Thursday, April 20, 2023

Pulpits are made for preaching. . .

I had never thought about it much until dealing with a vacant congregation and the complaint about pastors who roam around when preaching.  The person, by no means elderly, had a hearing issue and every time the pastor moved, they lost part of what he said.  Part of their hearing was the visual of watching him speak.  For my part the antagonism against roaming preachers has largely been aesthetic but this gave me something to think about.  By most counts, 15-20% of all those over the age of 18 suffer some level of hearing loss.  It is a far more vexing problem than we admit and it is even more important to churches where the Word heard, applied, and understood is an absolute value.

Pulpits were created to assist the proclamation of the Word.  They do so by focusing the eye where the Word is proclaimed and preached.  They also did that by elevating the speaker and providing a sound board or solid surface behind him to help the voice make it to the ears of the hearers.  At some point we forgot all of that and pulpits became mere pieces of furniture, more for the appearance than for what they did.  It is a sad day that we began to think of the pulpit as an art design exercise more than a useful tool of the Word to aid the preacher.  Perhaps it began when church buildings started to be expressions of the imagination of the designers and builders more than the assembly of the faithful around the Word and Sacraments of our Lord.  Perhaps it is related to the advent of public address systems which tend to make the preachers lazy and rely more on the sound enhancement than the use of his voice and the locus of that voice in a pulpit.

I do not view this as a conservative or liberal issue but one of effective use of the tools for the preaching task.  Stay in the pulpit.  But do not hide in that pulpit as if it were a refuge.  Rather, use that pulpit as a tool and an aid.  It gives presence to the Word and the one who preaches that Word.  It draws attention to the solemnity of the Word that is preached and reminds preacher and hearer that this is not about the pastor or his opinions or his story telling ability or how well he entertains.  He is a servant of the Word and the pulpit can be an effective tool of the servant in his task.

Some may think it is cool to be set free to roam around but I think it feeds the preacher's ego as much as the pulpit can humble it.  We are here for a holy purpose and the Word entrusted to us is not something to be toyed with.  The sooner we learn this, the better.  I am all for serious preachers and serious preaching, for pulpits that display the gravitas of the Word preached from them, of pulpits that give visual weight and prominence to the importance of God's Word proclaimed and preached, and of the ease of our people both hearing and understanding what is preached.

My opinion may not count for much but I hope it gives people in the pew and those who should be in the pulpit pause.  If you have one of this itty bitty pulpits that is designed not to be seen, maybe you need to replace it.  Check with eBay or with any congregation near you that is replacing a sturdy wooden pulpit with a plexiglass unit fresh from the catalog of what is new and shiny.  In any case, use the pulpit and let it strengthen the preaching task as you come to terms with the serious business that preaching is.  Over time your people will come to appreciate you and your preaching even more.  

1 comment:

Archimandrite Gregory said...

Ah the case contra the peripatetic preacher. May suffer from ADA.