It says on my business cards that I do “Lay Preaching and Pulpit Supply”. When I tell people I do pulpit supply this news is generally met with puzzled looks. I had one person ask what kind of supplies are in the pulpit and they hadn’t realized it was someone’s job to put them there. So after eight years now I just go to a standard ressponse of “I’m a supply preacher – you know, like a supply teacher, but for churches.” Then people seem to get it, or are at least polite enough to not dwell on it.
I didn’t know supply preaching was a thing until I started doing it. I had never really thought much about the people who came to preach when my regular minister was away on holidays. Then I became a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Once that was done I was told I was eligible for pulpit supply. I, too, had to ask what that was. When I was told I said sure – put me on the supply list. That was eight years ago and I’ve preached in many different churches and pulpits. I have blessed horses, done funerals, dodged bats, called ambulances, and prayed for potable water and indoor plumbing. It’s been scary, fun, holy and fulfilling.
I sort of hate to admit this, but I’m a bit of a BuzzFeed fan. It’s an easy, amusing read when I’m waiting to pick up teenagers. As I was walking up a creepy church basement staircase this winter I thought, “I could make a BuzzFeed list of 19 things that happen when you do pulpit supply.” Creepy staircase and basement would certainly make the list.
For me, pulpit supply is just part of life now. But until I started doing it, it wasn’t something I gave much thought to. Except perhaps to give a quiet sigh of relief when a guest minister was announced for the next week as I quickly adjusted my weekend plans since the minister wouldn’t know if I skipped church. I don’t think it is something many people or churches think about in an intentional way except when they need to schedule one. But it’s important – for the congregation and the guest preacher.
When my kids were little I had a roster of babysitters for them. I kept a binder in the kitchen with household rules, bedtimes, and information. Along with a $10 bill for a cab in case something went wrong. I probably left the babysitter over-informed, but I wanted to leave them with as much information as I could in my absence. Especially since it was in the days before cell phones were commonplace. As a supply preacher sometimes I wish that churches would treat their supply preachers as I treated my babysitters. Boy, some mornings what I wouldn’t give for a binder with helpful little tidbits of information. Like, after announcements, wait for a bit because Verna always announces all the birthdays and then we sing “Happy Birthday”. Information like that would save some awkward moments. Or what about the Sunday when a congregant had a seizure and we had to call an ambulance. Does your church have an emergency procedure? Of course we called 911, but then what? An elder and I decided to ask the congregation to stay seated so that the ambulance attendants would have room to move when they arrived. I had visions of paramedics and their stretcher swimming upstream through the crowd as they tried to enter the building at the same time as the congregation was leaving.
So I’ve been thinking about ways churches can support their guest or supply preachers. I’ve come up with 10 things so far, but I thought rather than a BuzzFeed style list, each was worth a post of its own. So for the next 10 weeks I’ll be posting my best tips on how to support your supply preacher.
Read the series here: