was so much to celebrate in Epiphany for St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church—a confirmation, reception, installation, and my first annual meeting—, the theme of the Body of Christ kept sticking out in my mind. How are we each a needed member of the Body? What unique gifts and talents to we bring to the table? Where are we in need of each others’ strengths to counterbalance our limitations? Epiphany became a celebration of the Body of Christ as outlined in our Baptismal Covenant, because each one of us lives into this covenant slightly differently. Yet together, as Christian community, we continually empower one another for this work of discipleship. So a sermon series on the Baptismal Covenant was born!
Here are some insights I gained throughout the course of this recent sermon series:
- Plan: Yeah I know this is easy for a MBTI “J” to say, but in all honesty, I am usually horrible at planning ahead on my sermons. They are usually written on Friday/Saturdays, with not much forethought past Monday. My rhythm has shifted immensely since preaching every Sunday. I am finding it harder and harder to plan ahead and to keep the well of creativity full, but I had to discern whether the lectionary work with my sermon series. So the week after Christmas I sat down, read all the lessons for the Sundays in Epiphany, and mapped out which question of the Baptismal Covenant aligned the best with which readings. And let me tell you, my preaching was better for it. My sermons were written that much quicker and with that much more creativity because I had already taken even just a little time for reflection on the weeks ahead.
- Communicate: Have a communication strategy in place. For example, every Sunday morning during announcements, I would remind those present in the pews about our the series, tying it in with our communal celebrations during Epiphany. I also started the season with an email to the congregation, filling them in on our theme for Epiphany and how that related to everything going on: from our Sunday forum, to our annual meeting, to our sermon series. Everything was focused on our theme: “The Body of Christ: Exploring our Baptismal Covenant.” However, looking back, I could have done more in the way of communication. I wish I had made a flyer, or sent out weekly emails, or done a better job at advertising our theme. This is one of my growing edges in congregational life—making sure there is a cohesive communication strategy, not only for the community as a whole, but for every event we offer. Communication connects so strongly to evangelism and hospitality and is vital to the health of a congregation.
- Pray: Seriously, pray. Pray while meditating on Scripture. Pray while considering what your congregation might need to hear, their pastoral concerns. Pray for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For me, it was a prayer of remembering that I can just preach it. My prayer was more often than not, to let go of my anxiety and insecurity and to actually leave space for the Spirit to flow through me and use me as a vehicle to communicate God’s love. I’lll be honest, I struggle with this almost every week. And sometimes, I just got to “walk the dog,” as I was reminded over and over again in homiletics class. Yet the more I use this tactic, the more I realize that the tactic itself is a form of prayer. To “walk the dog” means to to preach a sermon well (even if I do not particularly like it), because God may have a word for someone in the congregation of whom I am unaware. Such a moment of vulnerability is overwhelming trust in God.
So if you are considering preaching a sermon series, go for it! I found it rewarding beyond measure. Not only did my congregation deepen their understanding of the Episcopal Church’s beautiful Baptismal Covenant, but I did as well! And when all of those celebrations came around, I felt like we were all on the same page as a congregation. We all knew why we were celebrating. We all knew that we were all needed as perfectly imperfect members of the Body of Christ. We all renewed our commitment to Christ and to one another.