The Episcopal Preaching Foundation has received a five-year grant of $829,000 from Lilly Endowment Inc. to develop and pilot test a new collaborative feedback model for preachers and congregants working together to support excellent preaching.
The purpose of The Preaching Congregation program will be to bring together the clergy and congregation of any parish in a structured process of mutual exchange that brings the congregation into a deeper appreciation of sermon preparation and development and provides the preacher with informed feedback during sermon creation as well as after its delivery, according to a news release from the foundation.
The process within participating parishes will create a rotating 16-week program that brings together preachers and a handpicked group of lay members to create a generative feedback loop around the creation of each Sunday sermon.
Not only will parish members feed back their reactions after the sermon, but also they will join in exegetical exercises on the lectionary texts for future Sundays, giving the preacher additional insight into the community in advance of crafting the sermon. The sermon then becomes the work of the whole congregation, meaning there is never just a preacher but always the preaching congregation.
“This is an important shift in congregational practice, with the opportunity to expand and deepen formation among congregants, as well as honing and shaping the preacher’s response to and for a particular community. We might compare this to the conversations Jesus and his disciples had – and that reality hasn’t been experienced for most of the last two millennia,” commented former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
The Preaching Congregation is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Compelling Preaching Initiative. The Episcopal Preaching Foundation is one of 32 organizations receiving funding in an invitational round of grants for the initiative, which is designed to help Christian pastors strengthen their abilities to proclaim the gospel in more engaging and effective ways.
“We are excited about the work that these organizations will do to foster and support preaching that better inspires, encourages and guides people to come to know and love God and to live out their Christian faith more fully,” said Christopher L. Coble, Lilly Endowment’s vice president for religion. “Their programs will serve a significant number of aspiring and current preachers who are working to reach and engage increasingly diverse audiences both within and beyond congregations.”
The Compelling Preaching Initiative is part of the endowment’s longstanding interest in supporting projects that help to nurture the religious lives of individuals and families and foster the growth and vitality of Christian congregations in the United States.
Lilly Endowment Inc. is a private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Co. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the endowment, it is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location.
In keeping with the founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and maintains a special commitment to its hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. The principal aim of the Endowment’s religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the lives of Christians in the United States, primarily by seeking out and supporting efforts that enhance the vitality of congregations and strengthen the pastoral and lay leadership of Christian communities. In addition, the Endowment also seeks to improve public understanding of diverse religious traditions by supporting fair and accurate portrayals of the role religion plays in the United States and across the globe.
Founded in 1987, the Episcopal Preaching Foundation supports the development of excellent preachers in the Episcopal Church, recognizing the foundational role of preaching to energize and build church membership and attendance. The foundation delivers tailored conferences and curricula for seminarians, parish clergy, deacons, and lay preachers.