Hundreds flock to the first Festival of Preaching

by Sarah Meyrick

FOUR hundred and fifty clergy and lay preachers came to Christ Church Oxford this month to take part in the first ever Festival of Preaching hosted by the College, the Cathedral and St Aldate’s Church.

The Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, preaches at St Aldate’s.

The 48-hour festival was organised by the Church Times and Canterbury Press, part of the Hymns A&M group, and featured a top line-up of internationally respected speakers. These included the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, and well known in the Diocese of Oxford from his time as Bishop of Reading, and the Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London, who spoke at the last diocesan clergy conference in 2014.

Bishop Stephen spoke with passion and energy about the craft of preaching and the importance of being heard. One comment he often hears at the church door is, “Thank you. I heard every word, Bishop.” Either, he said, this meant it was a terrible sermon, and the listener couldn’t think of anything else to say; or the comment suggested that being able to hear every word was a novel experience. He also stressed the importance of storytelling, and debunked the idea that congregations had short attention spans. “Just think about stand-up comedians,” he said. “They fill arenas and sometimes talk for two hours.”

Other speakers included Nadia Bolz-Weber, an ordained Lutheran pastor from Denver and the author of two New York Times bestsellers; Paula Gooder, Director of Mission Learning and Development for the Diocese of Birmingham; Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul’s; the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy; and the Revd Dr Joanna Collicutt who is the Oxford Diocesan Adviser on the Spiritual Care for Older People as well as a lecturer at Ripon College Cuddesdon.