By Miriam Cho
I recently did a podcast episode with my friends at Duke Divinity School about preaching as Asian American and Latina women. In the episode, I reflected on my ongoing journey of finding my voice in preaching.
Growing up, I had only seen men preach at church; it would have been scandalous to see a woman walk up to the pulpit, much less a woman of color. It wasn’t until I was 23 when I saw a Korean American woman in that space for the first time. I would never have dreamed of hearing about the faith of immigrant women in a sermon—much less, hearing these stories told at a predominantly white church, as it had happened that Sunday. From that point on, I began to wonder, how many other lesser known stories had yet to be heard? And did I also have a voice to offer?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is everyone has a voice, but it’s a lifelong process of both growing into one’s voice and growing one’s voice itself.
But first, I had to get over several insecurities. I was self-conscious about my monotone voice and my perceived lack of charisma. I wasn’t like those preachers who could go off a manuscript and start speaking “in the Spirit.” I couldn’t come up with witty enough jokes—or any jokes, for that matter—that could make people laugh.
Throughout my preaching classes, however, I have come to find that God works through different bodies at the pulpit to preach their different narratives—especially those that are often silenced. For so long, women of color like myself have been accustomed to one way of preaching to the point that preaching seemed like an impossible task for us. But of course, we felt inadequate—this one way wasn’t the way God made OUR voices to preach!
And so, I delved into finding out the lines and shapes of my voice, as it interacted with the Biblical text and the experiences of people around me. I learned how to convey feeling through the “sound” of a sermon without feeling like I had to shout like another person. I found the power of expressing my thoughts through images and metaphors, especially when the people in the congregation were from cultures that didn’t follow the standard flow of moving from point to point. Not only that, I’ve found that even manuscript preachers can bring the congregation to tears!
Most importantly, I realized that the voice I have is the voice God gave me, and God gave it to me for a reason. For any aspiring preachers reading this, especially for those who haven’t seen many people like them at the pulpit, I encourage you to continue finding your voice. These days, it’s the one voice that needs to be heard the most.
Miriam Cho is currently a third-year M.Div. student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina. She is originally from Radcliff, Kentucky. Miriam is also the Communications Associate at the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity and the sound producer for the podcast “When Women Preach.”