Moderator welcomes attendees to Preachfest

Moderator welcomes attendees to Preachfest

The Moderator of the NSW and ACT Synod, Rev. Simon Hansford, welcomed attendees to the inaugral Preachfest conference on Tuesday, 1 June. This is an edited version of his remarks.

Welcome to the inaugural PreachFest, an offering on behalf of our Uniting Church, to the whole of the Church, as we celebrate, and seek to elevate, the art and call of preaching.

I welcome you from Gadigal Land, country of the Eora nation. On behalf of our Church, I pay my respects to the elders past and present, for the way they have stewarded the creator’s good creation, the lands and waters under their care.

I extend that respect to other indigenous people past and present, and to those lands on which you all gather. I pray that this care will continue into the years ahead, hoping that our creator will continue reconciling all things to himself in Jesus Christ.

James McAuley invites each poet and thus, each preacher,

Take salt upon your tongue.

And do not feed the heart

with sorrow, darkness or lies:

these are the death of art.

We are nourished by Scripture, by the Holy Spirit, then music and poetry and words and wonder – and our lives.

The extraordinary technological improvements which enable us to broadcast this festival live and online, to record it and offer it to Congregations and communities, do not always serve us well.

We have begun to trust the medium and not the message.

We live in a world where the image is vital, the screenshot, which flicks across our retinas and, almost immediately, is gone. Shazaam helps us to capture the snippet of music we like for the moment; TikTok testifies to the trimming of our attention spans – and our memories – to the equivalent of a goldfish.

We have fallen into the trap of believing that preaching is an archaic, or even obsolete, gift in our Church’s life. Thus, we have reflections, or testimonies, or “talks”, with none of the discipling, or risk, of a sermon crafted to remind the disciples of Christ who we are called to be. Our liturgical response of “anyone can do this”, neglects the vial diversity of gifts endowed by the Holy Spirit for all the aspects of the Church’s life and mission.

Therse are not the only challenges before us. We have taken Barth’s supposed dictum, updated, about a bible in one hand and a tablet in the other, and have become so immersed in the media cycle, that preaching is at risk of becoming a political polemic and not the gift the Church – and our community – so desperately need.

Scripture is not one option among many, it is the first option, each and every time. We hold it carefully, with respect and joy.

Some of us have stayed securely in the past, nestled in the brilliance of Calvin, the rigour of Wesley, the challenge of Spurgeon. There are preachers now, like the mob we have gathered for this festival, like Rutledge and Lischer and Curry and Brueggemann and Lose and Taylor (have a listen to Raffel, the new Anglican Archbishop!), all of whom will remind you of the call of Jesus Christ to bear faithful human witness in our world. 

Les Murray reminds us, tongue firmly planted in his cheek

Prose is Protestant-agnostic,

story, discussion, significance,

but poetry is Catholic,

poetry is presence.

Preaching is not just reading out something written by another, it is living out the proclamation of the living God, whose kiss of life has created us, and whose breath now breathes through us. 

We are, each and all of us, called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those of us, called to preach, do so in a public way, as a prophetic offering to the community of faith.

We are not called to convert, or to save. These tasks are entirely – and thankfully – the movement of the Spirit of the one about whose life and death and resurrection we preach. We are called to bear witness – in our proclamation and in our lives. The significance of our words must be echoed by the integrity of our character, in humility and mercy.

R.S Thomas goes to efforts to keep us suitably humble:

I see them working in old rectories

by the sun’s light, by candlelight,

venerable men, their black cloth

a little dusty, a little green

with holy mildew. And yet their skulls,

ripening over so many prayers,

toppled in to the same grave

with oafs and yokels. They left no books,

memorial to their lonely thought

in grey parishes; rather they wrote

on people’s hearts and in the minds

of young children sublime words

too soon forgotten. God, in his time

or out of time will correct this.

Our proclamation must always point to Christ, crucified and risen. That is our calling.

I note that there are experienced preachers, ordained and lay, gathered here and in Canberra and online, as individuals and in regional hubs; there are preachers in waiting, those apprenticed to a community of faith, and preachers who are discovering their call.

I welcome those preachers from other traditions, including those who will be teaching and leading us.

All preaching begins in prayer, so let us pray.

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2 thoughts on “Moderator welcomes attendees to Preachfest”

  1. What a vibrant opening address! I remain deeply committed to preaching amid my various other ministry roles and was disappointed that I was unavailable to be involved in Preachfest this year… But very encouraged by those words. Thanks Simon and in advance to others sharing passion, experience and wisdom.

  2. What a splendid beginning to Preachfest! I am one who has been preaching for 73 years, giving it my utmost as ministerial life enables. I have read widely on the art, learning from many eminent preachers in person and through their written work. I have delighted in the calling to proclaim the Gospel. So, I am strongly moved to acknowledge and say “AMEN” to Simon’s words. They delighted me because he so brilliantly expressed the essence of preaching. He showed its timeless nature, not as something new, but something that is constantly being renewed by God, expressing what preaching has been throughout Israel’s history culminating with the Gospel; all through the gift of the Holy Spirit, relating to people’s lives in every age, and thus confronting them with the very Word of God.

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