For the last few months this has become my part time job in retirement or maybe my hobby.
I am finding enjoyment and meaning and satisfaction in spending my Sunday mornings driving to churches all over Ohio and “filling the pulpit.” I am becoming a professional “Guest Preacher.”
Today I went to a small church in northwest Ohio where about 50 people gathered to worship. I had been notified by one of the elders of the church six weeks ago, but had no contact with anyone from the church since. I hoped that they knew I was coming. The church was in a town so small there are no stop lights and as we entered you could not miss the impressive neon sign blinking in red lights: Guest Speaker: Margo Connor. (forgot the T) I was expected!
When I got there the song leader explained the order of service and I was to do the pastoral prayer, preach, words of institution at communion and benediction. Seemed pretty straightforward. It was only in the middle of the service as I stood at the pulpit to preach that I noticed several people mouthing “children’s sermon” and then she said: "oops! we forgot to put it in the bulletin." My first panicked thought was – am I supposed to do it? But no, a vivacious blond talked to the children about not being afraid to try something new and that God is always with you. Then she took a break to get something and brought out a pet Chihuahua named TACO. I didn’t quite see how it fit her message, but clearly it was a hit with the crowd and a tough act to follow.
One of the blessings/challenges of being the guest preacher is my husband. He really enjoys the drives to get to these churches and find it relaxing to spend the time together. As a former pastor’s spouse he really misses hugging “the old ladies” at church and I have to keep an eye on him to make sure he is not violating anybody’s boundaries!
The other challenge is that he is very hard of hearing. When we get to the church, the first question is about their sound system and frequently the answer for the deaf is “sit up front.” That is always a disappointment since these small churches are invariably full of older people.
I come to them as Guest Preacher. The guest part means that I am invariably welcomed by everyone who assures me that they are so happy that I am there. The guest part also means that I am aware of things you might miss when you are part of the church family. I see that the décor has probably not been changed in 30 years, I smell the moldy smell, I notice that nobody salted the walkway on a snowy day. I sense that this sanctuary that once may have been beautiful now seems quaint, musty and maybe a little sad.
And the Preacher part means that I bring the Gospel – the good news of God who never stops loving, growing, using, guiding, creating us. A message that I believe in and live by. After I preach we have communion and in that act and within the context of these welcoming loving people, I invariably experience the presence of God and a sense of peace.
Being a Guest Preacher is an intriguing role. There are moments in worship that are quirky and sometimes goofy and then there are moments of awe and inspiration. These churches are small and often the conversation around them is about “how long” they can keep going. They are supposedly dying. And maybe they are. But I am not their pastor helping them to discern their vision and their future. I don’t have to go to the Property or Stewardship or Christian education meetings or work with the Elders.
I am the Guest Preacher and I get to be with these faithful people as they continue to gather, to pray, to care about each other, to worship God. And wonder where God is leading them now. And for this Sunday – that seems to me to be enough.