The Lord’s Doing and It is Marvelous in our Eyes
Every now and then God blows the fresh wind of grace upon a project or an idea and does the incredible. Such was the case in the September 9-12, 2019, Mixed Methods Preaching Conference hosted by the PhD Program of African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric. First, let me tell you what we were trying to do, our vision for the conference, then tell you what happened and how God blessed, and, finally, my thoughts and reflections as to the path forward.
The vision starts with the PhD program in African American Preaching at Christian Theological Seminary where our mission is to archive, expose, and teach the genius of black preaching in order to generate a preaching renaissance to revive American Christianity in the 21st century. If we would generate a preaching renaissance, then we must teach any and everyone who wants to improve their preaching. And how can we help people improve their preaching? By exposure and clarification of preaching method. The conference was designed to expose preachers to three methods (Narrative, Womanist, and Expository), receive instruction from PhD students, and then preach a sermon with feedback from instructor and class to gauge progress. Improving method is a prime way to improve one’s preaching.
What happened was God breathed on the conference with such a clarity of speech and inspiration. The preacher/lecturers, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, and Dr. Charlie E. Dates, were simply off the chain. Our ten PhD students led preaching labs and the response was overwhelmingly and overflowingly positive to their teaching and instruction. The hospitality and logistics facilitated by the vision of Aimee Laramore was fabulous. We call our model of hospitality a culture of generosity. God breathed upon our efforts and people felt loved by the attention to detail.
There are so many thank-you’s to go around: Light of the World Christian Church of Indianapolis and their volunteers, Christian Theological Seminary staff, PhD Students, community volunteers, and conference participants from 21 states and one from South Africa.
There were many testimonies to the power of the conference. Here is one from current MDiv student Cassidy Hall, who attended the conference for course credit:
I just completed my first preaching course during my second year of seminary at CTS where I was surrounded by poets and prophets every single day. From the speakers amid breaks and smiling faces greeting me at the door, to the deepest dedication to growth I’ve ever encountered at a conference… I am truly forever changed. The way my theology has grown, been stretched, expanded, and deepened, is a testament to the first Mixed Methods Preaching Conference and the PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary.
There were healthy and respectful disagreements, kind and generous discussions, and an undoubtable Presence making room for all of us to grow alongside each other.
It was an incredibly important experience for me to be one of the minority white folks in the crowd because it gave me a MINUTE glimpse of perspective in what some of my colleagues face on a daily basis AND gave me an even DEEPER respect for Black theology––and (perhaps especially) Womanist theology, among other theological representations. It was a great honor to be entrusted, welcomed, and included in the vitally important studies represented in this space. There was more than enough room for me to listen and a blatantly clear message to heed the call to the truth, love, and justice represented.
There was a power in this space that I have seen nowhere else in Christianity and nowhere else in my theology. I believe that heeding these truths is the way forward in redeeming American Christianity which is now all too frequently lost in white supremacy, political power, and certitude.
I’ve practiced random speeches in my car and the shower for as long as I can remember. And yet, I never ever thought I’d find myself offering a sermon. My very first sermon––this week, was a lot about finding words and finding my voice, and I was lucky enough to be in a room full of love and support. More than that, I was lucky enough to be in a room that reminded me, “Your silences will not protect you” (Audre Lorde) and nor will my silences protect my fellow human or the earth below my feet. The previous day, Womanist theologian Rev. Dr. Teresa Fry Brown told us, “the God that I love does not have a box to put me in,” and went on to share, “all of my writings are about the survival of all people.” Echoing that, I hope all of my words in speech and writing will forever be about the survival of all people. ALL people.
Thank you is the biggest understatement for this conference, these relationships, and these lessons that will forever change my life and my theology. And no, attending a conference doesn’t complete the work nor even begin to scratch the surface of the work. It does, however, propel the work, create clarity, and offer insights to forming a theology that TRULY and WHOLLY includes ALL people.
Finally, I say this: “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes (Ps. 118:25)
Frank A. Thomas
Director PhD Program African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric