Not My Words

“The bread of life.”

“Ashes to ashes . . . ”

“Those whom God has joined together . . . ”

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Pastors lead people through moments of immense personal and communal significance, and the pressure to deliver the right words in those moments is significant. I share a recurring nightmare with many of my clergy colleagues in which a bride or groom’s name is either mispronounced or forgotten, or in which the we suddenly forget all the words during a baptism or communion.

What puts me back to sleep after waking from these nightmares is remembering that, at these occasions, the words I have to say are not mine but the church’s. They are the words the church has uttered at the graveside and the font and the table long, long before I got here to say them with my hard-won combination of earnestness and self-effacing delivery. Thank God for that.

There are really important moments of leading in a church when the primary task is to let words you didn’t come up with do the work they have always done in the company of the faithful and to get your personality out of their way.


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