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Festival of Homiletics serves up a preaching feast

Imagine sitting in one of the largest Lutheran cathedral churches in North
America and participating in a worship service featuring award-winning
musicians and a sermon by one of the nation’s leading preachers. Such
services were the norm at the Festival of Homiletics, held this year in
Minneapolis, from May 19 through May 23.
Pastor David Howell, the founder and senior editor of the renowned
preaching journal Lectionary Homiletics, began the annual festival in 1993 in
response to a request from readers for a preaching conference. The first was
held in Williamsburg, Virginia, with about 400 pastors attending. Since then,
the interdenominational preaching event has met annually in a major
American city and has grown in attendance to this year’s record-breaking
figure of over 2,100.
This year’s festival was held at Central Lutheran Church and Westminster
Presbyterian Church, and consisted primarily of worship services, including
sermons, and lectures. Among the speakers were Evanglical Lutheran Church
in America (ELCA) Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, Barbara Lundblad, David
Lose, Fred Gaiser, Mary Hinkle Shore, Carol Miles, Anna Carter Florence,
Thomas Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, William Willimon, Walter Brueggemann,
Jim Wallis, Walter Wangerin, Jr., Otis Moss, Jr., Zan Holmes, and Michael Curry.
Musicians involved were also well-known and high quality. They included the
National Lutheran Choir, Bread for the Journey, Prudence Johnson, Jearlyn
Steele, Les McCann, Beth Nielsen Chapman, and Butch Thompson, as well as
Central Lutheran Church’s organist, Mark Sedio.
This list of impressive names, however, does not begin to do justice to the
beauty and wisdom of this miraculous event. The theme was
“transformational preaching,” and the festival overflowed with it. Listening to
exceptional preachers enlarges the hearer’s thinking about what a sermon
can be.
For instance, Anna Carter Florence’s rich and humorous sermons compelled
the listening preacher to widen her or his sermonic range. Barbara Lundblad
offered a galvanizing lecture on preaching about race. Barbara Brown Taylor’s
lecture on five “secrets” to effective writing and preaching was a wealth of
good sense. These preachers and lecturers presented bigger, vaster, richer
sermons and thoughts about preaching that pastors could apply to their own
The Festival of Homiletics was primarily a continuing education event, but it
was also a nourishing pastoral care experience. The festival’s music,
especially, often caused the blood pressure to decrease while exciting the
soul’s heart.
In addition, the conference provided encouragement, not only through
inspirational preaching, but also through fellowship with pastors who
represented several denominations and numerous places of origin throughout
the United States and several other countries.
 In keeping with its strong, time-honored commitment to preaching, the
Lutheran Church made a substantial contribution to the festival, from the
location to Lutheran speakers such as Walter Wangerin, Jr., Barbara Lundblad,
and David Lose.
A high point for Lutherans was hearing ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson
preach his sermon on 2 Timothy 2:8-15. Hanson challenged hearers not to
chain up the Good News but to speak and live according to its feral, holy
truth. Later that afternoon, he met with hundreds of Lutheran pastors at the
Festival to talk about important Church issues.
Luther Seminary’s Center for Biblical Preaching worked closely with the
festival organizers to host the event in the Twin Cities. Seminary students
had the opportunity to volunteer at the event and attend the program at no
At the Festival’s conclusion, Dr. David Lose, Director of the Center for Biblical
Preaching, reflected, “It was wonderful to partner with the Festival of
Homiletics in such great effect — over 2,100 pastors, a week of great
teaching and preaching, five Luther Seminary faculty involved, an overflowing
reception for our graduates….What a fantastic week!”
Pastor Mary Brown, the Center’s Associate Director, remarked, “It was an
unparalleled opportunity for our center to connect with pastors from all over
the United States and Canada and talk with them about the center’s growing
array of preaching resources, such as our new free Web site, the preaching CD series “In the Company of Preachers,”
and the seminary’s growing Doctor of Ministry in Biblical Preaching program.”
The Festival of Homiletics was indeed a sumptuous event that fed both mind
and soul. As first-time attendee Pastor Karen Leedahl from Latrobe,
Pennsylvania, said, “What was delivered . . . exceeded my expectations.”
Next year the premier preaching conference will be in Atlanta and will include
the revered preacher Fred Craddock. For more information on the 2009
Festival of Homiletics, visit www.Good
David von Schlichten is the pastor of St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in
Youngstown, Pennsylvania, and the book review editor for Lutheran