“What does Sherrad do when he’s away?”
Last year, I preached so often at other churches and missed so many Sundays at HCPC that the choir director had an easy time picking the “choir award” I would receive for our end of the year reception:
TO ALL WHO SHALL SEE THESE PRESENTS, GREETINGS: THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT, BY AUTHORITY OF THE SESSION, THE CHOIR OF HOMEWOOD CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH BESTOWS UPON
THE “HE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!” AWARD
ROBERT R. TURNAGE
CHEF DE CHŒUR
Amy thought it was hilarious.
I know most folks at HCPC know the answer to the question at the top this section is: “Sherrad’s away preaching.” But a lot of questions might remained unanswered: Where I was preaching? What text I was preaching? What was my sermon about? The subsequent posts in this blog series will hopefully answer some of those questions. I plan on posting some sermon manuscripts and short introductions to the churches I get to visit. (No, I don’t just reheat old sermons while I’m away…well, I try not to anyway…)
But I hope this introduction will answer another, maybe more pressing, question: “Now that Sherrad’s our associate, why does he still travel around preaching?”
It’s Part of a Cumberland Presbyterian Tradition
Many of the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were, at some point in their ministries, circuit riders. In the early 1800s, as the young United States expanded westward, there were far more settlers than there were available ministers. Add to this the increasing religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening, and the demand for ordained, trained clergy began to far outstrip the supply. Some denominations (most famously, the Methodists) were quick to respond, equipping itinerate preachers with expedited training and sending them out into the wilderness.
Others, like the Presbyterians, were slow to meet the demand, insisting that proper training of clergy and proper installation of pastors for properly established churches were more important concerns than the hysteria of revival. This reluctance to more rapidly train, ordain, and send preachers was a significant issue leading into the split of Cumberland Presbytery from the rest of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1810.
In three years, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church grew from three ministers to three presbyteries. Before and after this split, traveling preachers were a great benefit to Christians on the frontier:
“Away from all our friends, and in this then solitary place, we felt that we needed an almighty Protector. We sought the one thing needful as for goodly pearls. In 1800, we trust we both embraced that holy religion which has been our guide and comfort up to the present hour . The country was filling up rapidly; but there was no one to break to us the bread of life. O, how we did long to hear the blessed gospel preached!”
Franceway Ranna Cossitt,
The Life and Times of Rev. Finis Ewing
CHAPTER VI. “BY ORDER OF PRESBYTERY, ENTERS ON A CIRCUIT”
Is There Still a Need for Traveling Preachers Today?
The United States no longer has a frontier. The demand for clergy today is nowhere close to the early 1800s. There are plenty of creative, expeditious ways to train new pastors. Yet…
…solo pastors still take (and need to take) some Sundays off.
….some churches are transitioning between pastors without an interim.
…some churches can no longer afford to pay a full time – or even part time – pastor.
Just like in the early 1800s, sisters and brothers in Christ who are in these situations still long to hear the blessed gospel preached and to taste the bread of life broken. This necessitates some form of supply preaching – whether week to week or from an official Stated Supply.
Ok. But Why Sherrad?
Especially when he has a job at HCPC?
There are several personal reasons I like to travel doing pulpit supply: it’s challenging, it fulfills a real need, I can make some additional income for my family, I get more chances to preach (which, hopefully, leads to better preaching), it helps me learn more about our denomination (I’m still a CP youngin’!), it’s good to meet new people and make connections, etc.
But for all these personal reasons, I would not do it if it did not bring a real benefit to HCPC. I take seriously my responsibilities here, which is why my goal is always to keep my preaching travel to no more than one Sunday a month (not counting the occasional vacation, right?). My hope is that by traveling, I can benefit our church by:
- reminding us that the Holy Spirit is not just at work here but throughout Christ’s global Church
- reminding us that, as Presbyterians, we’re a connectional church, and those connections shouldn’t only be fostered by presbytery meetings twice a year
- building connections between our congregation and others through networking and – more importantly – greeting one another in the name of our common Lord, Jesus Christ
- learning from people of other churches ways we can improve our own (i.e., the way they welcome guests, their liturgies, their sanctuaries, the ways they care for one another, the ways they minister to the community, etc.)
- sharing with other churches the things we’re learning together at HCPC (which helps our reputation as a church)
- providing teaching – through this blog – that includes material outside of our regular Sunday series or Sunday School lessons
(Added to this last benefit is the fact that I normally preach from the Revised Common Lectionary while away. We don’t always use the lectionary texts at HCPC. One benefit of these sermons will be to connect us to the larger church. In reading these sermons, you’ll be reading about the same texts a large number of fellow Christians heard preached the previous Sunday – but HCPC didn’t.)
So, It’s a Win-Win for Everybody, Right?
I hope so. And I hope that by publishing the sermons I preach on this blog, the good folks at HCPC can see the benefits, too.
(Note: If you are from a church that’s not HCPC and you’re in need of a pulpit supply for a Sunday – contact me. Have Bible; will travel…at least once a month, anyway!)