Sunday, May 17, 2015

One More Takeaway from Denver (Part III of III)

This is the third post in a series; if you want you can read the first one here and the second one here before reading the concluding post below. 

One of my friends who had previously attended The Festival of Homiletics likes to call it "preacher camp." It's a good analogy, but I want to say a word about the festival part of that title. Six years ago I went with my oldest son and a good friend to an outdoor music festival called Bonaroo. There, as at the Festival of Homiletics, you just can't do it all. There, as at the Festival of Homiletics, there are different venues and so things are happening at the same time and you literally have to pick and choose. The days are long and sometimes you need a little break - even when it's all good it's just filling. So you can go with a friend and still have very different experiences.

I've tried to capture and share some of what I bring home with me in the first two posts, which alluded to insights gained or remembered from the lectures and homilies of Brian McLaren, Anna Carter Florence, Walter Brueggemann, and Nadia Bolz-Weber. As Jews proclaim at the Seder, dayenu - this would have been enough! But there was way more...

Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of NC 
While an ecumenical event, the Episcopal Church was well represented by Bishop Michael CurrySara Miles, and Diana Butler Bass. I was also very impressed by Barbara Lundblad, who gave a great lecture entitled, "I haven't been to the mountaintop - what's a white person to do?" In that talk she challenged the "white church' to find our voices and some courage to talk about race in America. For readers of this blog interested in recordings of some or all of the talks referenced here, they can be ordered here.

One that I think I will order for myself is the lecture by Craig Barnes, who is the President and Professor of Pastoral Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a person I didn't know very much about before attending this festival, but he left a big impression on me. His lecture was entitled, "The Soul of the Preacher." He outlined some things which are toxic to the preacher's soul and some that are generative - I need to find someone who took better notes and get that list, or wait until I get my podcast. (One of the toxic dangers that I do recall is believing when parishioners tell us, "oh pastor you are the best, this church would be no where without you, yada yada yada...")

In the meantime, however, here is the big takeaway, almost a throwaway line in a lecture about clergy wellness. He said, "there is no such thing as a healthy congregation with an unhealthy pastor....there are unhealthy congregations with healthy pastors, and those take a toll but there are not healthy congregations with unhealthy pastors." That struck a chord that connects deeply to my work, and to my commitment to clergy well-being. And it rings true to me. Unwell clergy can really do a number on congregations; they may not mean to, but they do. The goal, of course, is to support healthy ordained leaders and to build up the health of the whole system. I read a blog post by Laurie Brock today on this very topic, which I commend to you,that suggests that congregational growth is not our ultimate goal; congregational health is. Where there is health, growth will come in its own organic way.

Preaching is more than technique. It's more than a particular skill-set to be developed; it comes out of the preacher finding his or her voice, and that is a never-ending journey. I am reminded again of what Alan Jones likes to say: "you are a word about the Word before you ever open your mouth..." This conference was about preaching, but ultimately it was about ministry and proclaiming the good news, sometimes even with words. I return home ready to double-down on helping preachers do the soul-work they need to do that supports congregational health and vitality. Maybe in a roundabout way, this festival was about congregational development after all!

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