Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nancy in a Pulpit

One of the last places I expected to find myself was behind a raised pulpit, looking out over a congregation. I had been sitting in the sanctuary during the prayers and hymns. Now I stood for my sermon. Yes, my sermon.

I left the Catholic church when I was 21 and haven’t attended any denomination’s services except for an occasional wedding or funeral. I have something like an allergic reaponsevto church services. Had I actually agreed to speak at Birmingham Unitarian Church in Michigan?

Thankfully, sitting behind me, waiting to take her turn in the pulpit, was our friend and church member Susie Symons. Susie, featured in Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully, had made the arrangements, and would deliver her half of the sermon next.

The week before, at Hospice Volunteer Services of Vermont. I felt comfortable, articulate, even inspired. Afterwards, as we gathered up the few books we didn’t sell, I told Becky, “This was so enjoyable we really ought to give more presentations.”

But in front of the Unitarians my inspiration vanished. I felt shaken in a way I don’t normally before an audience. I opened my mouth and out came a croak. I cleared my throat, coughed, and finally managed a hoarse sentence. I plunged forward, gaining confidence. But three minutes into my remarks, I remembered that this was NOT the moment for my sermon. I was supposed to have read a poem first. Only after Susie had read a second poem, was my sermon to begin.

At my chagrined glance, Susie waved for me to continue. When I finished, she stepped to the pulpit and shared both her poem and the story of Diane’s impact on her. Susie, who had confided how nerve-wracking public speaking was for her, gave the most eloquent, beautiful sermon.

In the social hall after the service, church members were warm, gracious, and generous in the personal experiences they shared with Becky and me and in the number of our books they bought. Then Susie and her husband John Glick (a world-famous potter who made ceramic containers for Diane's ashes) took us home for a fabulous Italian lunch, never once mentioning my rattled performance. John took the above photo of Becky, Susie, and me in their back yard. True friends, pictured here.


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