As a young seminarian I remember my ah ha moment of knowing what sort of preaching voice suited me. Quite simply I thought about the sermons I wanted to listen to, tended to remember, and wanted to emulate. The first step was pivotal: I listened.
OK, there’s nothing particularly novel in my approach, and all the more so since the only preaching I was acquainted with was from my own tradition. I now wonder how my voice might have developed if my experience had not been so narrow. I do remember being very enthused when I heard a woman preach with both a gentle spirit and powerful authority. I so wanted to be like her, I took to imitating her trademark of carrying a dainty handkerchief into the pulpit. (Comes in handy for a preacher with allergies.) I learned by listening and practicing and failing and succeeding. But I note that my successes have been best derived from listening.
What if I’d had the opportunity for ready access to sit and listen to a broad spectrum of preachers? I suppose I could have made a pilgrimage from church to church, but that certainly would have taken me from my own church responsibilities. What if I could have been in community with a variety of other young preachers, sharing sermons, challenging ideas, and agreeing to disagree? Not just others from my seminary and my denomination, but a diverse community? There simply was no such option. And thus I’m of a generation of preachers and ministers who have lived and worked in a divided church. We’ve become willing, if not eager, to accept that our churches should be as divided as our politics.
For such a time as this I support the Academy of Preachers. I first learned about this initiative at a mini Festival of Young Preachers. There I heard this new word holding out hope for the Church and a new generation: festivals where up to 120 young people listen, truly listen to each other preach on shared texts, and recognize their Creator in each and every one. These Festivals of Young Preachers challenge the best and the brightest to be even better so they can earn the ear of a world in need.
I fear my generation has given too many people too many reasons not to listen. The Academy of Preachers gives young people the tools to turn this tide and return the voice of hope to the Body of Christ.
We are all better when we hear God’s voice in each other.