moneychangers in the pulpit

black_lab_eyes“Ouch!” The tree limb I’d just walked into didn’t do any real damage, but it did startle me. Recoiling from the branch, I nearly fell over our dog, Lillie. “Hey!” she protested, “what are you kicking me for?” (Lilly often speaks to me telepathically) “You’ve been distracted for weeks now, and now it’s affecting me. What’s going on?”

“Oh, it’s just this UU Sermons To Go thing, girl. I’m worried about how it will be received. I’ve taken plenty of risks in my life, but they’ve usually been economic. This feels different. It feels like I’m risking my reputation.”

“You’ve got a reputation?” Dogs don’t usually laugh, but Lillie has a particular snort I know means that she is amused.

“Well, okay, I’m afraid that people won’t like me anymore. I’m afraid that my colleagues will think I’m poaching their pulpit supply gigs. I’m afraid that the congregation will think I’m taking too much time from them. I’m afraid that the whole UUverse will condemn me for selling something that should be free.”

“That’s a lot of fear. If you’ll give me one of those liver treats, it’ll help me think all that through.” It is a sign of how distracted I was that I gave it to her without making her at least sit, or spin, or do some other trick. “Okay, let’s take these one at a time. You said your colleagues are afraid of being poached?”

“I know a lot of ministers who have to do other jobs to make ends meet. We do weddings, we do funerals–and we preach in other congregations. Every service I sell is one less opportunity for a colleague to make a living. It’s one less opportunity for a minister to feed hir dog!” I thought that last bit might sober Lilly up, but I was (as usual) mistaken. “I thought your Sermons To Go was an alternative to downloading sermons from the internet.”

“Yes. Sometimes, busy lay leaders don’t have time to write compelling services on their own, so they download a sermon and read it to their congregation–with attribution. But this is a whole service, not just a sermon, and it has date-specific information, to make it more interesting and more timely. I think it’s a valuable resource.”

“So they download one less sermon from the internet. How does that affect other ministers?”

“A worship committee might choose to buy and read two UU Sermons To Go services, instead of paying a minister to come preach live once.”

“Aren’t live sermons better than sermons read by other people?”

“Well, I try to make them so they’re still effective for virtually anybody to read, but yes, live sermons *are* generally better.”

“Haven’t you said that the more people who hear high-quality, intellectually stimulating, emotionally moving worship services, the better it is for the world?”

“Yes.”

“Then if people find your services good enough to read them, instead of paying another person to preach live, why is that a problem? Are your colleagues’ egos really that fragile? Or is this maybe more about your own need to be loved?”

I made a mental note to put Lillie in another room, when I called my psychotherapist, from now on. “Okay, I hear you. Can we move on?”

“Well, another treat would help.” This time, she had to spin *and* shake hands. “Okay, your second concern was your congregation feeling neglected.”

“Right. Even though I will take the ‘S2G’ sermons and customize them for First Church, so it really won’t require me to do much more work, it’s more of a perception thing. I don’t want them to *feel* neglected.”

“And what’s a good way to prevent them from feeling neglected?”

“Put in the work there, and be fully present in every conversation I have, so they truly feel valued and connected.”

“So, if you’re doing that, will it really matter how you spend your ‘free’ time?”

“If I give you another liver treat, can we move on?”

“Now you’re catching on. The last thing was something about ‘sermons want to be free’?”

“I worry that people will think that I’m ‘selling out.’ If it is important to expose as many people as possible to good UU sermons, then doesn’t selling them restrict the number of people who will see or hear them? Doesn’t this reinforce the classism inherent in our consumerist society? Do only the rich deserve good sermons?”

“Wow, can you overthink things. Do you still put your sermons on your blog, after you’ve preached them?”

“Much of the time, yes.”

“And does the church put podcasts of your services online?”

“I believe they do, yes.”

“And, if people buy the sermons, doesn’t that actually *increase* the number of people who hear your services?”

“You’re not…what if this sets a precedent? What if everybody starts charging for their sermons?”

“Then you will have an argument for going guerilla, and posting free sermons. Until then, how many sermons are online, today, free for the downloading?”

“Thousands. Tens of thousands, maybe.”

“So we’re back to you needing to be loved?”

“It’s not that uncommon an issue, you know. And I have made a ton of progress on it.”

“Enough progress to stop walking into trees, and faling onto your best friend?”

“Yes, Lilly. I think so. Thank you for your help.”

“You are most welcome. Now could you throw that ball in your other pocket?”

 

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