Recently a friend passed on a collection of stories from a Church of England vicar about various happenings in his ministry. Some of them were highly amusing and they triggered all manner of memories from my own ministry some of which should probably be kept hidden (and will be).
My students sometimes ask me what my most embarrassing preaching moment has been. I look back to my days as a seminary student when I was chosen to preach at a large, prestigious church in the South of England. For their Annual College Day they operated a rota system between several seminaries including my Baptist one. The lot fell on me. I received a sheaf of instructions through the mail, giving precise service details - where I should stand and what I should say throughout the highly liturgical service. I was also instructed to wear my gown and academic hood.
I tried not to be stressed out but I was still very inexperienced and certainly hadn't met quite so many instructions before. Trussed up in my only dark suit, tight-fitting white shirt, gown and hood I managed to get through the service until the moment I ascended the small pulpit. I was hit head-on by a brilliant shaft of sunlight. Able only to grimace at the sombre congregation I launched into the first sentence: 'There is one word which strikes us with so much famillach, so much framillary, so much FRAMILARRRLYUGH.' Each time I stammered it out I gave increasing emphasis and made less and less sense. On the fourth desperate attempt I gave up all together and lamely said, 'Well, you know what I mean?' There was not a flicker of response anywhere as the sun picked out the beads of sweat on my forehead. I plunged onwards. As I reached the bottom of page 1 I turned over to find page 3 upside down. Stupidly I tried to move on while surreptitiously shuffling the pages only to discover all four were out of order. Reaching the eventual sermon conclusion was a moment of sheer relief, felt even more by the congregation than for me.
This experience was near the beginning of a long learning curve that I am still on. However, I resolved I would never use the word 'familiarity' in the first sentence of a sermon!