Friday, August 2, 2019

An Embarrassing Story about Preaching in a Presbyterian Church

Before becoming an ordained pastor I was a Gideon and often spoke in various denominational services. When invited I would be asked to give a brief Gideon presentation or present a “full service,” meaning I was expected to deliver a sermon as well as a short Gideon presentation.
One Sunday I was assigned two morning services at two Presbyterian churches in the same small town named Old Presbyterian and New Presbyterian. I was to preach a “full services” at 10:00 a.m. to the New Presbyterian church, and at 11:00 a.m. to the Old Presbyterian church.
“Don’t be confused when you arrive at the buildings,” I was told. New Presbyterian is in the old building downtown. Old Presbyterian is in the brand new facility at the edge of town.”
“Was this a church split,” I asked. The answer was yes.
“Was it over building a new church facility?” I asked. The answer was yes with the explanation that the younger members wanted to stay in the old facility, and the older members wanting to move to a new location and build a brand new building.
“And yet,” I replied, “they still cooperate on occasion such as having a Gideon speaker come in the same day by staggering their services.”
“Oh no,” I was corrected. “That is their normal respective worship times.”
“Was the meeting time another point of contention in the split?”
“No, not at all. They have to stagger their services. Both congregations still use the same pastor."
The pastor was away when I showed up to the New Presbyterian in the old building. A deacon met me at the back and asked, “You do know, you have the full service, right?”
I nodded took my seat. Minutes passed as a I reviewed the order of service. I’d never been to a Presbyterian service before so I was interested in all the various prayers and scriptures in the litany. One caught my eye: The Prayer of Illumination. I wondered what this was.
More awkward minutes went by, and no one gave any announcements, no opening prayer was given, and I snuck back to the rear of the church and asked the deacon, “Am I supposed to invite someone specific to pray or say something before the church leaders begin?”
“I didn’t think you understood. You have the full service.”
“Yes, I know, I am preaching as well as giving a brief Gideon presentation.”
“Full service!” he insisted.
“You mean ALL the prayers?”
“Yes. Full service!”
“On the back of the program. Full service!”
Stunned, I asked trembling, “What about leading the music?”
Both of us in unison, “Full service.”
I slowly walked to the front, contemplating my predicament, then suddenly rushed back to him and whispered, “I’m so sorry, but you must tell me. What is a Prayer of Illumination?”
He explained with some exasperation that it was just a prayer that God would illuminate our hearts and minds, and not a specifically worded prayer.
I was terrified. I took the pulpit, made the announcements, opened with prayer, read the assigned scriptures. I said a Prayer of Illumination, read additional assigned scriptures and finally came to an item I recognized: The Lord’s Prayer.
Still trembling, knees knocking, I asked everyone to close their eyes and bow their heads and join me in the Lord’s Prayer as I began, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want….” Long pause. Oh my, I thought, I’ve started on the 23rd Psalm instead of the Lord’s Prayer. I’m so stupid.
But my mouth continued, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” Pause.
I can’t stop. I must start the Lord’s Prayer.
For the life of me, I could not remember the Lord’s Prayer. All I could think of was how embarrassed I was and how I hadn’t even preached but had already lost the congregation. A longer pause...
Suddenly a voice from a tiny little woman in the back pew broke the deadly silence, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”
We all joined her but as we said, “amen,” I could hardly stand to open my eyes and see the looks of bewilderment and lack of confidence the congregation had in me. I was mortified.
I finished my sermon, the Gideon presentation, and leading all of the songs, none of which I’d ever heard in my own Baptist church upbringing. Mercifully, the service ended.
I drove to the new building that housed Old Presbyterian. An old deacon met me in the new sanctuary,
“So you’re our speaker today?” I smiled and answered yes. “Now, you do know, you have the full service today?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I assume you mean I have the announcements, prayers, scripture readings, and I’m leading the music plus preaching and giving a Gideon presentation?”
“That’s right. Full service!” he replied. "You know a lot of speakers don't understand what's meant by that?"