I wonder: how many of you have experienced something that truly changed your life? I mean something that really and profoundly impacted your thoughts, hopes, dreams, distant future and immediate present. I used to think that I had never had one of those experiences (aside from my conversion narrative), but after my experiences at Preaching Camp, I can say for certain that my life has been profoundly changed.
This summer, I was blessed to be chosen as an undergraduate fellow of the Fund for Theological Education. Not only did FTE send me to New Orleans for a conference on Renewing the Church in Service to the Common Good, but last week, they sent me to suburban Atlanta to experience a preaching camp hosted by the Academy of Preachers.
A beautiful and ecumencial initiative funded mostly by the Lily Foundation, the Academy of Preachers is dedicated to identifying, networking, inspiring, and supporting the work of young preachers. One of the new ways the Academy has been exploring this mission is through preaching camps.
Ten young preachers (FTE fellows all, though each engaged in a different step on the vocational journey) descended on the Simpsonwood Conference Center for five days of preaching, instruction, fellowship, and fun. What we didn’t realize was that most of the preaching would be our own, most of the instruction would come from world-class preachers, our fellowship would be deep and lasting, and that the fun would involve a field trip to the Carter Center wherein we met a conflict resolutions expert who just happened to be ordained in the ELCA.
But the focus of the experience was our preaching. Over the course of the week, we each prepared and delivered four eight-minute sermons (think of that the next time you feel the sermon stretching on…). I was blessed to hear the first sermons of some and the fiftieth of others, and as the week progressed, even the most seasoned homileticians improved, experimented with new forms, and drew inspiration from their fellow preachers. And on Friday morning, as we came together in the small chapel for our final session together, I think I am pretty well qualified to say that we brought the house down several times over.
And it was there, in the preaching moment, especially on that last Friday, where I truly felt my life change. We had come together on Sunday evening as strangers, as white and black, male and female, conservative and liberal, Baptist and Methodist and Lutheran and AME and non-denoms and UCC; but when we left Friday afternoon, we were a beautiful worshiping family. We hadn’t put aside all our differences or theological convictions, but for a few days, we had listened openly and honestly to each others hearts, and I firmly believe that we each heard the brilliant echo of the Divine in each other.
And so I find myself passionately desiring to show the world what I’ve experienced through FTE and the AoP. I want to tell everyone I know that there is a great hope for the future of the Church because organizations like the AoP exist and they are training young ministers like the ones I met last week. I want to share with those hurt by the politics of the Church that in this place I find healing and connectivity. I want to share with young ministers that there are established leaders out there who want to encourage and equip them, rather than insisting that they “wait their turns.” I want the world to see what Christ has done through this amazing organization in only a few short years.
I don’t know exactly where that will lead me, but I do know that it causes me to share more resources with you as they become available. I’ll start later today by providing my own sermons from camp, as those are obviously the closest to hand, and I hope that you’ll see for yourself the progress that I made in just four short days. And as more information and resources become available (whether from my fellow preachers or from the Academy itself) I will pass those on to you.
As the AoP continues its mission, I have no doubt that sooner or later, your life will be positively impacted by someone who’s benefited from their experiences with the Academy, and as the Church continues its mission, I firmly believe that it will do so more effectively and more cohesively as a result of the vision of the Academy of Preachers.