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News and Notes from Calvary

Lenten Preaching: ‘Transformation for both the preacher and the congregation’

by Mimsy Deacon, Archdeacon

“Watching a preacher climb into the pulpit is a lot like watching a tightrope walker climb onto the platform as the drum roll begins,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor.1 If anyone knows how a preacher feels climbing into the pulpit, it’s Barbara Taylor, who many of us got to know when she regularly visited Memphis for the Lenten Preaching Series. We got to know her for two reasons: she came here often - perhaps ten years in a row - but also we got to know her because we sat in the pews and watched her quietly, elegantly climb into the pulpit and deliver such a powerful, imaginative sermon that we never wanted her to stop…but we knew waffles and chicken hash awaited us downstairs in Waffle Shop. 

Barbara Brown Taylor isn’t the only preacher who has drawn us, weekday after weekday, year after year, to the corner of Second and Adams during Lent these past 92 years. 

I can still see the brilliant Anglican priest, Herbert O’Driscoll, moving around the chancel like a Kabuki actor, demonstrating how Jesus and Nicodemus arranged to meet behind a large potted plant late one night in a Jerusalem restaurant. I still remember a powerful sermon by Lutheran pastor Barbara Lundblad, about Peter, the Rock.  She had a large stone which she had brought back from Israel, and used it to illustrate her point. She lifted it above her head for all to see, and then meant to place it quietly beside her; instead it tumbled right off the pulpit onto the floor below with a resounding SPLAT.  

It’s memories like these—the personal, unforgettable experience of actually being PRESENT at Calvary Episcopal Church—that make me such a strong proponent for attending the Preaching Series. It just isn’t the same when one listens to these preachers on a mechanical device. Believe me; I’ve tried it. 

My out-of-town friends cannot believe that I have actually seen and heard, up close and personal, preachers like Walter Brueggemann, Johnny Ray Youngblood, Tom Long, David Buttrick, John Claypool, Lord Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, Marcus Borg, Amy-Jill Levine,  Peter Gomes, William Sloan Coffin, William Willimon, not to mention several presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church. These women and men are renowned throughout the United States and beyond; and once a year, during Lent, we all have the chance to sit in their presence, and even shake their hands after the sermon.  

This year’s lineup of preachers promises to be one of the best in years: the ineffable Dan Matthews, Sr., leads off the series, and if you have never been in the pews when Dan preaches, do NOT miss seeing, as well as hearing, him weave unforgettable stories—and a joke or two—into the scripture of the day. 

By popular demand, Memphis’s own trinity of superb preachers: Steve Montgomery of Idlewild Presbyterian, Mitzi Minor of Memphis Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel return to enthrall us. Marcus Borg is coming, too, for his nineteenth or twentieth consecutive visit (we’ve lost count!), and, as always, he will be wearing his trademark bright red socks! Of course, you have to actually BE at Calvary to see those socks. 

A newcomer to the preaching lineup this year is the Rev. Tony Campolo, teacher, pastor, and evangelical leader. I have read about him for years and cannot wait to see and hear him in person. He’s written over 35 books, such as Choose Love Not Power and Stories That Feed Your Soul and I feel sure the Episcopal Bookshop, which always sets up shop in the Great Hall for the preaching series, will have copies of those books.   

Two ‘old timers’ to Memphis friends are the Rev. Gary Jones and the Rev. Doug Bailey. Gary is a former rector of Church of the Holy Communion and Doug, of course, is a former rector of Calvary. Since I served as a deacon during Doug’s time, I may be biased, but I believe it was Doug who fearlessly invited into our pulpit many of the preachers I have mentioned. Doug was passionately committed to bringing the finest preachers in America to Memphis, and I look forward to hearing him preach as a guest in this Series that meant so much to him and to his ministry. 

Yes, it is a long drive during the week for many of us. My husband and I live 9.5 miles from Calvary (not that I’ve clocked the  mileage!), but we have learned to set aside the time to drive downtown because what awaits us is an irreplaceable treasure. Barbara Taylor puts it this way: “Preaching is finally more than art or science. It is alchemy, in which tin becomes gold and yard rocks become diamonds under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is a process of transformation for both the preacher and congregation alike, as the ordinary details of their everyday lives are translated into the extraordinary elements of God’s ongoing creation.” 2  

‘Transformation for both the preacher and the congregation’: that’s exactly what happens inside Calvary at the Lenten Preaching Series. The Calvary staff has worked tirelessly to make this year’s Series as convenient and accessible as possible. I plan to be present as often as possible and I hope to see YOU there! 

1, 2 Taylor, Barbara Brown. (1993) The Preaching Life. US: Cowley Publications

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