So, I supply pulpits probably 15-30 times a year, and I’ve been doing it for nearly 18 years (even when I was a college chaplain, I’d supply on Sundays because we worshiped on Wednesdays). So, here’s my take on how to treat a supply preacher well. I know that anyone reading this probably already treats their subs well or else is totally not a preacher type, but I’m in a mood, so here we go:
I’m going to put this in first person, but I think my thoughts are more generalized.
1) When asking me to preach, please let me know:
- how much it pays (and if payment is at some time other than the day of preaching, let me know)
- what time the services are (yes, I can look on a website, but it’s just the right thing to do)
- when bulletin materials are due, to whom (name and email please–it’s truly awkward to write “dear church secretary”)
- what materials are due.
- If these materials include selecting hymns, please tell me which hymnal you use. If it’s not one I have or can find, please select your own hymns.
- If it’s at all possible, please have one of your members do the announcements (very hard to manage as a sub) and the children’s message (hard for kids to trust in and engage someone new).
- Let me know if you follow the lectionary or not. If not, please let me know (or tell me where I can find) recently preached texts.
- What is the range of sermon lengths at this church?
- Let me know the name of the person who will be managing the service. Usually it’s a deacon or an elder. Give me a name, and, ideally a phone number, too. It’s never happened, but it’s always possible that I could have a family emergency or major illness, and only having the church phone number and secretary’s email is not helpful at 5 a.m. on Sunday.
- Ideally, have that person be the one who greets, orients and pays me. It’s truly awkward to not know who has your check.
- Send me a copy of one of your pastoral prayers. The pastoral prayer is the most distinctive part of most services. Each church expects something very different. Is it a bidding prayer? Am I to take prayer requests and wrap them into the prayer? Am I to pray the folks listed in the bulletin? Is it to be a wrap up of the sermon? Focused on current events? Is it a liturgy, “Lord in your mercy…” I’m enough of a pro that I can run with most things but I much prefer knowing what is expected. This is a big part of Protestant worship and the one I like to mess with the least (people are fine with a weird sermon, but get upset when they feel their petitions weren’t included.
- If I’m me, and I’ve told you that I have a small child, please let me know what options there are for her in the service. If the answer is “none,” that’s okay, but I do need to know so I can get a sitter to attend worship with her.
- You can rest assured that I will arrive at least 15 minutes before you told me to get there (remember, I’ve got the kid who needs to be settled in).
- If the person in charge could spend a few minutes with me, I’ll have some logistics questions (is there a procession, how do you do the offering, what’s the communion system, how do the mikes work, do you robe or not?) and then I’ll want to talk with the lay reader and be sure I know who is doing what.
- I’m female. I don’t carry my wallet and keys in my pocket. Most of my dress clothes don’t have pockets. Please let me know where I can lock my keys up, or if I should stow them in the pulpit.
- If something has happened in the life of the church that I should know about, please tell me before the service. If the recent widow is in church for the first time after the funeral, or if the congregation is shell shocked over the death of one of its own, tell me. I know I’m not your pastoral care provider, but I can address things in worship if I know about them.
- Please pay me before or right after the service. Hanging around looking for the person with the check without trying to be obvious about that while your four year old digs into 18 different treats and whines is not. fun.
Most of this can be pre-formulated, and you just fill in my name and the date and send out the standard email. Most churches do most of these things (except the pastoral care thing and the keys thing and the kid thing–those are the rare church!). I work really hard on pulpit supply and want your congregation to feel like worship has been carefully planned. It matters to me.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.