Growing up as the son of a Presbyterian minister had its more interesting moments, I can assure you, but one thing that much of my upbringing lacked was an experience in racially diverse congregations. Presbyterians, not known to be a terribly diverse lot, tend to put the “W” in WASP, in my experience (and lest you griefers complain, I’m going to make like an Ivy League admissions officer and ignore the hundreds of thousands of Korean Presbyterians just so’s I can make a point). We’re mainly Persons of Pallor, so to speak, so it was with quite a bit of mirth that I listened to my father relay the following story to me.
Well, before the story, some backstory/serious caveating [if it’s not a word, I just made it one. -ed.]: I enjoy my father’s sermons greatly. I believe that he’s an excellent speaker and, as a child, constantly wondered why those other slackers all had Sunday morning radio shows while my father’s genius reached “only” the people in his congregation. A bit of filial piety, perhaps, but I still believe him to be an excellent preacher. He’s also a very structured one; his sermon “cheat sheets” are nigh-legendary, as they lay out the sermon in its thematic high points and 3 to 5 central tenets, all augmented with conveniently-placed fill-in-the-blanks so that those wishing to do so may follow along in aural and written form. He usually develops a word or phrase that captures the essence of his message and then repeats it at strategic points throughout the sermon, just to make sure that everyone gets the point, I suppose.
Back to the story.
My father recently developed a sermon that he was fairly excited about and one in which he sought to invoke the energy and excitement that is present in so many African American churches by laying claim to one of the stereotypical sayings that abound within the halls of black churches (if movies and TV are to be believed). And so he preached an entire sermon entitled “Can I Have A Witness!” He held forth at length on this point, repeating it each time it was called for in order to draw people in further. He finished the service on an emotional high, then walked down the church aisle after giving the benediction and stood at the rear of the church to shake hands and greet the departing parishioners in his typical fashion.
He was soon approached by an elderly white woman who praised his sermon thusly (and I’m paraphrasing): “Lovely sermon, Pastor, but, and I could be mistaken, isn’t it ‘Can I Get A Witness’?” My father said he just about died of embarassment on the spot, although he was quickly able to recover and have a good laugh about it.
I hear he may follow it up with a very special sermon entitled “Might I Perchance Trouble You For An Amen?”