In St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, we are blessed with the very able homiletics coaching of Dr. Dawn Carrillo. With Dawn we have worked out a model for coaching our students who preach. It works like this:
Every Thursday the grad school community has a half-hour ecumenical Midday Prayer service, with Chapel Choir under Dr. André Heywood singing every week. Given the setting, this ecumenical service in fact oftentimes has a Catholic and Benedictine spirit.
Students who are in their second semester or later are eligible to sign up to preach. Their reflections are to be c. 5-6 minutes long.
To give our students experience working with a lectionary and preaching upon a text not of their choice, we devise a lectionary each semester. This is oftentimes based on Give Us This Day, whose readings generally reflect the themes of the Mass readings. (We don’t use the Mass lectionary because this isn’t Mass, and because many of our students attend daily Mass and will hear the Mass readings there.)
Student preachers are expected to submit their texts to Dawn ahead of time, and they strengthen their texts based on her coaching. She gives the final approval in order for the reflection to take place.
Then, students who preach are asked to find two feedback peers. After the service, the preacher, the two peers, and a faculty member meet for a brief feedback session of c. 10-15 minutes. Faculty in all areas of theology take their turn guiding these sessions. These are the questions Dawn has provided for use at the feedback sessions.
- How did God’s Word and the preaching touch your life today? (OR) What did you experience in hearing God’s Word in today’s preaching?
- Will this preaching make a difference in your life this week? How?
- Are there ways in which today’s preacher might have improved in communicating the message?
I must admit, when we began this I didn’t like the second question, and I said so to Dawn. This question is about the listener, I said, but we want to talk about the homily. What we listeners do with it is our business. We should focus on the preacher’s technique – her presence, pacing, volume, content, organization, and the like.
Dawn pushed back. And rightly so, I’ve come to realize. I was mistaken.
If preaching doesn’t make a difference in the lives of listeners, it’s a waste of time. The whole point of a homily is to change lives. Homilists should think precisely about people’s lives, and evaluation of the homily should take up exactly that dynamic.
I’ve come to experience Dawn’s second question as something of a gift in my life, and a real game-changer for how I think about my own preaching. It’s become clearer to me that my task is not to explain religious things, teach doctrine, give historical and theological context to understand the readings better, or the like. My task is to name and encourage the ways that the God of the Scriptures is active in people’s lives today. Thanks for that insight, Dawn.
Another gift to me has been the regular posting at Pray Tell of homilies by Fr. Ed Foley. (E.g. here, and here, and here.) Repeatedly, I’ve been powerfully hit between the eyes by the ways that Ed speaks to the real world and real lives. Thanks for that, Ed.
Here’s to preaching that makes a difference in people’s lives!