Foundation Backs Homiletics Forum

Episcopal News Service. January 28, 1988 [88015]

NEW YORK, (DPS, Jan. 28) -- A step toward developing better preachers for the Episcopal Church took place January at the General Theological Seminary.

Funded in part by the Episcopal Church Foundation, "Excellence in Preaching" brought together some 38 seminarians from the eleven Episcopal seminaries as well as business leaders, parish priests, guest preachers, and seminary faculty. The purpose of the five-day conference was to study, inspire, and enhance preaching skills of second-year seminarians selected by their faculty for their proficiency and promise in preaching.

"We believe this conference is the first of its kind in the Episcopal Church," said Jeffry Kitross, executive vice president of the Foundation. "Preaching the Gospel well is crucial to the future of the Church. This event underscores the importance of preaching for many of our top seminarians and soon-to-be leaders of the Church."

Conference participants heard sermons from three guest preachers, including the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, former pastor at Riverside Church, the Very Rev. James Fenhagen, Dean of General Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, Professor of Preaching at Union Seminary. Dialogue with the preachers followed the sermons.

Speaking to the students after a sermon which emphasized a black evangelical style, Forbes emphasized the need for solid biblical preparation.

'When I write a sermon, I want to know the contours of the biblical text first," he said. "I want to know the streets and back alleys of the text, its back porches and closets.

"Anybody who plays it safe would be in trouble," he added. "If you have a safe place to stand, you are probably irrelevant. And if you can't preach without conviction from your own faith journey, then it's just a lecture, a head trip."

"When you prepare a sermon, do you write anything down?" asked a student.

"I have a full manuscript in front of me," he answered. "And then there is almost a moment of joy when it seems more appropriate to be plugged into the response of the congregation and go from there."

During the week, the students each wrote and delivered a sermon after being assigned a specific set of Bible lessons. In addition, each submitted for analysis a video tape of a previous sermon.

Presentations were also given by public speaking consultant Jack MacAlindin and advertising executive Kenneth Longman.

In addition to The Episcopal Church Foundation, the conference was funded by economic consultant A. Gary Shilling, an active layman at Christ Church, Short Hill, N.J., the students' several bishops, and individual seminaries.

Schilling spoke of the need for stronger preaching in the Episcopal Church. "we have such a rich liturgy in the Church that the tendency is to hide behind it, and not put as much emphasis on preaching as we should. One result of that is that we have more inactive members than active in the Church."

'My goal is evangelism, or harnessing the best energies we can by bringing in people who can a make a difference in the Church, financially and otherwise. One way to do that is to improve our preaching."

One of the issues raised by the conference was the belief that Anglican preaching is unique among other styles and denominations.

"There's freedom in our tradition because of our emphasis on the Eucharist," said Drew University faculty member Charles Rice. "We can speak the first word; we don't have to speak the last. All preaching should lead us toward the altar, where Christ is the preacher and tells us who God is."

Joan Paolozzi, a student at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, believes that she will be more confident in experimenting with different techniques as a result of the confidence.

"I know I'll go back and try new things," she said. "My goal is to not get too comfortable with what works for me."

"We don't have to wind up lone rangers," added Marjorie Menaul of Nashota House. "This has been practice in working together. In meeting people from other seminaries, we've been getting a better idea of what the whole church is like and how supportive it can be."

The conference was organized by the Rev. Roger Ailing of the Episcopal Evangelism Foundation.