PC(USA) workshop gives participants ideas for solid and thoughtful preaching during Lent

Synod of the Covenant’s ‘Equipping Preachers’ webinar comes on the heels of Advent waiting

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Annika Gordon via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Fresh from preaching their way through Advent, preachers in the Synod of the Covenant turned their attention Wednesday to the next great season on the Christian calendar: Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22.

The Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick, the synod executive who puts on the monthly Equipping Preachers workshops, noted the term “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten,” or “to lengthen,” a nod toward how days get increasingly longer following the winter solstice.

John Calvin “was not down with the church calendar,” and Lent observances began to diminish during the Reformation, Hardwick said. It wasn’t until the 1870s that Christmas and Easter began appearing in Sunday school materials.

The Second Vatican Council and especially the 1983 publication of the Book of Common Worship provided “the highlight of the liturgical renewal movement” and an ecumenical emphasis in several denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Hardwick said.

One such ecumenical response has been observing the Great Vigil of Easter, which often takes the form of a Saturday evening or even a late-night service only hours before Easter morning. One of Wednesday’s workshop attendees who’s married to “a devout Catholic” said he enjoys attending the Easter vigil, which lasts up to 2½ hours and concludes around midnight, just a few hours before he leads the most important worship service of the year in the church he serves.

Another workshop attendee said observing the Easter vigil at the church he serves began during the pandemic and has “become a children’s and youth thing. They love telling the story. They dramatize it and make it their own. We haven’t had any baptisms or received new members,” this pastor said, “but we remember our baptisms. It’s a beautiful and powerful practice.”

The Rev. Dr. Chip Hardwick

Hardwick outlined a few non-lectionary options for preaching during Lent. Possibilities include a series he envisions as “The Old Rugged Cross,” which examines the various doctrines of atonement. Another would look at the Heidelberg Catechism, which Hardwick noted is “beautifully written.” Or preachers could select one of any number of books that explore spiritual disciplines and practices, including Howard Thurman’s “Disciplines of the Spirit,” “Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection” by Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie, and Marjorie J. Thompson’s spiritual classic, “Soul Feast.”

Preachers could select a prominent woman in the Bible — Sarah, Jochebed, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Mary and Martha, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene were on Hardwick’s mind — and preach on one or more each Sunday during Lent. Or they could use books by thoughtful authors to augment their preaching, such as Amy-Jill Levine’s “Witness at the Cross” and Hardwick’s “Crossbound.” Other resources for preaching during Lent include Barb Roose’s “Finding Jesus in the Psalms: A Lenten Journey” and “Psalms for Black Lives: Reflections for the Work of Liberation” by Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and Andrew Wilkes.

During the last half of Wednesday’s webinar, participants split into three groups to explore themes, claims and connections found in the groups of Lenten lectionary passages — in the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Epistles.

The next edition of the Synod of the Covenant’s Equipping Preachers webinars is set for 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Feb. 1. It will feature the Rev. Dr. Peter Henry, pastor and head of staff at Davidson College Presbyterian Church in Davidson, North Carolina, who will speak on “Post-Pandemic Preaching.” Participants need not live within the bounds of the Synod of the Covenant, which includes Michigan and Ohio, in order to register. Learn more here.

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