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 this article appeared in the june 15 edition of the north texas reporter.

I have attended the Festival of Homiletics several times, but circumstances made this year’s conference different.

The event May 17-21 met this year in Nashville, Tenn., still recovering from recent devastating floods. Yet in the midst of challenges and difficult news, the Rev. Frank Lewis, host pastor of First Baptist Church, offered signs of hope: Conference attendees and their churches donated more than $10,000 and 10,000 bottles of water to the Nashville recovery effort.

Our spirits were resoundingly lifted by the opening worship service. Local songwriter and performer Ashley Cleveland passionately sang out to thunderous applause the words of the spiritual: “I was born to preach the gospel—and I sure do love my job!”

Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the AME church inspired us in her sermon, reminding us of Moses’ call of God to speak truth to power—calling on us to remember our own calling to go to the places no one else will go—and say the things no one else will say.

The Festival of Homiletics is a national continuing education event for preachers. The dictionary definition of homiletics is “the art of writing and preaching sermons,” and I always learn something new about preaching at the festival.

The presenters vary each year—some are legendary folk whose works I studied in preaching classes in seminary, like Thomas Long, professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology, or United Methodist Bishop William Willimon. Others are relatively new on the national scene.

Often I leave the festival with ideas for upcoming sermon series. But the main reason I regularly attend is for the refreshment of my soul.

Within the schedule, intentional care is taken to pair workshops with unique worship experiences. Usually one hears a workshop and then hears the same presenter preach in a service—or the other way around. One presenter calls the conference “feeding for the feeders.”

And it’s just fun, too. Anna Carter Florence, professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., said, “There is nothing crazier than a room full of preachers who are not preaching. It’s like a circus!”

Yet a very important thing also happens: a reminder and reaffirmation of our calling to preach.

Craig Barnes, professor of pastoral ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, reminded us of Moses’ ministry, saying preachers are called to simply love their people and lead them to the manna sent by God for their nourishment; only God leads the people to the Promised Land.

This year’s festival took place the week before Pentecost, and sitting with nearly 1,300 other pastors from diverse denominations and traditions felt like the Church as God intends it. Each of us brought our own experiences, joys, concerns and trials, yet under one common roof for five days we were the Church, united by a common desire to learn and grow more as preachers.

Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’”

“The gospel is pointing us in the direction of God’s great ‘Why not?’—and that is why preaching is so hard,” said Bishop Curry.

We remembered the disciples, who on the day of Pentecost were transformed by the Holy Spirit into apostles, those called to preach the gospel to the world. And leaving Nashville, we were sent out again by the Spirit to our places of ministry.

The theme of this year’s festival was “The Joy of Preaching,” which can be rather oxymoronic. Honestly, sometimes preaching is everything but joyful—to the preacher as well as the hearers!

To the preachers out there, I’d ask: What are you doing to improve your spiritual (including your homiletical) health? Said Paul Scott Wilson, homiletics professor at Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto and the Toronto School of Theology: “The word ‘preaching’ also contains the word ‘aching.’”

The early Wesleyan classes asked, “How is it with your soul?” I’d add: “How is it with your preaching?”

To the congregations we serve, I’d ask: “How are you positively encouraging your pastors to grow in their preaching lives—not separate from their spiritual lives—and not just for the church’s benefit but for theirs too?”

For help in both of these vital areas, I recommend the Festival of Homiletics, next year in Minneapolis. For information, visit goodpreacher.com/festival.

The Rev. Drenner serves as pastor of Prosper United Methodist Church in Prosper, Texas. He blogs at pastorfrank.blogspot.com.

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