A few hours ago I made the long drive back to Cleveland from Louisville where I had attended and preached at the 2012 Festival of Young Preachers hosted by the Academy of Preachers. I would have thought that after three days of hearing God’s word through 30 different denominations, flowing from the mouths of over 120 preachers that my heart would be quiet and my mind still. Instead my mind is racing in a post-celebratory buzz. It seems that although my suitcase that carried my clothes is unpacked, the suitcase of my mind is just starting to reveal the extent the Festival touched my soul.
I had attended to Academy of Preachers preaching camp in Atlanta this past summer, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Fund for Theological Education. Almost six months later, I am still unpacking exactly how powerful that experience was in my life. I gained an ability to experience God in a way I had never anticipated through other preachers, built friendships which will continue to define and support a lifetime of ministry, and witnessed the gospel transform right before my eyes.
I began my first semester as a Master of Divinity Student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago this past fall, and in the struggle of transitioning my life from full-time work to full-time academics, the memory of the peace, love and gospel I witnessed at preaching camp continued to (p)reach out to me when I needed it most.
That being said, coming to Louisville was nothing like I expected, for which I could not be more grateful. I had anticipated it would be more like preaching camp where we would be up late, helping each other add finishing touches on our sermons. Instead, I witnessed the celebration of work that was completed before planes landed, cars were parked, and people obtained their room keys. I watched and listened to countless sermons that left no doubt in my mind that these young ministers diligently prepared their sermons well in advance. It was very evident to me that most of my colleagues had been so prepared because they were equally as excited to receive God’s word as they were to be the voice sharing God’s word.
While the intention of the Academy of Preachers is to inspire and prepare young preachers to share the gospel, the hidden ministry the AoP teaches is the ability to be actively present, building the pastoral skill sets to truly listening to what is being said. I witnessed time and time again, preachers in the assembly and not at the pulpit craving to truly be engaged in the snapshot moment in time, a moment that can be recorded but never relived.
I came to preach, but I left listening. I came with the intention of celebrating the good news of Christ Jesus with people I had never met, but I left learning how to communicate with new brothers and sisters. I came wanting to strengthen old relationships, and I left with new relationships that are already strong.
I know that in the days, weeks, and months to come I will continue to unpack and discover the blessings of this Festival, and the gifts of this snapshot in time will continue to (p)reach out to me when I need it most.