…of God’s church – it is here in all its noisy, colorful, and unpredictable glory. Even though this is a Festival of Young Preachers, a lot of us have gray hair and a few have no hair. We’ve come as mentors and coaches to walk alongside the upcoming generation and to cheer them on. (And in the Central students I am accompanying, Kim and Matt, there is a lot to cheer about!) From high school students to long retired pastors, there is no age limit on telling and learning about telling the Good News.
Every preacher brings his or her own style from from sedate to whooping. Some read from carefully constructed manuscripts, others stroll and dance as they speak. Some teach a text, some explicate etymology, some focus on history, some develop metaphors, and some tell stories. Some carry paper to the pulpit; others entrust their outlines to a device. It is stimulating to hear one after another finding his or her unique voice.
Churches are not always receptive to diversity in the pulpit so it is good to be reminded, as Festival leaders have done a few times, that the congregation has a responsibility to come with open mind and heart. Last night’s worship service at Christ Church Cathedral, across the (icy) street from the Sheraton, gave us lots of opportunity with its rousing mix of traditions. A southern, African American pastor and a white, Midwestern, Roman Catholic priest brought God’s word, the organist played Bach and the American Spiritual Ensemble sang a Spiritual. We stood in silence for the reading of scripture and shouted back when the preaching caught fire. The preachers had to climb stairs to get to the pulpit and stately candles were lit and extinguished by an acolyte robed in white.
As I hear many persons saying, This is amazing. It feels like beloved community, something God’s spirit is stirring, and something I long for the church at large to encounter more.
For all the wonderful differences among us, however, there is one thing that all preachers do here, no exceptions. They stop at 15 minutes; a timer in the back of the room sees to that. With 120 preachers to hear, this discipline is essential. But an organized, thoughtful, focused sermon that begins and ends with purpose is not a bad idea even when one is not at Festival. More preachers might consider that.
I’m from Overland Park and in my last year of the Masters of Divinity Foundations program. I have appreciated that Central is concerned with us as whole people and is purposeful in equipping us as ethical, caring, conscientious and knowledgeable pastors. The courses have been academically rigorous, but also have required us to put our hearts and actions under a microscope. Being in classes with people from such diverse denominations, theological viewpoints, cultures and life experiences has also deepened and enriched the experience. Central has been a place of learning, training and stretching, and I couldn’t be more grateful for my time here.