Point of Origin

written by Kat Bair
5 · 29 · 24

A little more than a year ago, I told you all about the Compelling Preaching Initiative that was being funded by the Lilly Endowment. I told you all about how excited I was to be working with the Mountain Sky Conference on their application and how Bishop Oliveto (who just a few weeks ago made a big splash at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, specifically for her incredible preaching) had set the definition of compelling preaching that we would use for the whole project – “it has to meet you where you are and leave you somewhere else.” 

Well that grant? They got it! We’ve spent the last year continuing to work with Mountain Sky planning, hiring, listening, actually executing all the ideas we dreamt up for the proposal, and this weekend, the Mountain Sky Conference’s Compelling Preaching Cohorts begin! 

The first gathering of this project was actually in February, when a guiding team of thought leaders met in Utah to dream up what content they thought should be included in the kick-off event and follow up meetings that would constitute this cohort. When we gathered, and began to listen to and learn from one another, it was clear fairly quickly that this was an exceptionally diverse group who all thought about preaching very differently. 

This was a group that preached in a lot of different ways, to a lot of different audiences, from a lot of different places, for a lot of different reasons. But the definition that still held up for all of us, was actually Bishop Oliveto’s: “it has to meet you where you are and leave you somewhere else.” 

As we sat in that definition we realized that the key to understanding that movement of the Spirit, from where we are to where we are called, can really only be fully understood if we know where we are in the first place. We realized that to preach well, we had to name where we were preaching from – personally, culturally, and theologically. 

Our words about God, about Scripture, are never objective, and are never without the lens of our own experience. Our own experience is valuable, but we can’t consider where it informs us, sharpens us, or even blinds us, without naming what it is. 

I think of this way: Imagine if you were wearing blue-colored glasses that you couldn’t take off, and someone else was wearing red-colored glasses they couldn’t take off. Most of the time, for most things, you would be able to agree on what you were looking at, even if it looked a little different to both of you. But there would be sometimes that your blue glasses would make certain things hard to see, or you might miss them altogether, and someone wearing red glasses might point out what you missed. You think you’re being objective, and the person wearing red glasses is seeing something that isn’t there, but it’s only because you forgot that you were wearing tinted glasses too. 

Here’s the little madlib-style activity we’re having them do:

My name is ______. I am _(3 personal descriptors, i.e demographics like age, gender, racial or ethnic background, or other formative identifiers such as addict in recovery, mother, or retired teacher)__ and I am from __________. Growing up, faith looked like _________. I learned to preach from __________.   To mean, a good sermon looks like __________ and does _________ . 

We’re then having a discussion around the “blanks” – which ones they feel have most affected their preaching, and in what ways, or how 2 or more of their blanks work together (e.g. being a woman from the South, or being a chronically ill person who was raised pentecostal). We’re then having them begin to offer gentle curiosity towards others’ experiences and how they can learn from them. 

For preaching to meet us where we are and take us elsewhere, we have to know where we were in the first place. It is only when we can accurately pinpoint our location of origin, that the Spirit’s path to our destination becomes clear. 

I am so looking forward to this weekend, and ask that you keep us in your prayers as we gather, and if you’re in the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church, either lay or ordained, we encourage you to join us for one of our 5 other preaching events this summer, spread throughout the conference!

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Kat Bair

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