Sunday Sermons in 1990s, Churches Are Rediscovering the Importance of Strong Preaching

Article excerpt

People who slip into pews this Lent can expect better preaching in many churches. Christian preaching is being taken more seriously today.

"There's a big resurgence in preaching, after almost the death of the pulpit in the 1970s and '80s," said the Rev. Dr. Bryan Chapell, president of Covenant Theological Seminary in Creve Coeur. Then, many Protestant seminarians were not required to study preaching to large groups. Instead, the emphasis was on helping ministers relate to individuals.

Today, few seminarians graduate without at least one undergraduate course in preaching, he said. Chapell's book, "Christ-centered Preaching" - Preaching Magazine's book of the year - is just one of several books on the subject selling well. Two national magazines, scores of seminars and post-graduate courses are hot.

A preaching seminar at the Seventh-day Adventist national leadership meeting here in January drew four times as many ministers as other seminars.

St. Louis is becoming a national center for preaching education. Eighteen ministers - Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians - are studying for doctorates of ministry in preachingn at Aquinas Institute, the Dominican graduate school in Grand Center. i Princeton University is the only other American institution enrolling doctoral students in preaching. This summer 75 preachers from across the country will attend Aquinas' two-week preaching institute, a program that takes three summers to finish.

To encourage good preaching, Aquinas recently asked Catholics here to nominate candidates for its first annual Great Preachers' Award. Five hundred people responded, nominating 47 men and three women. The Rev. James Cormack, pastor of St. Vincent DePaul Church in LaSalle Park, won after a 10-person panel watched videotapes of six finalists' sermons. He will get the award April 28 at a dinner at the Hyatt-Regency Hotel.

***** Setting Hearts Aflame

Preaching styles vary. One of the award nominees choreographed every move. Another strolled the main aisle, leaning into pews to go eye-to-eye with listeners. Others were effective with scant movement beyond eye contact.

All great Christian sermons have three essential elements, says Sister Joan Delaplane. She is past president of the American Academy of Homiletics and runs Aquinas' preaching programs. She says preachers "set hearts aflame" by:

- Deepening faith.

- Strengthening love for Scripture.

- Moving people to action.

Scripture is the starting point for most sermons. Mainline Protestants and Catholics base sermons on specific lines of Scripture assigned for that day in their denomination's book of scriptural readings, called lectionaries. Some evangelical denominations choose a book of the Bible, unrelated to the liturgical season, then explore it for consecutive Sundays.

"The first lesson I teach . . . is to make just one point," said the Rev. Daniel Harris, who teaches preaching at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury. h

When preaching at St. Wenceslaus Church near Benton Park, Harris often tries to reinforce what it means for residents to be stabilizing influences in a difficult neighborhood. …