Preaching. I went to seminary adamant that I was not going to preach. Not having to take a homiletics course (and Greek and Hebrew) was a small reason as to why I decided to pursue an MTS degree instead of the MDiv (the real reason was the MTS gave me 56 elective hours so I could choose the larger portion of my curriculum). But I went to seminary knowing that I wasn’t called to preach. I felt fully called to children’s ministry, and I honestly didn’t think much about ministry beyond working with children.
After taking a worship course, however, I realized that I like planning worship. It felt very similar to lesson planning, something I felt very comfortable with after five years as a public school teacher, and I began wondering if my ministry might include something other than children only.
Then the pastor of my home church suggested that I take a homiletics course. I brushed off his suggestion, adamant that I wasn’t going to preach. I soon began searching for a call to a church and had conversations with the coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. He also suggested that I take a preaching course. It is a bit harder to brush off your state’s CBF Coordinator who is trying to help you find a ministry position, so I found myself signing up for what I thought was a homiletics course titled “From Text to Sermon.” The course focused more on exegesis and less on homiletics. While the course didn’t fully help prepare me to preach, it did was offer me a chance to begin changing my mind on preaching. After several weeks, my professor commented on my sermon outlines and wrote that he felt I was finding my voice more with each passing week. He encouraged me to think about exegetical work outside the context of children. In the midst of this course, I was asked to preach for Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preahcing at my home church. I told them that I wasn’t ready just yet to preach but I held open the possibility of “maybe next year.”
In August 2017, my home church called me as minister to children and then ordained me in October. My now senior pastor returned to the conversation about Martha Stearns Marshall Sunday. Still feeling some hesitancy, I agreed to preach.
I felt supported as my preaching was announced in the newsletter. Many members were surprised–some of them were still adjusting from seeing me as a child turned lay member turned minister, but they were supportive. As nervous as I was about preaching, I was encouraged by my community’s response–or at least I was encouraged until our minister of administration told me about what he would share in his welcome for worship on the Sunday I would preach. He planned to explain the purpose of Martha Stearns Marshall Month and remind the congregation that I was in seminary with a 2018 anticipated graduation date and that I was Rev. Anna Burch, an ordained minister. He planned to include this information in his welcome because an older gentleman church member had asked him how I was qualified to preach. The man’s question unnerved me. People’s words about my preaching had been so positive, so affirming, that I had forgotten that there might be some who would not like that I was going to preach or who would question me as a preacher.
After a lot of heartburn and a foiled attempt at practicing in a silent church, I preached my first sermon. My church members, my church family, my community were affirming and supportive. But the most important lesson I learned in the midst of preparing and preaching was something I had discovered during my call process–you have to focus on the much greater good and positive and try to ignore as best you can the negative. Goodness is all around. God’s faithfulness abounds. And God’s goodness and faithfulness are the things to cling to and focus on.
Anna Burch is the minister to children at First Baptist Church, Greenwood, South Carolina. She is currently working on her Master of Theological Studies degree at Iliff School of Theology, with an anticipated graduation date of June 2018. Anna also teaches at First Baptist’s Cheerful Cherubs preschool.