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On May 2-5, Christian Theological Seminary’s PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric held the second annual Mixed Methods Preaching Conference, made possible by the Transformative Grant from the Gilead COMPASS Faith Coordinating Center at Wake Forest School of Divinity. The virtual conference centered on the theme “Preaching the Inexhaustible Love of God” and was co-hosted by Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas, Dr. Gina Marcia Stewart, pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, and Bishop Claude R. Alexander, pastor of The Park Church of Charlotte, North Carolina. Pastors and preachers from around the country attended.

During his opening remarks, program director Dr. Frank Thomas shared reflections on the PhD program: “In 2013, I put out a call for scribes and scholars to study African American preaching and teaching. Now this program has 21 students in 2 cohorts. This conference is a vision emerging out of the program itself. We believe the beauty of African American preaching and teaching can generate a preaching renaissance to revive Christianity in the 21st century.” Dr. Thomas also shared a personal story about the powerful effect preaching had on his life when, as a young man, his friend died tragically. He attended the funeral and felt the fog of death was heavy on the air. He shared, “In the midst of the fog of death, the preacher and the preached word changed my outlook and perspective on death. Amazingly, and to my surprise, I felt better. I felt a sense of hope, and I wondered what he did and how he did it. I never forgot how that made me feel.” This ignited a passion in Dr. Thomas for the power and import of good preaching.

The Mixed Methods Preaching Conference focused on improving participants’ preaching through teaching clarity of method and practicing the art live with immediate feedback. Each day included a combination of plenary sessions, preaching lectures, panel discussions, moderated question and answer sessions, and preaching labs. Speakers highlighted topics like the intersection of public health and religion, HIV/AIDS and communities of color, developing a Black Queer hermeneutic, and addressing health and wellness in the faith community.

Although the conference was virtual, it had a highly interactive and communal feel. Worship music was led in person and broadcast live to participants. An entire section of the virtual hosting platform was dedicated to allowing participants to network with one another. One session featured an interactive candlelit centering moment from CTS PhD student Nicole McDonald: “This candle holds space for you. The inexhaustible love of God is a fire that never burns out.” In preaching labs led by CTS PhD students, conference participants were asked to write a sermon centered on this theme. Rather than simply turning it in for critique, participants were given the opportunity to workshop sermon development, preach the sermon virtually, and receive immediate feedback. Please join CTS in congratulating our PhD students for putting on a successful conference that promises to have an exponential impact on those who hear its preachers for years to come.

The Mixed Methods Preaching Conference is one of the ways in which the PhD Program lives out its mission: “to teach and expose the genius, depth, beauty, history, power, and imagination of the Black preaching tradition in order to generate a preaching renaissance to revive American Christianity in the 21st century.” Learn more about CTS’s PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric here.