The Episcopal Preaching Foundation (EPF), sponsored by a grant from Trinity Church Wall Street, has launched a pilot program for training lay preachers in six dioceses: East Tennessee, Central Gulf Coast, North Carolina, Lexington, Nebraska and Minnesota. With 11 people trained to lead the program a total of 38 students began the training process in January 2022.
On Wednesday, February 23, at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes (CEEP), the EPF presented a lunch session discussing the role of a lay preacher and how they are spreading the word of the lord. Moderated by Dean Randy Hollerith Of Washington National Cathedral, panelists Dr. Robert Garris, managing director of leadership development at Trinity Church Wall Street, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith, national coordinator of the lay preaching training initiative of EPF, and Ms. Debbie Stokes, licensed lay preacher from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, discussed the challenges faced by lay preachers, and the program EPF has launched in the six pilot dioceses listed. The interest was so great that the lunch was over-subscribed.
The EPF training curriculum is a two-year program. Much of the first year will concentrate on the theory of preaching and how to craft a sermon. Before year one is finished the participants will be writing sermons and preaching them to feedback from their peers in their diocesan training groups. The bulk of their training in year two will be this practice preaching. They will also set up feedback groups in the parishes where they will preach in order to receive critique and enhance the learning experience.
“Preaching is not a set of tasks to be learned but an art to be mastered by practice,” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith, coordinator of the EPF’s lay preaching initiative. “The more they practice, the better they will become,” he said.
One of the Dioceses participating in the project, East Tennessee, has received significant support from their bishop, the Rt. Rev. Brian Cole. In a recent address to the East Tennessee Diocese Cole said, “Lay preachers are not called to fill a gap. They are called to proclaim the Gospel.” He went on to say, “The preaching of the Gospel is too important a call to leave only to clergy.”
In this time of rapid change in the Church, some think that lay preachers are being trained to fill a gap in the midst of a shortage of clergy. EPF’s lay preacher training program is built on the presumption that when it comes to preaching all four orders (bishop, priest, deacon and lay) have an equal obligation to proclaim the Gospel in any given setting of the Church. In fact, it is possible to conceive that all four orders of the Church have their own distinct hermeneutic (method of interpretation) when it comes to preaching. The bishop preaches about the continuity of the church across time and where it may be headed. The priest preaches in ways that support the community he or she serves. The deacon preaches to call people into the world to respond to human need. The lay person preaches from the content of their daily lives and how to practically live the faith. All voices need to be heard.
Though the program is two years long three of the six dioceses are considering starting a second cohort of trainees in 2023. So, they will have two groups in training at the same time.
EPF is cataloging the lay preacher training curriculum so it can be made available to the whole church once two year pilot program is completed.
About the Episcopal Preaching Foundation
The Episcopal Preaching Foundation encourages excellent 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 foundation began its programs in earnest immediately. Since then, more than 1,800 seminarians have passed through its Preaching Excellence Program, including numerous 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 and deacons’ conferences.
About Trinity Church Wall Street
Now in its fourth century, Trinity Church Wall Street is a growing and inclusive Episcopal parish of more than 1,200 members that seeks to serve and heal the world by building neighborhoods that live Gospel truths, generations of faithful leaders, and sustainable communities. The parish is guided by its core values: faith, integrity, inclusiveness, compassion, social justice, and stewardship. Members come from the five boroughs of New York City and surrounding areas to form a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse congregation. More than 20 worship services are offered every week at its historic sanctuaries, Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel, the cornerstones of the parish’s community life, worship, and mission, and online at trinitywallstreet.org. The parish welcomes approximately 2 million visitors per year.