AN ECUMENICAL ADVENTURE
JANUARY 14, 2013
BY ANNA VANDER WALL
As a first time attendee of the National Festival of Young Preachers, I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I did not know I would be going until mid December when I received an e-mail from Andrew Boyd, Director of Young Adult Ministries for the Orthodox Church in America. This e-mail informed me that, as the winner of the newly launched Orthodox Youtube Challenge (a competition in which participants answer theological questions), I would be able to participate in the National Festival of Young Preachers.
At this festival, I would listen to sermons by preachers from all different denominations and also present my own sermon. To say that I was shocked, thrilled, and scared would be an understatement. As a twenty-year-old studying physical therapy in Colorado, I have never thought of myself as a preacher.
As soon as I arrived in Atlanta and registered for the festival, my fears were dispelled. I was immediately greeted by Andrew and several other young preachers and staff members who were eager to welcome and assist me. I was surprised by how quickly I felt at home in an arena hitherto totally foreign to me. During the festival, all attendees gathered together for worship, preaching, and workshop sessions.
But there were also several opportunities to connect one-on-one. Small groups met daily to discuss thoughts and questions, and meal times and free times were also great opportunities to pursue new friendships. I was blessed to make friends I plan on staying in contact with after the festival. I remember staying up until three in the morning after a lovely banquet on the last evening of the festival, conversing with them about our passions and visions for church as if we were old friends. God willing, I will see them again at next year’s festival in Indianapolis.
I also gained a new appreciation for homiletics. Speech is our most immediate form of communicating the Gospel, and at the festival I witnessed the many different and beautiful forms preaching assumes. Learning about how to most effectively present the Gospel from my teachers and watching the creativity my peers exhibited in their sermons gave me a new understanding of God’s grandeur.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the festival is that it is genuinely ecumenical. I have never sensed so much inter-denominational goodwill before in such a diverse setting. I met people from all different traditions: Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Episcopalians, Catholics, etc., and I myself am Eastern Orthodox. Every time I met someone or observed others in conversation, I was impressed by their willingness to listen to and understand other traditions. Genuine love and understanding are powerful and beautiful, and I think the National Festival of Young Preachers achieves this because every attendant holds Jesus Christ as the center of their lives and their chief joy.
God’s grace is certainly present in this organization, and I would like to thank Dwight Moody and everyone else who worked so hard to make this atmosphere possible. Thank you for fulfilling a great need for my generation: an opportunity for young church members and leaders all over the nation to fellowship and encourage one another in their call to be the face of Christ in a world dwelling in darkness. I left the conference strengthened in my own faith and eager to spread Christ’s love to members of my parish, St. John’s Greek Orthodox, and beyond to my neighbors and classmates.
I arrived thinking ‘I’m not a preacher’, but by the end of the festival I realized that preaching entails any form of communicating love for Christ. While I may not be called to be behind the pulpit on Sunday mornings, I am called to spread the joy of knowing Christ, and I am thankful that the festival taught me how to do that more effectively.