In which I preach

Oh, you know, just practice preaching into the washroom mirror with a stack of towels for a  pulpit. As one does.

Certain vocational milestones stand out in my mind. There was the day my grade two teacher typed up my first story and told me I should be a writer someday. My first article published in the school newspaper. The first time someone who did not know me in real life left a comment on my blog. The first time Rachel Held Evans shared one of my posts. The day I signed with an agent. The day I signed my book contract.

And now: the first time I preached in my home church on a Sunday morning.

(And yes, I’m purposely using the word “preach” – not the more acceptable words we women usually employ when we’re at the front of a church: “sharing” or “talking” even “ministering” perhaps. Preach. It’s a strong word, isn’t it? I want to reclaim the word “preaching” for women and so, as usually happens, I needed to take a walk down the road I’m encouraging other women to take.)

I have spoken at a few women’s events here and there, a couple of university class Q&As on writing or Christian feminism. And I love being with women, it’s one of my favourite things, a comfort place for me now. Of course, I am always nervous and worried and over-prepared, and then I go and end up falling in love with another group of women who love Jesus and want to love well. Church basements are my happy place. In fact, this past Saturday, I spent time with Hillside Community Church’s ladies and they were so warm, so friendly, so real, I could have hugged them all (and I did, in fact, hug a good many of them).


A few months ago, I met with our senior pastor and he invited me to preach this past Sunday.  I love our church‘s leadership team for many reasons but our pastor gave me yet another reason in that meeting: he wanted to make sure I knew that I didn’t have to preach a Jesus Feminist kind of teaching message. If I wanted to, fine, great, go ahead with full support.

But here I did not have to earn or justify or teach my way into my place in that pulpit because of my sex. In my church, it is settled, it is done: the gifts of the Spirit are not gender-based and he wanted me just to get up there and preach. So I did.

I wear all black when I’m nervous. It makes me feel stronger, like my voice and my face will earn the attention, not my wardrobe. So sure enough, on Sunday, I was in all black. I put on a leather bracelet from my friend Idelette‘s travels in Africa, and I wore my girls-with-swords necklace. It was the first time for Brian to hear me preach. He is a great preacher, and I still feel like this is backwards somehow: like he should be the one up there preaching while I sit in the front row. But here we are, and I think he’s more excited and comfortable with this turn of our life than I am, to be honest.

I made it through. I only cried one time about how much I love Jesus. Okay, fine, two times. (Maybe three.) I still get so weepy when I try to talk about Jesus. He’s so lovely to me. I preached about finding God in our every day lives, about overcoming our evangelical hero complex, and how our lives as they stand right now are an offering before God.

After a bit of time talking with friends afterwards, I came home and took off my black clothes, put on my grubby shorts. I went to my kitchen for a little food therapy: I made chocolate chip cookies and homemade pizza. Joe had a fever so I put him to bed for a nap with Evelynn while Brian and Anne ran a few errands to Canadian Tire. Annie lost another tooth yesterday morning and was busy writing multiple notes to the tooth fairy. Brian brought an iced caramel macchiato home for me, and we kissed in the kitchen. He said, “you know, I was surprised how good it was. You did really good, Sarah.” I knew what he meant and laughed, he was right. I was surprised how well it went, too.

Sunday was terrifying because I am already so keenly aware of my inadequacies and failings, of all the ways that I am still in process, still so painfully in need of grace and kindness and transformation. And this is not a “congregation” or a “crowd” – this is my community, these are my friends. These are the people who have loved me back into intentional Christian community after my long period of disassociation with the institutions of the Church. These are the ones who show up in my living room to pray every other Thursday night. These are the ones who don’t read my blog but we nursed our babies together in the Mum Room and they teach my children in Sunday school and hug me close when I show up. These are the ones in my real, walking-around life: there is no “acting the spiritual hero” here – they are well aware of my achingly normal self.

And Sunday was affirming. I felt profoundly thankful that I am part of a community that celebrates the callings and work of each other. It made me feel like I have their full support as if I am being sent out for the work of the Gospel, as if I’ve got a big family behind me cheering me on, as if I’m not a lone voice but part of a great company.

I’m preaching now because my husband, my family, my friends, and my community has identified this as a gift and calling in my life.  I do not have a big desire to preach in the abstract. And yet, I have had my moments: like when I got on stage and I started to talk and I feel like it’s a conversation, like I see every single face and I sense both God’s pleasure and each soul breathing. Sometimes it’s like I’m on fire, and I want to start laying on hands and praying and prophesying but I pace and I preach and I read Scripture, like I belong there somehow.

I don’t for one moment want to be a Preacher, not really. (And I’m not really good at it, not yet anyway. I have a lot to learn.) Instead, I want to be Sarah, I want to be God’s beloved one, to walk wherever he walks, and follow the scent of his presence, discern where he’s moving and move there.

And I want to keep telling stories about all the ways I see and experience and know his goodness in the world. Sometimes that looks like preaching on Sunday morning, sometimes that looks like blogging or writing a book, sometimes that looks like  bathing my babies, and tucking money under a little girls pillow with a note from the tooth fairy before I crawl back into bed with my husband and then it’s letting my sick little boy crawl into our bed at 1:30 in the morning and holding him close all night long while he snores in my hair.

It’s all a proclamation.


Updated to add: the audio is here. 

church, community, faith, fearless, journey

49 Responses to In which I preach

  1. Sarah Markley June 10, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    love this. love you.

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Thanks, Sarah. I knew you’d understand.

  2. Katherine Willis Pershey June 10, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    Lovely. Preaching is one of my most favorite things to do in all the world – so glad you got to experience that, and that it went well!

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Thank you for blazing the trail in your way, Katherine. You make me braver.

  3. James Prescott June 10, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    Brilliant, and especially love how your pastor wanted you to preach for you – not because you were a woman, not on woman’s issues or gender, just because you, Sarah, are gifted and called by God to preach. That is true equality. Wonderful.

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Exactly. Thank you for getting that, James!

  4. Jenn June 10, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    This gave me chills! So proud of you, you constanlty challenge me and inspire to be real and to keep growing.

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:09 pm #

      Thanks, Jenn- appreciate that! How’re you feeling these days?

  5. Linda Stoll June 10, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    you are rich in community as well as giftedness, my friend …

  6. Holli Carey Long June 10, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    Beautiful. I will also be preaching for the first time (in my own church or anywhere for that matter) this month, so your words are inspiring and personal. The idea of “preaching” vs. “talking” is profound…and hits home for me as both have been used to describe what I will be doing. I love your intentional use of the word “preach.” Thank you.

    I will also be doing the bathroom run-through, which was also suggested by a friend and pastor, but will definitely add the towel pulpit. Brilliant. Thank you for sharing that tip and this beautiful post.

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

      See, it’s the little tricks that matter. ;-) Go with God, Holli – we’re all cheering you on.

      • Holli Carey Long June 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

        Listening to your sermon now. And I’ll also be sharing from Luke 6 (verses 37-45) which I chose over a month ago. Thank you for sharing this beyond your church family. It has made an impression on me for sure. Beautiful and inspiring.

        Also, my favorite line…”the prophet disguised as my own mother”…

      • Holli Carey Long July 3, 2013 at 8:47 am #

        Just wanted to share that I did it! And it felt like my church gave me a warm, collective hug. (Many did so literally.) It was a beautiful experience, although something I never would have imagined I would/could do. Thank you for sharing your experience…it was an inspiration and perhaps some divine timing as I was writing and preparing. Thank you.

  7. sacwriter June 10, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    Sarah,I’m that annoying pastor from Sacramento who talked to you after the service while you were trying to get away from everyone to go pick up your kids from the children’s church :-) I just wanted you to know again that I appreciated what you preached about, especially the last part from Romans 12. Your story about how your mom was transformed by the “Bullfrogs and Butterflies” album was the topper and will stick with me a long time. My kinds loved that album growing up and to this day can sing every song (even though they’re all church cynics and would never actually sing the songs to anyone but themselves).

    I am actively working to train more women and release them to be preachers. Your example this morning encourages me that we will get there despite the opposition from many directions.

    Mike Phillips

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

      Not annoying in the least! It was nice to meet you in real life. And thank you for your advocacy, Mike. So appreciated. Best of luck as you edit your next book!

  8. Mandy June 10, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    You did great!!!! I’m happy your owning this opportunities. It was a wonderful message.

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      Love you so much – thank you for always being there with me in these moments.

  9. Jean June 10, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Um. Look at you! Is this the same person who said she hated, hated, hated public speaking? Preach on – in the name of our Savior!

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

      Same one! And kind of still do but here we go. God has a good sense of humour, apparently.

  10. Megan Gahan June 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    I shouted a little *hallelujah* in my kitchen when you purposely used the word preach. Seriously and divinely awesome. Love you that much more. Congrats on making it through … I’m sure it was amazing!

  11. ChristieEsau June 10, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    I love when all the backwardsness of how Jesus lived spills over into the now; when the opposite of what we expect, or are told to do, is really what Jesus wants most for us. And what a blessing to be freely invited to preach! That pastor of yours sounds like a good one.

    Moving mountains one pebble at a time. Blessings Sarah!

    • Sarah Bessey June 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm #

      He is a good one. We have a wonderful team all the way around. And You are right on, Christie – one pebble at a time. Love that.

  12. Charlotte June 10, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    First of all, I love you and I’m so proud of you! I love that you’re taking hold of the word “preach”. I preach to myself all the time (one of the perks of living alone, LOL). I love that picture of the towels and the mirror, it reminds me of practicing my conducting in front of my vanity.

  13. Anonymous June 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    ahhhh the last line. amazing.

  14. Nancy June 10, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    Good for you! I’m so glad you found a home church where you can belong and be welcomed to preach. Sorry to have missed it.

  15. pastordt June 10, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    YES. It’s all a proclamation. But I’m thrilled that you preached. Thrilled. Would love to hear it.

  16. Michelle Scott June 11, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Hey Sarah so I clicked on the link to listen to your talk – jumped up in bed and shouted at my husband – SARAH BESSEY IS PART OF THE VINEYARD!!!! We lead a vineyard in Northern Ireland and one of my fav things to do is preach/teach/talk infact I was doing the same as u on Sunday. I remember my first few times speaking wearing black too (I feel invisible in black) I love your blog, I love your raw honesty and passion and just everyday ordinariness and now I love that I are a part of our bigger vineyard family. God Bless you Sarah, keep leading the way x

  17. Susan Dominikovich June 11, 2013 at 4:28 am #

    I had a wee chuckle when I read this…I was asked to “share” a couple of years ago on mother’s day at our church. I assumed by “sharing” that I was doing a short devotional but thankfully discovered that I was indeed the only speaker. As a teacher and writer, the idea of “sharing” in church was a bit insulting to be honest, so I preached. Loved it too.

  18. HopefulLeigh June 11, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    Job well done, friend. Proud of you for living out this part of your calling.

    And as to what you’ve written here, this line especially resonates right now: “I want to be God’s beloved one, to walk wherever he walks, and follow the scent of his presence, discern where he’s moving and move there.”

  19. cjdeboer June 11, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    You look good up there Sarah! I love this: “I want to be Sarah, I want to be God’s beloved one, to walk wherever he walks, and follow the scent of his presence, discern where he’s moving and move there.” Soooooo good!

    I’d love to listen to you preach sometime…maybe at Relate….? :-)

  20. jennieallen June 11, 2013 at 10:39 am #

    Hear you. Love you. With you preacher girl. I also love watching you thrive in the deep end. You are even doing little tricks out there. xo

  21. Carissa June 11, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    Thank you for standing up there and speaking of the everyday reality miracles of life. Spilled Rice Krispies and all! He has been filling you in all those hidden wilderness years and now you just have to open your mouth and it comes out! Divine appointment for us to be there — what a first time visit!

  22. Amy Thedinga June 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

    I love this Sarah. You have given beautiful expression to exactly how I feel. I feel a calling to preach stirring within me, but at the same time, I feel a calling to be a wonderful mama, and wife, and friend. I think there’s a general sense of unease among women that these things may be mutually exclusive. Probably from long entrenched ideas about gender roles. Come to think of it, those ideas that hold us back have probably been put in our path by design to do just that – and they’re not from God. Thank you for this, I am encouraged.

  23. pastordt June 11, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    thanks so much for the link – that closing story is tremendous. never discount the gift of a babysitter who loves like God loves. wow.

  24. Jacqui Buschor June 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Sarah, I’m so glad that you had this experience and that it was so positive for you. For so long I’ve read women like you are and Rachel share struggles and pain of feeling undervalued by the church and though I tried to sympathize, I never really really understood until recently.

    I’m with you. I don’t have a strong desire to preach. But my pastor has a strong desire to get me in the pulpit. He’s been a wonderful cheerleader and encouragement in what has turned out to be a challenging journey since he realize (what I kind of knew) that though he is supportive of the idea, the powers that be above him are not.

    And for that reason, I rejoice with you, so glad you are feeling confident about it. And am thankful with you for the women and (especially) the men who support and encourage us to live into our gifts, whatever they may be.

  25. Miles O'Neal June 11, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    Awesome church. Awesome pastor. Awesome Sarah. Awesome writing. Great combination!
    Thanks for being you no matter what.

  26. Kathy_cavan June 12, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Sarah I love your blog and am inspired by it. Thank you

  27. Catherine Denton June 12, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    This whole post connected deeply with me. Thank you.

  28. Lisa June 13, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    It’s all a proclamation…

  29. Stephanie Nelson June 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    My goodness. I feel like you just described the first time I was asked to preach and how I felt about it, too. My goodness.

  30. Lindsey June 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    My best friend has been struggling with if she will ever be able to preach (our church tradition is very restrictive towards women) despite her clear gifting to do so. I sent this to her because you said what I didn’t know how to. Thank you for that.

  31. Grace Elizabeth June 16, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    That necklace, Lisa Bevere? I’m with you on this one, preached for the first time last month, which was BIG for a 16 year old, and amazing grace from my church family to have me, and after so many called it out of me as a gift, but I agree with you. I don’t want to be a Preacher, I want to be Grace “I want to be God’s beloved one, to walk wherever he walks, and follow the scent of his presence, discern where he’s moving and move there.” You are so awesome. Keep going, keep stepping out of the boat to meet Him there!


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