Pastor Steve Johnson (Brodhagen, Ontario) reports on his continuing ed experience at the Festival of Homiletics.
When I was a seminary student I was offered the chance to attend the Festival of Homiletics in Hamilton, Ontario. I turned down the offer from the pastor who had offered to pay for my entrance fee – I didn’t feel that I was ready for such an illustrious event. All the pastors I knew rated the Festival very highly. Now five years after ordination, I was more than ready for the 2011 Festival of Homiletic that was held in Minneapolis. It was a solid week of preaching and worship and I felt bombarded by ideas and examples of quality preaching. Imagine it – a week of sitting in pews at lectures and worship from 8:30 am until about 8 p.m. each day, but yet it was not a difficult thing to do. It was an uplifting experience and provided food for the preacher’s soul and I never felt overwhelmed by the quality nor quantity.
For me, it felt like that rush of new ideas and ways of thinking that I experienced when I first started at seminary – this was like the seminary sequel. The food for the soul was most satisfying – especially since I get a little tired of the preacher that I hear the most – that is … me! It was like taking a culinary tour – different styles and modes of preaching (southern Baptist to emergent church); different ways of worship (blue grass to pipe organ – which by the way, the 1600 pastors that were singing in the opening worship drowned out the huge pipe organ at Central Lutheran Church). So purely as a week of refreshment for the preacher – it was worth the cost and the time from my continuing education fund.
I also learned a lot and took as many notes in each lecture/sermon that I remember taking back in my seminary days. I was blessed by hearing people teach and preach that I normally only read (Barbara Taylor Brown, Walter Brueggemann, Brian McLaren) and I was introduced to new preachers and speakers that I now intend to read (Craig Barnes, Diana Butler Bass, Thomas Troeger) to name but a few. But there was another blessing that I hadn’t anticipated – the other pastors and preachers that I met while I was there and the conversations and sharing was again soul food for this pastor and preacher.
Could the Festival offer more? Maybe – the learning was not overt. The teaching was mostly by example and illustration rather than ‘here’s how you do it’. But then again – I’m not an inexperienced seminary student any more – so it was kind of like having lobster for supper – I had a bit of work to do to get at the best parts. To extend the metaphor just a little further – the worship was like the garlic butter and the right combination for the meat. Since the teachers and preachers were mostly from the USA, the agenda of issues that preachers deal with had a definite American bias. For example Brueggemann revealed the top ten issues that the preacher can’t preach about and that list would not be a shared list with Canadian preachers (not that I know what our list might be).
I certainly came home with new inspiration for my own preaching with ideas for scriptural insights and new approaches that will feed, not only my Sunday morning task, but also has already fed my church life in general (bible study and confirmation teaching for example). But like many really good foods – I might not go back next year as that might be a little too soon to blow my Continuing Education budget, but I surely will attend in subsequent years and keep it special.