A new partnership: Festival of Homiletics furthers Luther Seminary's commitment to biblical preaching
by Christine Hallenbeck, M.A. Junior
In the late 1980s, the Rev. David Howell hit a preaching wall.
Just a few years into full-time parish ministry, the Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor was running out of creative ideas for the pulpit.
"I went back to a seminary professor and asked him if there was a good preaching journal I could subscribe to," Howell said. "He said there wasn't one."
And so the journey began.
In December 1989, Howell published a pilot edition of Lectionary Homiletics, a journal to fill that palpable gap in homiletics resources.
"It started in my garage," he said of the publication. "Wee hours of the morning stuff, because I was a pastor. It was night shift work."
The preaching community quickly rallied around the resource, inspiring Howell to establish a conference for gathering that very community.
The first Festival of Homiletics, held in 1992, gathered 400 pastors from around the country for the purpose of learning and conversing about preaching in contemporary contexts.
Today the Festival gathers an average of 1,500-2,000 pastors and congregational leaders to address that topic.
"A lot of this has been driven by pastors and what they have wanted and requested," Howell said. "I never dreamed it would come to this and grow like this."
In light of the Festival's growth and Howell's eventual retirement plans, as of fall 2011, the Festival's ownership and much of its leadership and planning efforts have moved from Howell's Virginia-based office to the Luther Seminary campus in St. Paul.
"The more people I met at Luther," Howell said of the transition, "the more I liked Luther. It seemed like a really good fit."
"He was thinking about succession," said David Lose, the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching and a frequent presenter at the Festival of Homiletics. And "he found a kindred spirit (in Luther Seminary)."
A kindred spirit indeed. Ownership of the Festival of Homiletics opens myriad opportunities for Luther Seminary and its core commitments to biblical preaching and congregational mission.
"Luther Seminary is committed to good biblical preaching," said Karoline Lewis, assistant professor of preaching and Festival presenter. "It feels like yet another expression of what we're about. It's another way to do what we're already doing in ways we haven't imagined yet."
Lose sees in this transition an opportunity for Luther to learn and grow within an ecumenical context, a definitive aspect of the Festival.
"Lutherans are at their best, historically, when we see ourselves as a reforming impulse in the larger church," he said. "We have as much to learn as we do to contribute."
As the Festival continues to grow and be shaped through Luther's leadership, Luther is committed to ensuring its spirit of innovation.
"Our job is to keep that spirit going," said President Richard Bliese. "To carry on this genius while increasing its quality."
Howell, who will continue to assist Festival organizing in a consulting capacity, also envisions an enhanced Festival planning and production process in light of its new team approach.
"We'll continue to demonstrate for people the finest preaching," Howell said, "and the finest cutting-edge thinking about preaching, homiletics, church and culture."
To learn about the Festival of Homiletics, visit www.goodpreacher.com/festival.