Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On preaching (Part 1 of 2)

“Paul, is preaching different in the South?”

In early 2015, following over 35 years of active ministry,[1] I retired to Spartanburg, SC. Since then, many times and in many ways, many people, most living in places other than the South, have asked me this question.

Usually, I answer with an immediate “Yes.”

Equally usually, I seek to intuit the assumption that provoked the question.[2] That assumption, for the most part, I characterize as a perception held by many of Southern illiberalism, manifesting itself, especially in regard to preaching, in a traditional (read: doctrinaire and dogmatic) form of biblical interpretation. However, I have not found this to be true.

Admittedly, as an Episcopal priest, I preach largely with Episcopalians, who, given our historic roots in the Church of England, the church of the via media,[3] whether North or South, East or West, span the widest and moderating range of the conservative-progressive biblical/theological continuum. Still, on the occasions I have preached in other settings with folk of the Church of God and of Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian communities, the common element of the experience, as fat as I can reckon, has had little, truly, nothing to do with my assumed or acknowledged conformity to one side or the other of the ideological spectrum. Rather, what I have found, what I have felt in the bones of my soul is people’s hunger to have an experience of God through the Bible. In this, I recognize the difference of preaching in the South.

Part 2 to come…

Footnotes:

[1] I emphasize the word active for three reasons. First, to distinguish my working life and my now retired life. Second, to testify to my belief that as long as one has breath and strength (no matter the vocation, but I also consider this supremely true of ordained ministry), there is life and labor to do in God’s Name. Third, in recognition of this second point, to acknowledge that, in December 2015, I “went back to work” as the part-time priest-in-charge (though daily I pray that God-in-Christ-through-the-Holy Spirit is in charge!) of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC.

[2] Over time and experience, I have come to believe that in order for me to ask a question, seeking to fill a void in my pool of knowledge or to resolve a lack of my understanding, I have had to base my inquiry on a starting assumption, which, given the response, either was validated or negated. To put this another way, I often ask myself: “What question did I have to answer first that formed the basis for my present inquiry?” I have found this tact useful in revealing my sometimes unconscious notions about the truth or reality of a person (including myself!), place, or thing.

[3] Via media, “the middle way” or “the middle road” has been a common self-identifier of the Anglican Church (Church of England) since its formal establishment during the 16th and 17th centuries; at that time in history descriptive of stance between Roman Catholicism and the Continental (European) Protestant Reformation. (Today, one way that I would characterize the Episcopal Church as via media is taking a position between nihilism, which, believing life is meaningless, rejects all religious and moral principles, and relativism, which, believing no principles have absolute value, views all ideologies as equal.)

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2 thoughts on “Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

  1. Paul,

    Only you know what is to come in part 2, but I’m looking forward to it!! This is what I know about you and preaching…. no matter the church or the people in it, you know the Bible better than anyone I’ve ever met, AND you’re the best preacher I’ve ever heard…. so with that I await part 2 regarding preaching in the South.

    Much love

    Liked by 1 person

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