The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

When pulpits attack

with 8 comments

Preaching can be a dangerous business. I don’t mean the effects of the long-term stresses and strains and pressures of faithful pastoral ministry, or the risks of being assaulted by hearers who, if not actually disgruntled, are certainly very far from being gruntled. I refer to the possibility of do yourself an injury in the act of preaching.

Take last Sunday as a case in point. I have had an unusual number of health blips in the last few months. Last week, for example, I succumbed to a curious virus which left my mouth and throat covered with an abundance of tiny ulcers for a few days. I was still feeling some of the effects of said virus when I preached last Lord’s day, a fair amount of tightness in the throat and an extra effort to speak clearly and distinctly.

Anyway, the net effect of this was that, at one point during the morning sermon, when seeking to make a point with an appropriate degree of vigour, I got my breathing wrong, and managed to get within sight of the end of a longer statement without much air left in the lungs. A little extra effort and I managed to make it, but the inward strain combined with whatever gesture I was making at the time dinged what I thought was a muscle in the back. This happens from time to time when some pulpit action goes awry, and I thought little more of it. I managed to get through the church outing on Monday, including some vigorous Frisbee/Aerobie work, a fair stint in some bastardised version of a cricket game, and carrying one of my sons down a steep mile because he wanted to cross the stepping stones at the bottom of the hill. Painful, to be sure, but not unbearable. Sitting uprightly and breathing shallowly were doing the job. This morning I thought I would try out my dodgy foot (another one of those miserable afflictions that has sprung itself upon me) with a few exercises, only to discover that – though the foot was holding up – the back was going from bad to worse. Comically aggressive shooting pains meant that a scheduled chiropractic visit could not come soon enough, whereupon I was issued the happy diagnosis that my pulpit exertions had popped a rib, which problem I had been gleefully exacerbating for the last couple of days. Two days of taking it easier – no baby-carrying, sports, twisting and turning (there goes any prospect of a successful audition for the part of “second whirling Dervish” in any production I might have been interested in – curses!), and the like – should see things ease off, but until then I will remain in slightly shy of mint condition.

Got me thinking, though. I have cracked a knuckle before, and maybe provided myself with a couple of stress fractures through contact between hand and pulpit (the distinct occasion I recall was a sermon from Philippians 2, in which I was emphasising the hatefulness of the sins which required such humiliation on the part of Christ). I have heard of other such hand injuries. I have heard of a preacher who managed to detach a retina during a particularly earnest exhortation. I have seen my father unintentionally catch a finger under his glasses while seeking to make a point, with the effect that the following more expansive gesture propelled said reading aids from his face to a spot some fifteen feet or so away from the pulpit at a fair rate of knots. The spectacularly confused look on his face as he suddenly realised that something was amiss without being immediately able to put his finger on it (or, indeed, reach it with the outstretched arm) provided one of those classic balled-fist-in-mouth-trying-not-to-laugh moments. I have heard of a preacher losing a battle with a wasp, said bug managing to get inside his shirt collar despite his best efforts, and he managing the fairly impressive feat of punching himself a couple of times in the throat in an attempt to stun the blackguard, while being stung by the miscreant.

So, I am left asking, what other pulpit injuries have occurred? I should be interested to know if readers have seen or read of or themselves experienced the fearful outcome of those moments when pulpits attack.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 31 August 2011 at 12:25

Posted in General

Tagged with ,

8 Responses

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  1. I haven’t been witness to a preacher injuring himself during a sermon. I have, however, seen video of a preacher destroying a wooden pulpit by repeatedly slamming his hand on it to HAMMER! HOME! A POINT!


    Wednesday 31 August 2011 at 14:12

  2. Not an injury per se, but last week in Llandrindod Evangelical Church, as I finished preaching I realised that I had varnish on the palms of my hands!

    Slightly more historically, I was getting agonising pains in my achilles tendons on Mondays, and we realised that this was due to standing in the pulpit for 2-3 hours on a Sunday in smart shoes.

    Jonathan Hunt

    Wednesday 31 August 2011 at 15:16

    • So do you now enter pulpits in bare feet with powdered hands? It’s a slippery slope, Mr Hunt. Once the leotard makes an appearance, the full gymnastic outfit will be nearly complete.

      Jeremy Walker

      Wednesday 31 August 2011 at 16:04

  3. Dear friends recount the tale of a preacher who made a particularly loud exclamation, unintentionally reinforcing said utterance by projecting his plastic dental fitting from his buccal opening. By skilful gest he caught it and restored it to its former place. The dramatic effect was irremediably altered, however.


    Wednesday 31 August 2011 at 17:32

    • A toothsome tale for us to chew on! I love the fact that he actually caught them and replaced them. As you say, though, it rather affects the moment! Reminds me of the chap who learned that the man in whose pulpit he was preaching that day used to manage to keep a couple of lozenges in his mouth in the process of preaching (tucked away in some kind of chipmunk cheek pouch, I guess) in order to lubricate the throat. Working from the “Anything he can do . . .” school of pastoral theology, he slipped a couple of the available sweets into his mouth, and got going. Within a few moments, those fortunate enough to be seated at the front were peppered with what is probably best described as medical confectionary, or at least the shrapnel from it, as he realised that projecting one’s voice with throat sweets in the mouth is not quite as easy as he might have imagined.

      PS Thank you for introducing the word “gest” into my vocabulary. Seems to be from Old French, and suggests an exploit of some note.

      Jeremy Walker

      Thursday 1 September 2011 at 08:41

  4. Another reader writes in with the following tale:

    “While I was a student in [seaside town unnamed to protect the innocent] it was the custom of the local evangelical churches of the town to hold open air services on the spacious promenade. On this occasion it was the turn of one of the local Salvation Army brothers to preach, which he began to do with some gusto. He was in a slightly exalted position on a box and standing a couple of feet away alongside him, also in her smart Salvation Army uniform, was another officer. My friend and I were about twenty feet away ready to speak to anyone who might be interested. Our brother was well into his sermon when he suddenly became incoherent and the sermon suffered a major hiccup. The good lady to his side had suddenly rushed forward, was almost on bended knee, her hands cupped as if she was trying to catch something.

    Such was the vigour of the preacher that his false teeth had become loosened and were in grave danger of falling out of his mouth altogether. There they were stuck between his lips at all the wrong angles. There was the lady who had dutifully rushed forward ready to catch the offending dentures should they drop from his mouth. Somewhat embarrassed he stopped, readjusted his teeth as best he could with one hand, quickly gathered his composure, and tried to carry on as if nothing had happened.

    I am not sure how many other people saw what happened, it was all over in a few seconds. However, the sight of the lady taking a dramatic step forward, anticipating catching a set of false teeth has remained indelibly impressed on my mind for over forty years.”

    Jeremy Walker

    Friday 2 September 2011 at 12:33

  5. Hilarious, Jeremy!

    D. Scott Meadows

    Wednesday 7 September 2011 at 04:59

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