People, like pots, come in varieties of sizes, limited only by physicalness, says Broderick


The Rev. Janet Broderick was a potter before she went to seminary to become a priest. She used both gifts in her homily, “Pottery,” for the 9:15 a.m. EDT Monday, July 27, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. She recorded her sermon in her pottery shop, throwing a clay pot while she talked.

The aphorism for the day was “Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine,” from Whoopi Goldberg. The scripture text was Jeremiah 18:1-6 (NRSV) —

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?’ says the Lord. ‘Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.’”

Bernard Leach, an English potter, studied with pottery masters in China and Japan. His teachers told him, “Every pot is an extension of who he was. They could look at the pot and see how the student was doing,” said Broderick.

She picked up a pot and pointed to it. “Pots, like people, have feet, a belly, necks and lips. Pots have something of a life within themselves. In the scripture, God is using the imagery of a pot to help Jeremiah grow,” she said.

We have many shapes, sizes, colors and genders, but we are limited by our physicalness,” Broderick said. “God is again using the metaphor of clay to describe growth.”

To throw a pot on a wheel, the potter has to be centered. Broderick has spent many hours at the wheel, and she showed the congregation where her center is, and how it extends through her legs to the wheel.

“When I find the center in myself, then I can extend it to the clay. My legs give me the leverage to center the pot,” she said. “I have to center the pot a bit at a time and then I can decide what to make.”

To make a bowl, the centered clay must be flatter than for a cylinder. The shape of the centered clay determines the shape of the finished product.

“We have many shapes, sizes, colors and genders, but we are limited by our physicalness,” Broderick said. “God is again using the metaphor of clay to describe growth.”

She used her thumbs to open up the clay and to begin to build the floor of the pot. 

“Once I make it a certain width, I can’t change the final product. When I taught pottery in Vacation Bible School, I would make a cylinder and the children would say make it a bowl,” she said.

She continued, “I had to tell them that not all decisions are reversible. God makes decisions, and so do you, that are not always reversible.”

Broderick said God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s shop to give him hope for Israel. Jeremiah thought Israel had become too wicked to reform, but God used the breaking and remaking of the pot to show Jeremiah there was hope.

As Broderick started to pull the pot taller, she said, “I used to stop breathing as I did this so I could keep my center. Does your breathing keep you centered or does it kick you around?”

Jeremiah saw that the potter had a problem with the pot and the potter chose to start over again.

“I used to drink cold coffee or tea when I was working on a pot and sometimes I would knock into the pot,” Broderick said. “Instead of throwing it out, I would break the problem down into pieces.” With the pot that she was working on, Broderick decided she needed to support the shoulder of the pot so it did not collapse.

She worked on correcting the bottom but then the top was out of alignment. “It is like someone getting off drugs, starting to get healthy, and they do something for the family that only makes things worse for a time.”

She continued, “As I straightened out the bottom, the top went off center. But it is OK. I have time to go back and manage the top.”

Broderick told the congregation, “If you have difficulties that you think are unmanageable, think of Jeremiah and enjoy yourself. There is a hidden weakness because the pot went off center. If the pot was pushed hard, it would fall.”

Humans have places that are weak, that have scars and, after being harmed, people need to regain strength. To show that, Broderick made a “fun little ridge” in the pot and then a lip on the outside. And she was finished.

The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, vice president for religion and senior pastor of Chautauqua Institution, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Meredith Smietana, a student in the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was an improvisation. Smietana sang the hymn, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord.” The anthem was “Attende Domine,” by Jeanne Demessieux. Stafford played an improvisation for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy.

Tags : Bernard Leachmorning worshipreligionThe Rev. Janet BroderickWhoopi Goldberg

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.