Father Sergius Halvorsen (Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric) and I recently attended the National Festival of Young Preachers in Dallas, TX, which took place the weekend of January 2-5, 2015. I had no idea what to expect when I accepted Fr. Sergius' invitation. At the orientation session, as we sat in a large banquet hall listening to the opening "motivational" homilies, I found myself overwhelmed, intimidated, and outnumbered by the Southern Protestant ethos. Yet I walked away from the festival knowing three things: I saw a lot of effective preaching; I have many more ideas; and I received a crash-course, three-day lesson in contemporary Christian American expression.
The theme for this year's festival was "Tell Me a Story." This theme really enabled us young preachers to incorporate narrative and imagery into our homilies, thereby making them very personal and personable. This theme, mixed with a predominantly Southern American Christian flavor, provided an enthusiastic, colorful, and energetic atmosphere. I was able to witness the responsive and dynamic character of preaching outside of the Orthodox Christian tradition in which I was born and raised. I wondered, "How will listeners respond to my sermon?"—because in content and presentation it differed dramatically from most of the ones I had heard. Although this thought contributed to some anxiety, I was moved by how gentle, kind, and truly Christian people I encountered were throughout my days at the festival.
Our presence at the festival as Orthodox Christians almost always elicited a positive reaction from other preachers. The blessing of meeting a handful of bewildered, inquisitive, surprised, and thirsty preachers ready to hear about the Orthodox faith made my trip all the more worthwhile. Attending the festival also really helped me, especially as a cradle Orthodox, to understand our American culture more deeply. Different groups of people from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds find meaning in the gospel that resonates with their life history and experience in so many diverse ways. This might be obvious, but it impressed me at a whole new level when I was present at the festival, heard the variety of homilies, and witnessed the reactions of the listeners.
Indeed, it's not every day that an Orthodox seminarian, a Dominican priest, and a Charismatic Protestant Christian sit around a table to share teachings and experiences with one another for hours!
Tristan Gall is a third-year M.Div. student and a member of Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in Crossingville, PA. Born in Erie, PA, he earned a Bachelor of Arts, a teaching credential, and a Masters in Education, all from Edinboro University in PA. Before attending seminary, Tristan worked as a first-grade teacher. His fiancée, Mary, is a doctoral student of Ancient Christianity at Yale University. Tristan and Mary plan to tie the knot in the summer of 2015.