…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.
My name is Thawng Hnin Zam. I come from Chin State in the most western part of Myanmar, near the border with India. Presently, I am serving as the Principal of the Union Theological College, a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia. I received a B.Th. degree in Madras, India, as well as a B.D. (Bachelors of Divinity) from Serampore University, also in India.