I had never preached. On a couple of occasions, I had shared my testimony at the Sunday night church service, but I had never preached. Matter of fact, other than in my seminary’s chapel service, I had never heard a woman preach. So there I stood in front of a group of fellow seminarians with a sermon manuscript in my hand and no prior preaching experience. Speaking in a soft voice with my eyes glued to the manuscript, hesitantly, I started reading. Without warning, from the back row, the preceptor called, “Miss Abee, please assume the authority of the pulpit.” That got my head up. Assume the authority? I had no idea what he meant, but I started again. Soon the voice called, “Miss Abee, please assume the authority of the pulpit.” With confidence I didn’t feel, I read the last page of my sermon. After class, my preceptor offered this instruction, “Miss Abee, you have been called to ministry. God has given you the responsibility to say what you know about God. When you step into the pulpit, you are to embrace your calling and say what you know. That is your responsibility as a preacher.”
The preceptor changed my understanding of preaching in that short explanation. Prior to that moment, I thought preaching revolved around being loud, authoritative, and in charge. Senior pastors were those who preached, and all the senior pastors I knew were middle-aged white men with doctorates. I was a twenty-something-year-old female in her second year of seminary. Could I preach? Turns out the question was not “Could I?” but “Why was I not claiming my role as preacher?”
The preceptor did not question my gender or my lack of preaching experience. He questioned why I did not take the task seriously and offer my voice to God. Thank goodness he only had to tell me once. I am ever so grateful for his instruction as I learned the art of preaching. At each class meeting, he sat in the back row so we had to project our voices. Always he questioned our presence and presentation. But after that one time, he did not have to question my intention to preach faithfully to my calling.
Learning to preach takes many repetitions because you have to find your voice and style for the sermon to be authentic. And preaching requires vulnerability. You have to tell what you know about God both relationally and academically. But preaching does not require one to be of a certain gender, age, or status. Preaching is serious business because it reflects our sincere desire to live out our calling to God. I will always be thankful for my preceptor who challenged me to assume the authority of the pulpit.
I will always be thankful for the churches who asked women to preach for Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. Because these churches asked women to assume the authority of the pulpit, women preachers received an opportunity to develop and hone their preaching voices. And more people saw a woman proclaim the Word of God, so there are fewer stories of “I’ve never heard a woman preach before.” I am thankful for these congregations who honor the call of women and challenge women to speak faithfully of their calling.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.