Zoom conferences move into the mainstream for the Episcopal Preaching Foundation

What a difference a year makes!

For more than 32 years the Episcopal Preaching Foundation (EPF) has delivered its Preaching Excellence Programs (PEP) to seminarians, postulants and ordained clergy via face-to-face gatherings. Now, moving into a second year after Covid-19 restrictions mandated a pivot to Zoom meetings in 2020, and with the support of technical partner Bexley Seabury Seminary, the EPF recently completed its sixth multi-day conference conducted via Zoom.

EPF’s conferences in this format have now cumulatively involved almost 300 faculty and future or current clergy since the advent of Covid-19. Most recently:

In the month of June, two week-long Preaching Excellence Programs brought together nationally-recognized speakers to share preaching insights, participate in roundtable discussions and conduct the small intimate preaching groups that are the principal focus of EPF conferences.

The June 2021 Preaching Excellence Program convened 50 future clergy from 15 centers of learning including Episcopal seminaries, the Anglican Church of Canada and diocesan formation programs to take what for most participants would be the most concentrated “deep dive” of their pre-ordination years into exegesis, sermon preparation and delivery. Using the Zoom format, participants were able to interface one-on-one with a faculty that included Bishop Andrew Doyle of Texas, Professor Carolyn Sharpe of Yale Divinity School and lecturers in speech and sermon delivery from prominent seminaries, in addition to preaching to feedback in small preaching groups.

A second PEP-II conference for ordained clergy, also held in June, “Preaching Jesus With Courageous Authenticity,” addressed the challenges faced by clergy in bringing their real authentic selves into the pulpit week after week in an era of negative news and divisions within communities. The theme was developed by presentations from the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the Rev. Kim Jackson, the recently elected Georgia State senator and pastor to a homeless congregation in Atlanta, and daily round-table discussions with authorities including Dr. Wesley Allen of SMU Perkins School of Theology, Dr. James Turrell, dean of Sewanee School of Theology, and the Rev. Winnie Varghese, recently of Trinity Wall Street.

In the words of one attendee: “It was an amazing week to be with people in the church who taught me so much about Jesus’ prophetic Word. I feel empowered to find ways to preach prophetically, more confidently and boldly.”

 Looking beyond Covid-19 to a world in which “hybrid” program design is expected to play an increasingly important role, EPF President Canon Charles Cesaretti commented:

We have learned that while face-to-face gatherings are of course the gold standard, there is also a place for virtual delivery. Not only do clergy benefit from less time away, but with help from our Bexley partners, the EPF has greatly improved its capacity to enhance the networking and relationship building aspects within the virtual format. While the Foundation expects to resume in-person conferences like PEP for seminarians and postulants , the scheduling and cost advantages of online delivery present a compelling argument for diocesan and other clergy conferences.

For example, Cesaretti said, In March, at a three-day EPF preaching conference for clergy in the Diocese of Southeast Florida, the Zoom format not only facilitated dual English/Spanish language participation, but was lauded by many of the participants for its economy of time, enabling multi-tasking during the conference breaks and eliminating the need for travel to the diocesan center from far-flung parishes.

In addition to the PEP and PEP-II conferences, the EPF regularly partners with dioceses to deliver ad hoc two- and three-day preaching intensive programs to their clergy. Inquiries from interested dioceses are encouraged.

About the Episcopal Preaching Foundation

The Episcopal Preaching Foundation encourages excellent preaching in the Episcopal Church. The EPF strongly believes in the foundational role of preaching to energize and build church membership and attendance in today’s challenging environment, as recently documented by Gallup and the Pew Research Center. Founded in 1987, the foundation began its programs in earnest immediately. Since then, more than 1,800 seminarians have passed through its Preaching Excellence Program, including numerous bishops and one presiding bishop. More recently, the EPF has expanded programming to embrace practicing parish clergy through the annual conference (PEP-II) and ad hoc diocesan and deacons’ conferences. A new EPF lay preacher training program funded by a grant from Trinity Church Wall Street will be introduced in six pilot dioceses in the second half of 2021. In the role of technology partner, Bexley Seabury provides technical support and expertise for the EPF’s current calendar of Zoom-based conferences.

For more information, please contact:

Email: Peter Wild (Executive Director): pwild@preachingfoundation.org

Website: Episcopal Preaching Foundation: www.preachingfoundation.org

About Bexley Seabury

Known and celebrated as the seminary beyond walls, Bexley Seabury educates, forms, and inspires the Body of Christ to blaze new pathways for prophetic and pastoral service in response to God’s call. Its flexible and affordable degree and certificate programs make it possible for anyone interested in pursuing seminary education and formation. Degree programs, communities of practice, licensure courses, continuing education, and more, Bexley Seabury has something for anyone longing to grow more deeply in their knowledge of and relationship with God. Check out www.bexleyseabury.edu to learn more about why existing and emerging leaders are choosing us.