Preaching the Good News in My Own Voice
Brian Tarver is a senior in the Master of Divinity program at Seminary of the Southwest. Brian comes to the seminary from the Diocese of Texas.
Armed with our best sermons, four classmates and I headed off to Virginia for preaching camp. At least it felt a lot like camp with splitting into groups, meeting new people from other schools, and participating in workshops. The Preaching Excellence Program offers seminarians the opportunity to improve their sermon skills and encounter preachers from other seminaries. While all of the workshops and speakers were of great assistance, the most influential aspect of the PEP conference was the ability to listen to sermons. Some people might cringe at the thought of hearing 20 sermons in four days, but for this church nerd, this preaching festival helped me to understand my own brand of preaching. With a variety of styles and perspectives, I learned techniques from others that would fit into my own style. Also, the feedback on my own preaching opened my eyes to some things I did not know needed changing. When a congregation leaves a service and shakes the hand of the preacher, “good sermon” typically summarizes most of the comments. Getting constructive feedback on preaching can be difficult. The PEP conference structured small group time in a way that allows for each preacher to get helpful feedback.
The PEP conference was similar to my recent trip to a gardening store. I have started a garden in my backyard. Admittedly, I am a novice when it comes to gardening. I ventured to a store that specializes in everything garden related. I was slightly overwhelmed by all the things I did not know that I needed. Thankfully, some experienced gardeners gave me helpful advice. They were able to listen to my plan and give me some valuable insight in how to improve my garden. These experienced gardeners did not have expectations for my garden to look exactly like theirs. The PEP conference gave me the opportunity to show my style of preaching and listen to other experienced preachers about some helpful tools. Often, the workshop leaders and plenary speakers introduced tools that I did not even know that I needed. For example, the workshop about death and dying named clichés to avoid in pastoral situations and revealed new ways of preaching about death. The workshop on stewardship introduced new tools in thinking and preaching about money.
At the end of the week, the founder of the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, Dr. A. Gary Shilling, spoke to the entire conference. It inspired me to find out that the founder of the Preaching Foundation was a layperson. His devotion to improve the preaching in the Episcopal Church laid the groundwork for this conference. This served as a reminder of the importance of preaching. Rev. Sam Lloyd spoke in a plenary session about the importance of preaching. He claimed that while our liturgy was important, the act of preaching a sermon might be the most important thing that we do.
So, PEP reminded me of the importance of sermons, and this wonderful conference equipped me to preach the Good News in my own way… just a little bit better.