For five days in late May of this year, I had the privilege of gathering with other seminarians at the annual Preaching in Excellence conference hosted by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation (EPF). For 35 years, the EPF has been educating Episcopal seminarians and clergy on the benefits of great preaching. Four of my fellow Sewanee seminarians and I took a journey into the ins and outs of preaching excellence in the Episcopal Church. Leaders and preaching experts from across the Church took time from their busy schedules to share stories and lessons on how best to convey the word of God to church members and seekers alike.
Each day, I had the opportunity to listen to plenary speakers and participate in several small group breakout sessions where we practiced preaching. During these sessions, I learned new ways to engage God’s words in a safe and affirming space.
“Then enliven my imagination, my thought, and my speech to proclaim your Word with clarity and power to all who yearn for your presence, ” said the Reverend William J. Eakins (EPF website).
Preachers have the unique opportunity to break open God’s word to those yearning for God’s presence and love in their lives. The Preaching Excellence Program (PEP) through the EPF offers preachers the chance to improve their skills so that they may share God’s message of love and hope to believers and non-believers searching for God in this world.
I loved the Preaching in Excellence Conference! It offered me a unique experience to gather with my colleagues from across the Church, colleagues I might not have otherwise met. Sitting in the middle of the beautiful grounds of the Roslyn Retreat Center just outside of Richmond, VA, my colleagues and I delighted in feeling like camp goers because we were staying in cabins. We laughed together and bonded over our experience of seminary and excitement and fear for the future. During those evenings on our screened-in porches, we reflected on the day and all we had learned. We shared our hopes and desires to integrate what we were learning into our preaching.
Each day, we gathered for Morning Prayer and Eucharist and heard outstanding sermons from leaders in the Episcopal Church. Then we engaged in workshops, heard funny stories about preaching bloopers, and were taught how to engage our congregants in person and online. Arguably, the best part of the conference was the opportunity to preach in a small group.
All participants of the conference divided into small groups with priests who are top preachers in the church at the helm. Every small group member preached, and we shared thoughtful and constructive feedback in a safe and loving environment. It was a fantastic opportunity that I am so grateful to have experienced.
I made excellent memories and new friends because of the Preaching in Excellence Conference. And I am a better and more confident preacher because of the Preaching in Excellence Conference.
There are two Preaching in Excellence conferences. PEP-I is for seminarians, and PEP-II is for ordained clergy who would like to hone their preaching techniques and skills.
To learn more about the Episcopal Preaching Foundation and the PEP conferences, visit their website at http://www.preachingfoundation.org/conference-parish-clergy/.
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