For the better part of eighteen years, I watched my father walk up to the pulpit every Sunday and talk. For more years than I would like to admit, I colored while he talked. I wrote notes to my friends in the pew next to me, worried about the boy in the pew behind me who I had a crush on, and even played on my phone when I could get away with it. I figured he was saying something important, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t getting at home, right?
I say that he “talked” from the pulpit, because I had yet to distinguish between talking and preaching. Recently, I “talked” from the pulpit for the first time. At Pintlala Baptist Church in Pintlala, Alabama, I climbed the steps to a pulpit, not to read scripture, not to give an invocation, not to place the children for a choir performance (although those are all important things), but to “talk.” Turns out that my father does a lot more than just talk up there. Preaching has never been something I have been particularly interested in doing, but when given the opportunity, I found that I couldn’t say no. I felt an excitement and an anticipation in being able to communicate something that was truly meaningful from a text, something that we would do well to remember and that carries an endless number of narratives and interpretations. I got to do that. I shared my interpretation of scripture with a congregation and talked about the way that the gospel has uniquely spoken to me in my life, and I had the opportunity to challenge others to see things from a different point of view, the way that I think Christ saw things.
After much debate, I settled on preaching about children. To be honest I struggled with this, not wanting to fit into anyone’s stereotype of what a female preacher would or should do. However, I quickly realized that the only disservice I could do to women in ministry would be to cater to society’s expectations in any way, whether it be reactionary or to purposely fulfill gendered expectations. What I really wanted to say was about children, and so that was what I preached about. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those like children, don’t you know?
What I gained from this experience was a profound sense of gratefulness that I had been raised by a family who made sure that I never doubted my abilities, because I was a woman or for any other reason. As I sat down in the pew after preaching and the pastor began speaking about the importance of Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching, I was struck by the importance of this day for me. I have always believed that women belong in the pulpit just as much as our male counterparts, but that has taken on new meaning since I have had the privilege of being in the pulpit. Although I realized a while ago that my father was doing a lot more than talking, preaching is one of the most empowering experiences I have had thus far in my life. I have a new-found respect for the men and women who step into the pulpit almost every Sunday, and I will forever be an even stronger advocate for women who step into the pulpit, whether it be one time or ten times or every Sunday, where she might have a child who colors in the pew who thinks her mother is just talking.
Kristen Pope is a first year student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. She serves as children and families ministries intern at Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.