By Peter Wild
From across the United States and Canada, 46 seminarians, representing 13 seminaries and local formation programs, made their way to the EPF’s annual PEP Conference held the week of May 30th and gathering in person for the first time since 2019.
With bags unpacked, the seminarians gathered for a brief welcome and introduction by the Dean of Faculty, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Smith. They then adjourned to a BBQ, where they met informally with their faculty and colleagues with whom they would journey for the coming week.
Most days began with worship followed by a Plenary Presentation before moving on to small preaching groups lasting 90 minutes, each with a faculty member as moderator. The small preaching group is one of the most productive tools to have evolved at PEP. A group of between four and six meet twice daily to preach for feedback from their peers. This critique is affirmative, kind, constructive, and honest. The process includes evaluating the message, delivery, and style. At the end of the peer review, the faculty moderator summarizes the responses and adds an assessment emphasizing appreciative critique. The small group allows time for quality dialogue and builds an invaluable networking element beyond the conference. One participant opined, “I’m renewed in my new identity as a preacher; who would have thought?!”
Highlights of the week included Dean Cynthia Briggs Kittredge of The Seminary of the Southwest who took as her theme “Preaching the Gospel in Polarized Times.” Keynoter Micah T.J. Jackson, President of Bexley/Seabury, expanded on the pitfalls of the first person singular in “The “I” in Preaching.” And Christine Parton Burkett, preaching coach and consulting faculty at Duke Divinity School, explored “The Word Embodied, Preaching As an Act of Incarnation.” Randy Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, stopped by to address the assembly on “Navigating the Social, Political, and Spiritual Landscape of Contemporary Preaching.”
Along with the plenary sessions and the small preaching groups, the faculty offer workshops each day, touching on many aspects of preaching. Among the workshops were: Four Funerals and a Wedding; Instant Preaching (when the preacher is asked to “say a few words”); Preaching Across the Divide (engaging parishioners no matter what cultural, income, or political beliefs); and Preaching Prophetic Witness.
The Rev. Dr. Nandra Perry, Director of the Iona Collaborative, hosted a workshop to discuss “Our Evolving Church: Local Formation and the Futures of Theological Education” and introduced The Iona Collaborative at Seminary of the Southwest, which provides graduate-level video curricula and Zoom-based continuing education for postulates in 32 dioceses. With over 450 hours of video curriculum (including extensive preaching content from the Episcopal Preaching Foundation), the course catalog is highly adaptable to local educational needs.
The Class of 2022 assembled on Wednesday evening to mark the 35th anniversary of EPF, joining the EPF Board of Trustees, PEP alums, and guests to honor founder Dr. A. Gary Shilling and past board members, donors, and faculty who contributed their expertise, talents, and generosity. Bishop Susan Ellyn Goff, Bishop Suffragan, and the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese of Virginia welcomed the guests and shared a moving blessing for The Foundation. Dean Randy Hollerith was the evening’s moderator.
On Friday morning, after worship and the seventh meeting of the preaching groups, participants gathered to receive their Certificate of Participation in the Bishop’s Chapel. With final words and a blessing from Dean of Faculty Nikki Mathis, the PEP Class of 2022 departed to join their predecessors as energized preachers and PEP Alums.
Peter Wild is the Executive Director of The Episcopal Preaching Foundation.