The Episcopal Preaching Foundation (EPF) is continuing to help preachers explore their craft in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as racial and civic unrest.
Most recently, EPF hosted “Preaching in the era of COVID: Hitting the ground running,” a Zoom version of its annual Preaching Excellence Program II for practicing parish clergy. The Jan. 11-15 conference was meant to help preachers consider how to preach effectively to congregation members living in varying levels of isolation. The program considered the fact that the sermon in the age of COVID-19 is a unique opportunity for preachers to connect with congregants during services that have limited opportunities for active participation by the congregation.
Preachers are “preaching virtually in a virtual apocalypse,” the Rev. Dr. O. Wesley Allen, Jr., professor of homiletics at Perkins School of Theology, SMU, said during his keynote address. “They are also preaching to a congregation whose individuals are experiencing varying degrees of isolation.” Allen urged participants to fit their preaching both to people’s isolation and their online attention spans, telling them to be simple without being simplistic in their message.
The Rev. Judy Fentress Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament, Virginia Theological Seminary, urged participants to explore the importance of lament in the pandemic season. Yet, she urged, it is also important to help congregants see that meeting in a virtual space shows that things essential to the community have not been lost. And, she added, the preacher must look to the time when the congregation can return to the building. They will not be the people they were when they left, she predicted.
“The Covid 19 pandemic has clergy stressed and wounded by the imposed distancing and inability to be present with their flocks. I never thought ten months ago this would be the agenda for a peaching conference,” opined The Rev. Canon Charles Cesaretti, President of the Board of EPF. “However, EPF was alert, nimble and quick to gather parish clergy to address the profound impact they were experiencing. The Zoom conference was a part of the covenant that EPF has with preachers in the Episcopal Church.”
In the meantime, there are services to offer, sermons to preach and members to help remain connected. The Rev. Magrey deVega, Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa, Fla., offered participants his insights into a successful digital ministry; and the Hyde Park technical team followed up with technical advice on selecting the necessary equipment and platforms at a variety of budget levels.
Bishop Rob Wright of Atlanta joined the conference on the closing day for a panel discussion on the major themes of the conference with plenary speaker Dr. O. Wesley Allen and faculty chair Dr. Stephen Smith.
The conference schedule, adapted for “Zoom Time,” required participants to be online only three hours per day. A central component of each day was daily small, intimate preaching groups where participants preached and then received constructive feedback from peers, guided by a trained moderator. Participants were also encouraged, but not required, to attend conference Morning and Evening Prayer each day.
The conference was originally scheduled to take place in June 2020 but had to be rescheduled and moved online due to the pandemic. It also followed on the Foundation’s May 26-28, 2020, online conference for seminarians. That gathering, called the Preaching Excellence Connection, was a transformed version of EPF’s annual week-long, in-person Preaching Excellence Program (PEP).
“The most memorable thing about the conference was our preaching group, which was intimate, honest, kind and occasionally funny. I learned so much, both from critiquing and being critiqued.” – Rev. Coryl Lassen, conference participant.
EPF’s mission is to support and encourage excellence in preaching in the Episcopal Church. The EPF strongly believes in the foundational role of preaching to energize and build church membership and attendance in today’s challenging environment, as recently documented by Gallup and the Pew Research Center.
Founded in 1987, the Episcopal Preaching Foundation began its programs in earnest immediately. Since then, more than 1,800 seminarians have passed through its Preaching Excellence Program, including several bishops and one presiding bishop. More recently, the EPF has expanded programming to embrace practicing parish clergy through the annual conference (“PEP-II”) and ad hoc diocesan conferences.
For more information
Episcopal Preaching Foundation
Peter Wild, Executive Director
500 Morris Ave., Ste. 304
Springfield, NJ 07081