The other morning I had the privilege to preach in St. Mary’s Chapel for the first time – on the feast day of Hugh Latimer, Nicolas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, no less. It happened to work out that I, a dedicated follower of the English reformation, was assigned this day. Cranmer, in particular, is one of my spiritual heroes.
I have preached fairly often over the past seven years in a number of parishes, but preaching in St. Mary’s is an altogether different experience. It can be a daunting task to stand in that beautifully carved wooden pulpit before men and women dedicated to serving the church today, standing in a place shared by the saints of old. As someone who loves history, I was acutely aware of the people who have occupied this pulpit, including several Archbishops of Canterbury. This is all to say that although I am seldom nervous before a crowd, this morning was an exception.
As if the past were not intimidating enough, when you preach in St. Mary’s you look out directly at the faculty at the opposite end of the quire. I was not intimidated by their lack of expression or any perceivable sternness. The faculty members are excellent listeners and you know that they want you to give a great sermon – to do your best for the glory of God. They are on your side because they want to see the church raise up seminarians who are gifted preachers. Nevertheless, the fact is they are all excellent preachers. We are spoiled as residential students because we have the opportunity to hear one excellent sermon after another, day after day. Each faculty members has a unique style, and they all all succeed in capturing every listener’s attention while honestly bringing out and enlivening the Scripture readings. It is a blessing as well as an opportunity to learn by their good example.
If the adept faculty were not frightening enough, the student body is full of gifted preachers. I am sure some folks are surprised to hear about the preaching tradition at an Anglo-Catholic seminary. I can hear some of you asking, “Aren’t you folks only about the liturgy?” Yes, we are certainly devoted to our liturgical tradition, but Nashotah is absolutely dedicated to both the Word and Sacrament – neither over the other. Each are held in high regard. And for that reason, every day we experience the transforming Word and grace-filled Communion, complete with powerful preaching.