My church looks more like an Erector Set with icons. Our choir director, Chuck Simerick doubles as the lead contractor leading the Saturday building sessions and weeknight work. It is amazing to see how we have gutted the place and put up these metal studs. After a while, there will be some drywall up as well. We have all been busy giving our hands in labor. This certainly is not an overnight process. In fact, we won’t be finished for a few months still. But, nothing worthwhile takes place in an instant. Try to microwave a 4 lb. Boston Butt and smoke another for an hour per pound at 250 degrees and see which one is edible. In speaking of new structures, the Virginia Chapter of the Brotherhood of St Moses the Black will hold its First Symposium on Saturday, September 4th at 4 pm! I am excited that my church will be hosting the event in spite of our work. In fact, I think it is symbolic that this movement to introduce the ancient faith to African-Americans, which is a work in progress, is having its first event in a work in progress. I am also excited that Sub Deacon Paul Abernathy of FOCUS Pittsburgh and the St. Moses Mission will be the guest speaker. This brother is articulate, inspiring, and filled with the grace of God! Don’t take my word for it. Check out the speech given a couple of years back. Better still, meet with us at Hampton for the symposium! Meeting Bishop Thomas last year, he said he’d be interested in an informal meeting with my (then) congregation and others in my area. I am still very interested in forming this structure; a bridge of dialogue between the African-American Baptist and the Orthodox Church. A Pentecostal Apostle and and Orthodox Archpriest in New York have done that with two East-West Meet & Greet sessions. Perhaps in October, I can bring this idea up again. We will see if God is willing. Yet, as their is a need for some new structures, I am glad to experience something that is (and should be) without change. I remember on first Sunday mornings how my grandfather prepared the communion. Deacon Joseph (“Daddy Joe”) didn’t say much when he did it. It seemed that he had his mind fixed on the task at hand. He cut the crust off of a few slices of bread and cut them in what seemed to be perfectly measured little squares. Daddy Joe had a glass bottle with some sort of bulb and tube thing on it where when he squeezed the bulb, the perfect amount of grape juice came out into each cup. Though a symbol of the body and blood to the Baptist, he prepared the Lord’s Supper with reverence. With no iconostasis blocking my view, I got a chance to watch Fr. James prepare the Eucharist. It was as if the spirit of my grandfather was right there as Fr. carefully prayed the prescribed prayers in preparing the body and blood of our Lord. The bread came from the oven of one of our members and was broken with the name of each one of us in mind and a few for any visiting Orthodox guest. The wine and water mixed appropriately as prayers were constantly offered as part of the process. Bishops and priest have been preparing the Lord’s Supper in the same spirit of reverence since the days of the Apostles. There is no Eucharist, Communion, or Lord’s Supper without reverence from the one who prepares and the one who receives. It is better not to take it at all than to take the literal (or even symbolic) body and blood of Christ with an attitude of spiritual complacency. These are holy gifts which should not be taken lightly. That we are able to serve (ordained clergy) and receive them is of the great grace of God. When we cheapen them by having the wrong frame of mind; we cheapen grace, ourselves, salvation, and God. May this not be so with us. Please, be in prayer before, during, and after partaking of this meal. As we say in our Divine Liturgy, “The Holy Things Are For The Holy.”
Then David took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook. He put them in a shepherd’s bag to store away, and in his hand was his sling. He then approached the Philistine.
I Kingdoms 17:20 (Orthodox Study Bible)
I Samuel 17:40 (Western Bibles)
One of the great pitfalls of preaching is that we want to sound like someone else who is very popular. In my recent e-mail exchanges with Archbishop Puhalo, I am reminded of lessons learned from the AME Bishop Adam Richardson about Prophetic Sermon Preparation. I am called to preach with my own voice, the one God gave me. I have always admired the wisdom and sermonic pace of Gardner C. Taylor. Other than him and perhaps one or two other “old school” preachers, I don’t try to follow anyone’s style. Even with those giants of the pulpit, I am well aware of my limitations. I lack all of their education. I have tried from time to time, but, I cannot “whoop” (the expressive pattern of repetition and tone usually found in African-American preaching). So, I tend to study the text that I am going to preach from for a couple of days, create an outline similar to the one described in my last post, and proceed to write a manuscript.
Call and Response worship is a hallmark of the Black American Church. We preachers expect to hear some “Amens” during the sermon. The problem is when we focus too much getting a response from the congregation and not enough on the content of our messages. We wind up preaching stuff that is only meant to draw responses, or bury our good messages with an overabundance of response begging, especially toward the end of the sermon. I confess, I like to hear some responses as much as the next preacher. But, my task is to declare the Gospel without stroking the needs of my ego.
On Good Friday, seven ministers of the Pamunkey Baptist Association gave seven minute sermons on the seven final words of our Lord as he was being crucified. My contribution to the service went over well enough. It was brief (even shorter than my allotted time), insightful, and did get a response though not the loudest nor most enthusiastic. But, this was a service and not a competition. If I simply apply myself to crafting a good message under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I need not concern myself with time limits nor responses. The advice I got from my former campus minister, Rev. Adrian Arnold, will be my guide for the pulpit, “Always be genuine in your faith.”