I remember the first time I spoke from a pulpit. It was in my last year of high school. It was a New Years Eve service, which traditionally was a sharing service. Anyone could get up and share something that God had done in their life. I remember the darkness of the building…it was very big, and even with the lights on it was sort of cavernous and shadowy. It was a smaller group than the normal Sunday service, and there was a feeling of joy in the meeting, which was memorable since most services were very solemn and serious. I don’t remember at all what I shared. I know that I had prepared something and took a piece of paper up with me. What I do remember very clearly are the rows of upturned faces. The quietness into which I spoke. The attentiveness. The respectful listening. I had something in my heart about God that I wanted to share, and these people were listening to me. They really listened.
I didn’t run out right then and there and aim to be a pastor. That took around 25 years. But that evening I learned that I was part of the community not just as a listener, but as someone with a voice.
I am thrilled that this Sunday the youth will be in charge of our worship service. I look forward to hearing their voices. I am thrilled when I hear the voice of a young person speak in a membership or church council meeting, when they get up in sharing time, or when they participate by reading scripture. It’s hard to do that sometimes, to get up and participate. I am thrilled because their voice is important, and they are finding their voice in our community.
What I also remember about that first time in the pulpit, is that afterwards people thanked me for sharing. Not just adults I knew, and talked to, like my youth sponsors, but people who had never talked to me before. Suddenly I felt that maybe there was a place for me in this community called the church.
Finding a voice is a two-way process. It’s looking inside and seeing something there that needs to be said, but it’s also looking outside and sensing that people are listening, and want to hear you. Let’s remember that this Sunday.
The Mute’s Testimony
I can’t pray aloud
My tongue flaps
but no sound takes shape.
Can a voiceless prayer
When I pray
an enormous ear strains to hear me
my tiniest thought.
from “Jesus” by Yorifumi Yaguchi
translated by Ross Bender, Pinchpenny Press, 1989, pp. 21-22.