Downtown’s first big convention of 2016 may be one of its most unusual. But if all goes as planned, the National Festival of Young Preachers will become an annual Lexington event.
The four-day festival, Jan. 2-5 at the Hilton hotel and several downtown churches, will include about 150 young preachers, age 14 to 35, from across the country.
They will preach for mentors and each other and, on Sunday morning, for congregations at 24 Lexington churches representing a variety of Christian denominations, from Missionary Baptist to Episcopal.
Everett McCorvey, director of University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, will lead a community choir built around his American Spiritual Ensemble at two events. One, Monday night at Broadway Christian Church, is called Preachapalooza and includes a banquet. The other, Tuesday morning at Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church, is called the Great Amen and concludes the festival.
Events are open to the public, although tickets are required for Preachapalooza.
“We think it's the most ecumenical event in American Christianity,” said the Rev. Dwight Moody, founder and president of the non-profit Academy of Preachers, which organizes the festival.
This will be the academy’s eighth annual national festival. Previous ones were in Atlanta, Louisville, Indianapolis and, last year, in Dallas. This is the first in Lexington, where the academy moved its headquarters a year ago.
Moody, a Baptist preacher and author who taught at Georgetown College for many years, started the Academy of Preachers because he saw a need.
“At Georgetown, we would have about 100 or more ministerial students every year, but not a half-dozen were interested in preaching,” he said. “This is a sea change from when I was there 40 years ago.”
Moody encountered young ministers from all denominations who were interested in community ministry, social justice, youth ministry, counseling and other areas. “But they were not convinced the pulpit is the place where you could make that difference,” he said.
Moody pitched the idea to the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment, which provided major grants to get the program up and running in 2009.
Our philosophy is that it’s the public speakers in the world who change things.
Rev. Dwight Moody
In addition to the national festivals, the academy sponsors regional and campus festivals, camps and mentoring networks that have involved more than 1,000 Christian preachers. McCorvey brought the American Spiritual Ensemble to a festival and was so impressed he became the academy’s music director.
At the festival, young preachers are given a theme — this year’s is “Heaven and Earth” — and prepare a sermon they will deliver to their peers. They are evaluated by a trained preacher or professor, and videos are recorded and posted to YouTube, where they have been watched more than 60,000 times, Moody said.
“Our philosophy is that it’s the public speakers in the world who change things,” he said. “We're trying to convince these young people that if you've got preaching skills, you've got platform skills, use it in the church. You can make a difference in the world.”
Moody said college and seminary recruiters attend the festival looking for scholarship candidates. “Our motto is to identify, network, support and inspire young people in their call to Gospel preaching,” he said.
Many people who feel called to the ministry develop that interest in their teens, which is why preachers as young as 14 are included in the festival.
“The most talented person at our Dallas festival last year was this kid from Hazard, Kentucky, a national youth storytelling champion named David Benning,” Moody said.
What makes the festival unique is that it includes all Christian traditions — Protestant and Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical, black and white.
Some have never heard a woman preach or a black person preach. Some have never heard a Pentecostal sermon or heard an Orthodox. Everybody is pushed out of their comfort zone.
Rev. Dwight Moody
“All them, I don't care who they are, are coming out of a silo experience,” Moody said. “Some have never heard a woman preach or a black person preach. Some have never heard a Pentecostal sermon or heard an Orthodox. Everybody is pushed out of their comfort zone.”
Keith Turner, a student at Asbury Theological Seminary and past festival participant, agreed.
“You hear so many different voices, so many different traditions,” he said. “And yet we all come together, celebrate our diversity and allow our souls to be ministered to in very unique ways.”
Another fan of the festival is the Rev. Mark Johnson, senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, whose church will host a young preacher that Sunday.
“It's really quite remarkable: folks from every political stripe as well as every denomination,” Johnson said. “It says a lot, not only about the importance of this academy, but the future of American Christianity.”
More information: 859-533-9929 or Academyofpreachers.net