Hundreds of preachers descended on Denver, Colorado, this week to attend the 2022 Festival of Homiletics.

After a two-year in-person hiatus, ministers from across the U.S. and from a variety of denominations shared embraces and smiles, ready to be inspired.

The festival is planned by Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and this year’s theme was trauma.

After two years of living through a global pandemic, the challenges of in-person and virtual worship, a social uprising regarding racial justice, rising political turmoil and an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, preachers are not only exhausted but also have suffered great trauma.

A man standing behind a podium while speaking.David Loose, senior pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, told participants, “Trauma can drive us away from the very communities we need.”

Over the last two years, an increasing number of pastors have left ministry due to growing tensions within their churches, he noted. Pastors have been attacked, isolated and abused by congregations struggling with their identities.

Several other speakers told their personal stories.

A man standing behind a podium while speaking.Frank Thomas, professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary, told the audience about the pain he suffered after losing his father during the pandemic.

Other speakers noted their own trauma after living through so much societal and congregational turmoil.

A woman standing behind a podium speaking.Deanna Thompson, director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values and Community at St. Olaf College, offered tools for ministers as they dealt with their own trauma.

Acknowledging trauma, identifying it and developing a plan is key to moving forward, she said. One may never fully recover from trauma, but healthy coping skills from a professional counselor can empower people to live healthy and productive lives.

While much of the festival focused on trauma, other speakers addressed the situations responsible for the trauma.

A man standing behind a podium while speaking.Otis Moss III, pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, encouraged the crowd by preaching from 2 Samuel 13 and the story of Tamar. Recognizing the bravery and courage of Tamar, Moss said, “We must not be afraid of the sackcloth and ashes of the people.”

Out of trauma, congregational and societal transformation can be given a spark, he said. However, we must be willing to recognize the trauma and courageous enough to walk alongside the victims. The church must not be afraid of it. Moss described this strategy as living in both the “horror and holiness” of our faith.

A woman standing behind a podium while speaking.Traci Blackmon, executive minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Church, confessed, “The reason we have no peace in our lands is because we have no peace in our churches.”

Responding to the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, Blackmon said, “We should not be surprised by shootings like this” because for many churches hanging a “Black Lives Matter sign on the outside of their buildings does not mean that Black lives matter in the inside.”

She went on to challenge pastors: “We must preach into the lived realities that unfold in real time. … What we [the church] need is a spiritual cleansing.”

Blackmon wrapped up her remarks by saying, “God may not save our [church] buildings, but God may save our churches.”

A woman standing behind a podium while speaking.Anna Carter Florence, Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, reminded festival participants that “good writers (and prophets) tell the truth, especially during the worst of times.”

Preaching from the story of Elijah and the widow, Carter Florence noted, “Before sending the prophet out into the world, God first taught Elijah about the sensibilities of the vulnerable.”

She concluded, “If not taught the lesson on the sensibilities of the vulnerable, Elijah would have been susceptible to religious fundamentalism more concerned about purity laws.” To be effective pastors, preachers and ministers must listen to their congregations and experience the lives of their parishioners in personal ways.

A woman standing behind a podium while speaking.Nadia Bolz-Weber, founder of the House for All Sinners & Saints in Denver, preached from Acts 16 where Paul and Silas save the life of their jailer after he thought they had escaped.

Revealing that she had recently lost a friend by suicide, Bolz-Weber humanized the text by asking, “What lies did the jailer believe before reaching for his sword?”

The jailer was saved by one simple act, she said. From the shadows, as the jailer took the sword, Paul said, “Do not harm yourself.”

When the jailer heard Paul’s voice, he understood he was not alone. While this methodology doesn’t always work, all people – especially ministers – need to know they are not alone.

Bolz-Weber acknowledged that pastors are facing enormous odds with “fewer people, less money and more problems.” Pastors need not give in to the “lie of autonomy,” thinking they are the only ones that can solve their problems.

We are not alone; we hold a place in the sacred community of faith, she said. Community matters; therefore, the church matters.

The Festival of Homiletics 2022 was a holy experience.

Participating in conversations with fellow ministers reminded me of the importance and struggle of their calling.

This week, reach out to your pastors and let them know they are loved and appreciated.  They – and their families – are some of the most precious jewels within the kingdom of God.

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