Ten sermons in one day.
If anyone had suggested that listening to so many preachers in one day could be exciting, let alone interesting, I might have questioned their sanity. That was before the DMin in Preaching program. Having just completed my first summer residency in the ACTS program that Seabury participates in, I can’t wait to go back to Chicago and hear more sermons.
For any of us who delight in sharing the Word of God from the pulpit (or the chancel steps, or the nave), good preaching is a treasure. It is the glue that brings together the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament, making the service of worship integrated and seamless. As we know, good preaching, though inspired by the Holy Spirit, needs our diligent study and work to move from the transcendent to the translucent. Sermons don’t “just happen.”
As with any other metier, there are methods and ways to improve one’s craft. Interestingly, the discipline of homiletics as an aspect of theology actually is a fairly recent convention. Only in the middle of the last century did homiletics, the study and art of preaching, establish itself as a field with theories and a framework, thus allowing for study and qualitative analysis.
Enter the ACTS DMin in Preaching program
The Association of Chicago Theological Schools that the newly re-accredited Seabury participates in, offers a doctorate in preaching. The three-year program has consecutive summer residencies of three weeks in length and presents both intensive study and full application of homiletical tools and skills. In addition, there is coursework during the time away from Chicago centered on preaching, readings, and written reflections. A small group of parishioners joins the priest in sermon development and evaluation. While in the parish, students record sermons preached on three particular Sundays and submit those to ACTS faculty for critique. Each student is also assigned an advisor, optimally from one’s own faith tradition. The advisor guides and supervises and holds major responsibility for awarding a grade, pass or fail. At its center, the course of study is designed to encourage the ministers, pastors, and priests who enroll become the preacher God has called them to be.
The typical class size is about two dozen students, made up of seasoned clergy from all over the country. Each one is admitted to the program through one of the six participating seminaries. (As an Episcopal priest, I chose Seabury to be my “home” seminary.) The gathering is truly ecumenical, consisting of Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Baptists (American and Southern), Congregationalists, and Episcopalians, as well as a smattering of clergy from other denominations. Each tradition comes with its own approach to preaching and proclaiming the Gospel; each student learns from the others new ways and methods of approaching the scriptural texts.
The three-week residency is typically the last week of June and the first two weeks of July. During the first week, members of the three classes (think: Junior, Middler, Senior) spend five days addressing specific subject matter. For First Year students, it is Preaching as Interpretation – how do we understand and share the scripture and what sharpens our clarity? The Second Year students concentrate on Preaching as Performance, while the Third Year students examine Preaching as Social Transformation.
In the second week of residency, students can opt from a range of elective courses. This summer’s selection included 20th Century Preaching Theory and Practice, Creative Processes for Preaching, Womanist Preaching, and Preaching as Celebration. I chose the latter and had a marvelous experience learning about sermon structure that carriers our listeners with us to the joy of the Good News.
The final week of residency put students back with classmates in their same year cohort in a Colloquy. In addition to solidifying the learning of the previous two weeks, students in Years One and Two refined the projects for the upcoming year. Third Year students laid the final groundwork for their theses, individual manuscripts suitable for publication that they will defend in the spring.
The Summer Residency is not all work, however. Beyond the class preparation and attendance, there is a wealth of activity, some with faculty and students in the ACTS DMin in Preaching program, and some by sheer dint of being in Chicago. Special gatherings, including some lunches and dinners, helped to build community. Every day, as well, there was a worship service just before noon that drew upon the liturgical strengths of the students and faculty.
The cost of the program (including housing) for the current incoming class, spread over three years, was a bit under $10,000. While there is no scholarship support through ACTS, many parishes and denominations are able to contribute a potion, if not all of the bill.
For those who are inclined to refresh their preaching skills, and to study and learn in a great and energizing environment, the ACTS Doctor of Ministry in Preaching has much to offer the priest and the congregation.
Susan Carter, a professor of journalism at Michigan State University and priest-in-charge at St. John's Episcopal Church in Howell, Michigan, recently concluded her first summer residency in the ACTS DMin in Preaching in Chicago.