Two firsts

As if this week wasn’t big enough – what with the job leaving and house moving – Sunday saw me give my first ever proper sermon at church. I may have spoken in churches before, usually for work in a “we’d like a talk about world mission” context, but this was my first time in my church and the first time I’d had to prepare something on a specific passage.

Preparation went fairly smoothly (it certainly helps when you get told 3 months ahead of time) and I managed to get a fairly comprehensive draft done before I went to France. Well, I kind of needed to, given as I was getting home less than 24 hours before the service was due to begin. I got a bit of extra work done thanks to an unnerving habit I have of waking up early on holiday, so got half an hour to myself several mornings in a row. Sat outside in the beautiful countryside with just me for company was blissful – if only we’d had a kettle with which to make tea… (Do you know how hard group holidays are for introverts? Especially an introvert rooming with two extroverts who talked non-stop?!)

My night-before-sermon preparation was slightly hampered by post-holiday blues, the distraction of photo editing, and minorly traumatic phone calls with friends, but by the time I got to church super early, all was serene. In fact, I was so serene that even a minor technical difficulty meaning a YouTube video I’d chosen couldn’t be shown didn’t floor me. Plus, there were bacon sandwiches. How I love my church and their pre-morning service bacon sarnies…

Preaching on a passage that ends with the line: “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” was an interesting one. Anyone preached much on vomit before? Actually, I decided to go with a theme of calling, which is apt both for Jonah and my life – and hopefully relevant to the few people who actually turn up at church on a Sunday morning in mid-August.

The talk itself seemed to go ok. In fact, I was just getting into my stride when a couple walked into the church and sat down near the front. Soon after this, I could hear murmurings and mumblings. Initially, I thought it was someone from my student small group being funny, then figured that even they wouldn’t be that childish. I’m not sure if I connected the noises with the latecomers until one of the pair got up when I was around two paragraphs from the end.

He didn’t stand up and leave quietly – this was no parent going to rescue a screaming child from crèche – he stood, yelled something along the lines of “this is all bollocks” and walked out noisily. It was my first sermon and someone had just walked out swearing – I’m not sure that’s a great start to a glittering career in the priesthood! But, I carried on regardless, barely batting an eyelid and completely ignoring the disruption. The only effect it had upon me was causing me to completely forget how I’d intended to finish off the talk – as in my final sentence – but, given the circumstances, I think that’s ok.

It’s not the first time there’s been heckling at church, but it is very rare. The last time it happened was over two years ago and was so notable that I blogged about it. On that occasion, the speaker paused and interacted with the heckler because he was being so disruptive – I’m just glad mine decided to leave. But what is the right thing to do? Ignore them? Engage with them? Tough call.

I think I made the right decision and, on the plus side, it gives me an excellent story for a subsequent sermon. But honestly, what are the chances of one’s first sermon being interrupted by a heckler? What do I do to deserve such things? One friend announced on Sunday afternoon that I was clearly destined for a glittering preaching career if someone had tried so hard to disrupt my first ever talk…I kind of like that way of thinking!

Oh, and if you’re at all interested, you can listen to the talk here.

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