In the final episode of our second season, Prince talks with Anna Carter Florence, the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. 

Discussion topics include: 

  • What theatre and preaching have in common 
  • Why storytelling is central to preaching 
  • Entering scripture “verbs-first” 
  • Practices for growing as a preacher and theologian 
  • And more! 


Resources


Guest bio

Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) with degrees from Yale University (B.A.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div. and Ph.D.). Her books include “Preaching as Testimony” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), “Rehearsing Scripture” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2018), based on her 2012 Beecher Lectures at Yale, and “A is for Alabaster: 52 Reflections on the Stories of Scripture” (Westminster John Knox Press, 2023). Anna is a frequent preacher and teacher in the U.S. and abroad. She and her husband, the Rev. David Carter Florence, have two grown sons, Caleb and Jonah. They also have two dogs, two cats, and way too much knitting yarn.


Transcript

Prince Rivers:

What does it mean to lead now, especially in the church, especially in this political and social climate? I’m Prince Rivers, and this is Leading and Thriving in the Church, a podcast from Alban at Duke Divinity. Our mission is to help you be the leader God has called you to be. It’s been my privilege to serve as a pastor for more than 20 years, and I absolutely love supporting people who lead congregations. It’s one of my passions. But doing ministry in the post-pandemic era has unearthed new leadership challenges, and it has led us to pay more attention to the need for thriving ministers and congregations. This podcast features conversations with some of the most innovative pastors, leaders, and authors I know. They’re going to help us do church faithfully and effectively, and in a way that is life-giving to those who lead and the people we serve. I’m so glad you’re listening. I can’t wait to introduce you to today’s guest on Leading and Thriving in the Church.

Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She’s the author of several books, including “A Is for Alabaster: 52 Reflections on the Stories of Scripture.” She preaches and lectures widely in the United States and abroad. Anna, thank you for being on “Leading and Thriving in the Church”. It is a pleasure to have you with us today.

Anna Carter Florence:

It is such a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Prince Rivers:

So let’s jump right in. You write a lot about preaching, think a lot about preaching. Preaching is of course a central task of congregational leadership. And your vocation not only involves proclaiming the word but also developing others who are called to do this holy work. Can you just share a little bit about your background and your journey into homiletics and theology?

Anna Carter Florence:

I’d love to. Thank you for the question. Well, I grew up in New England, in a congregational church actually, where preaching was not so much about the Bible. It was about being a good and upright moral person. And when I was in college, my parents moved to New York City and began going to a Presbyterian church. And I remember the first time I went to a worship service and I thought, “Whoa, okay, this is different. This person’s on fire. This person is reading Scripture in a way that is just opening, not the book up, but me up.” And so I got interested at that point, and I had a background in theatre, so it was kind of second nature for me to think about working with a book, a text, and then all the ways you can interpret it.

So I went to seminary after college and then served a church in Minneapolis for five years. It was a big church, about three thousand members. Although my job was an associate pastor for youth and young adults, I fell in love with the practice of preaching, so not just the process but the practice. And I also realized that while I loved being a pastor, I really loved teaching. So I went back to grad school and came to Columbia in 1998. I’m finishing my 26th year here, but I still love the practice and preaching is what I think about all day long, but my students are the real focus. I love this act, this art of walking with people who are learning for the first time or coming back to it after hiatus, who are looking to deepen their preaching and having them all in the same room, like a big workshop space. And what happens there is what fascinates me.

Prince Rivers:

That’s an incredible journey. You were inspired by the practice of preaching, to engage preaching more fully. And certainly I’m sure your background in theatre has played some part maybe in how you think about preaching or at least the delivery of sermons. Is that fair to say?

Anna Carter Florence:

Yeah. And certainly there’s a part of embodiment that happens in preaching that also happens in theatre. But it’s really, I think for me, what leads up to the sermon, the community that interprets the book together, the process of coming back to the text again and again and rehearsing it, thinking through it, trying different possibilities, seeing what feels like a truthful word to the community and what seems to be a truthful glimpse of God. And what I learned in theatre is that you can do that with the same script 45 ways and each of them will blow you away. And so that sense of the endlessness that Scripture gives and gives and gives the way a really good play, a really good text gives and gives and gives. And that is the part that I think theatre gave me, I don’t want to say a head start, but I didn’t have to look for what was right. I’m not looking for the right interpretation.

I’m looking to hear truth, what’s true about our lives, and I’m looking to see the face of God. And that for me is always a possibility with the Bible and with reading Scripture that way, when the community does that together. So those are the things that I brought that were things that I learned in a theatre classroom.

Prince Rivers:

Do you incorporate that into your homiletics classes? I mean, are you trying to help students maybe unlearn this “rightness”?

Anna Carter Florence:

Oh, I love that phrase. What a great phrase. Thank you. Yes. Everybody comes with stuff, and when you go to seminary, you already have a bunch of degrees behind your name and you are very good at school and you’ve been formed by higher education. And so you are trained already to look for the answer, the thesis, the point, the “this,” the “that.” And we’re all trained to do that quickly or as quickly as we possibly can so we can move on to the next assignment. So my big thing is to try to help them slow down and not just slow down the process of writing a sermon, but slow down the process of living with the text, living with the biblical text, and walking through it and living with it and finding their own lives in it and listening to it, not alone in their rooms, but to keep changing the bodies in the room.

You change the bodies in the room and you change what you hear in the text over and over again. And that’s something my job lets me see every day, and I am really eager for my students to experience that.

Prince Rivers:

That’s fascinating. So I often ask people this question as it relates to leadership, but I’m going to ask you this question as it relates to preaching. Do you have a working definition for preaching? I mean, what is preaching? What’s the difference between preaching and some other form of oral communication standing in front of a group of people?

Anna Carter Florence:

That is such a wonderful and a timeless question, isn’t it? And when you are … The technical name for what I am is a homiletician, so we’re supposed to think about those things. For me, preaching is testimony in the deepest sense and not just telling the story of my life, but saying, “I’m going to wager my life on what I see, the witness I see here, and I’m going to wager it so much that I will risk telling you the truth and confessing the truth that I see here and saying why it matters to me.” So testimony in the sense of being a witness for the text, a witness for the word of God in the text, a witness for God in the text, that’s what I think a preacher is. And because I’m part of a tradition, the Presbyterian Church (USA) that uses the Bible in preaching, that for me is a great preaching partner.

I get to go there with that partner every single time. And that is the place where I begin to say, given what I’ve read in this story today, where am I seeing this script playing out in our world and what do I believe so strongly that I can’t help but get up and say it? I think preaching has to risk something.

Prince Rivers:

That’s powerful, that’s powerful. Because it’s so easy as a preacher to want to be careful.

Anna Carter Florence:

Oh, that’s beautifully said. We talk a lot in, well, all over the church and certainly all over theological education, about the importance of being contextual and that is being caring, that is being filled with care about how we speak to our people and what liberation looks like in a context, in front of us, what people need to be freed from and for, what God can be and is in their lives. But to be careful: what I notice in my students is that when they’re careful, it’s because they’re scared. They’re scared about what I’m going to think as their teacher. They’re scared about what their colleagues are going to think, the other students in the classroom. They’re scared about offending and that’s a real thing, right? Because in many churches, preachers are paid by the church, and so there is an accountability factor. But I think the church calls us to say boldly where the witness of God is right now today for these people and that takes more courage.

Prince Rivers:

That’s a good word. That’s a good word.

I want to go back to something you said just a moment ago. You used the phrase “storytelling,” and I see a lot of ads today for training business leaders on how to be better storytellers. So help me understand why you think storytelling is so central to preaching. I know you’ve written a lot about narrative. What does that mean to you?

Anna Carter Florence:

Well, thank you for that because that is … You’re right, it’s everywhere, isn’t it? Story is a big word for us. It’s an important word. And I guess for me, in terms of the work that I do, I have colleagues who are very gifted at helping students learn how to tell a story, any story. And I think that’s a really important thing to learn. What I do, which is slightly different, is I try to immerse my students in the stories of Scripture and to feel that they – I’m going to use a phrase I just learned from Mihee Kim-Kort – to feel like they belong, they can sense their own belonging in the story. I often use the phrase “they find their own script in the Scripture” or a script that they recognize. It’s one they see being played out right now or it’s one that they have walked alongside someone else being thrust into, or they anticipate one day to have to do this.

I think Scripture is filled with scripts that one day we’re all going to have to play. And so for me, when I think of story, I’m inviting them to enter the world of the text and let the stories be what they are and not try to force them into something else, but to just keep coming back to listen for where they sense their own belonging.

Prince Rivers:

That is beautiful. So let’s stay with that because we know that we are living in a very different world than the world of the biblical text. How do you think about navigating the tension between the ancient biblical texts and contemporary settings of preaching, either as a homiletician as you’re teaching students to do this or even as you stand and proclaim as a preacher yourself?

Anna Carter Florence:

Thank you for that question because that goes straight to the heart of a teacher, the “how” question. And the way a teacher learns is by failing many times and having to try something else. So what I learned at a certain point in my teaching life was that my students were entering the text nouns-first. They were getting all tripped up over the nouns of Scripture that felt like, and rightly so to my students, like they were a galaxy far, far away. Cubits, shekels, Samaritan, Syrophoenician, mandrakes. I mean, all of these things in the biblical texts that aren’t in our neighborhoods, we don’t run into these nouns every day. And so every time the students turned around in their sermons, they were translating. And they were keeping the text at a distance and it was allowing them to do that.

I don’t care whether they were – we can use the words “liberal” and “conservative” – but whatever theological stance they had, everyone was doing that, keeping the text at a distance when they wanted to. So I learned that if I invited the students to enter Scripture verbs-first, then all of a sudden there was no place to hide because we all have verbs, the same verbs actually. And we have the same verbs that Adam and Eve have in the text and Abraham and Sarah and Hagar and Tamar and Jeremiah and Peter and Paul and Lydia and Aquila and Jesus, which I think is the whole point of incarnation, right? Jesus came to share our verbs. And so when I asked the students – well, let’s just be real, I made them because I’m in charge of them for one semester, and then they can do what they want – so when we were reading texts in class, we would read verbs-first and all of a sudden we were everywhere.

We were seeing ourselves everywhere. We were hearing ourselves everywhere. And not only that, what we learned was it was a non-threatening way to build community because you don’t need a Ph.D. to talk about a verb. You don’t need tons of letters after your name to contribute to the conversation. It could be the first time you’ve opened the Bible. You have something to say. And so the students were now talking as a room full of equals and community and forgetting about who said this in theology and why they got mad at that person last week, and we were suddenly hearing things in the text and able to articulate them to one another that came from the heart and that we could really value in one another. And that felt revolutionary to me. So that’s a practice I continued is reading verbs-first whenever I read with any group, doesn’t matter what it is, intergenerational, interdenominational, anything. That is a practice that I have found brings people swiftly into the text’s arms.

Prince Rivers:

I love that idea of verbs first. You are changing the way I’m thinking about what I do every single week, so I appreciate that. That is very enlightening.

In addition to what you just said, I’m also thinking about those texts that, whether it’s because of nouns or verbs, they’re just a challenging text to preach. They’re a troubling text to preach either because of what’s in the text and in that world or because of what’s going on in our world socially, politically and culturally. How do you think about preaching in that context or with those texts? Is that a part of the way you teach preaching? And if so, if you’ve got a recent example, I’d love to hear it. But either way, generally or specifically, how do you do this?

Anna Carter Florence:

Yeah. That’s a potent question and an essential question, right? Because I have heard people in my field saying, “Oh, this story in Scripture is unpreachable,” meaning it’s so dangerous, it’s so terrifying. It’s a text of terror, of so much terror, that we should just let it go. And I’ve been given two gifts that have helped me come at this.

One is the theatre thing again. There are terrible things that happen in plays. Some plays are tragedies and we don’t not play them. We enter them because there is a truth to be learned and to be shown and to be experienced by watching even the terrible decisions that people make in a play, just like in life, you know. And so there was something always that was redemptive about the process of even doing the most heartbreaking scenes, not because you want to torture yourself or the people watching, but because there is something deeply human to learn about as a person of faith, about my creatureliness, our creatureliness. So that’s the first gift I was given.

The second is that when I joined the Columbia faculty, Walter Brueggemann was on the faculty and he has been a mentor of mine. And one thing he taught me early, and this is in his writing and also just in his own very being, is that the text has testimony and counter-testimony. It has testimony to who God is and Israel who is the voice. And Walter Brueggemann of course is a Hebrew Bible scholar, Old Testament, Hebrew Bible. The biblical text is all of the things that Israel wants to tell us about who God is. God is great and God is good. And that’s the core testimony with all of those amazing verbs that go with it. God saves, God hears, God raises, God lifts, God delivers, God frees, God liberates, and all of these things, including in the Old Testament, God delivered us out of Egypt. And in the New Testament, God raised Jesus from the dead, these core testimonies.

But the Scripture also has a counter-testimony, which is when the people of God say, “How long? Why oh why have you forsaken us when, okay, we know that you are great and good, oh God, but what gives? Where are you now? You are not here.” What Brueggemann taught me is that Israel is honest to the point of refusing to make an idol out of who God is. And if we are only allowed to say God is great and good, we have made an idol of who God is. So there needs to be this other movement of human expression that rages, that demands justice, that cries out, that laments, and this is in the New Testament as well. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate. But Easter, Easter means nothing without … The core testimony is nothing without the counter-testimony because we do believe ultimately we have hope. We have hope.

But the hope is shallow without the other. Those two gifts have been very helpful to me. And I guess what it’s done is it’s made me not scared to enter a really terrible story in Scripture and feel like my call is to say what I see and to say to God what I need to say to God from my experience with this text, from my entering this. And also to understand that that too is a form of faithfulness. I’m not trying to proclaim what I see there as right or acceptable. There is so much in Scripture that is abominable, things that human beings do to one another. But I want my students to know there is nothing they can’t look at. And that goes for the text as well as life. Sometimes I think a preacher is the only one who will look, and we need to cultivate that fearlessness and confidence in knowing that God is going to be with us even in that.

Prince Rivers:

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for that. That is a lot to reflect on. I’m thinking about your comment about Walter Brueggemann being a mentor to you in different ways and the journey that you’ve had even over the years just at Columbia Theological Seminary. You preach a lot, you write a lot, and how do you continue to develop and grow as a preacher and theologian? Are there practices that you try to incorporate into your life, your week, your year? What does growth and development look like to you?

Anna Carter Florence:

Thank you. That’s a beautiful question. Well, I guess there are two things I’ll say again. One is I’m aging. I was 36 when I started teaching. I was 35 when I came to Columbia, and I am 61. And one of the real blessings of growing older is the body of experiences that are waiting for you if you are – I might say blessed enough, but I will just say if providence has allowed you to age to become older, if I have more years, more mornings to wake up, I am astounded at how much is different. My husband and I have been married now for 37 years. Our sons are grown. They are about to get married this summer. I just got back from a really wonderful conference in Minneapolis where I was with six scholars, six really amazing practitioners on a panel, and I was the oldest by 20 years. They were all 20 to 25 years younger and they were astounding. They were so amazing.

So I think the first thing I’d say is I just keep trying to live exactly where I am and not trying to fight it, and to keep receiving with gratitude what the ones coming up are offering. That’s the first thing. The second is, oh my gosh, I get to go in a classroom every day. I’m sure you feel this about your congregants, right, and the other work that you do? I mean, when you get to go and be with students, it’s like nothing else. And when I first came to Columbia, the student body was 97% Presbyterian, which then meant a demographic of, I would say, about 95% of the students I taught were white and 5% were students of color. And now about 40% of the students I teach identify as white and 60 or more percent are students of color. And I’ve got 25, no, 21 faith traditions represented in my preaching class. That’s incredible. So the classroom has always been a joyful place for me, but now it’s just crackling all the time. And that is a powerful thing for a teacher to keep learning from. It’s wonderful.

Prince Rivers:

That’s beautiful. I’m sure you’re making the audience want to come and sit in on a preaching class one day.

Anna Carter Florence:

Anytime.

Prince Rivers:

Yeah. So you talked about the makeup of your class early on and how that’s changed over time, and I’m sure gender has shifted too over these more than two decades. Just want to ask, how do you think the role of gender affects preaching and even interpretation in contemporary context?

Anna Carter Florence:

Well, thank you for that. And of course, that’s a very sort of deep-blood question with me in my own history because I was in seminary in the ’80s and there were not very many women. I went to seminary without having heard a woman preach. And I grew up thinking I could be anything, but I had never seen that. And I came into seminary telling myself, “Well, I’m here, but I’m going to do this degree and then I’ll become …” I couldn’t imagine myself in that role because I hadn’t seen it embodied, I’m convinced. So I have experienced what it’s like to intellectually know I could do something but not really believe it because I hadn’t experienced and felt it and seen it and touched it. So that is something I am very aware that even now in 2024 is a live issue.

We are very fortunate at Columbia because preaching is required. And you know what? I’m going to fight for that as long as I can because there are students who come into class because it’s required and then they figure it out. And you can guess how many of those are women. Most of them are women. And it doesn’t matter what faith tradition they come from, they just haven’t imagined themselves there. And then they are suddenly sitting in a workshop environment with others and the other students are telling them, “Oh my God, you’ve got a gift.” And then they can’t deny what God might be doing or what this might mean for their vocational leadership and call. And I’ve seen lives take a totally new direction. And the other beautiful part of that is that no matter who they are in the class – women, men, whatever their gender identity is – they see it in one another and they can’t help but say, “Wow, I affirm that in you.”

And to hear other people offer you that affirmation, your colleagues, is powerful. So yeah, gender dynamics are always going to be a thing. And I have story after story about that, but it’s something I’m really grateful for that because of the power of the Holy Spirit and the registrar, they have to take preaching.

Prince Rivers:

Got to love the registrar, right?

Anna Carter Florence:

Yeah, I tell you.

Prince Rivers:

So you do a lot of great work in the classroom. It certainly sounds that way. Also, I’ve been hearing great things. You and a colleague were awarded a Lilly-funded grant through their Compelling Preaching Initiative, and that sounds like it has a national scope. Love to hear a little bit about that. What are you dreaming?

Anna Carter Florence:

Well, thank you for asking and of course you and I met … Well, I saw you from afar at the Lilly conference not long ago in Indianapolis. Yes. My colleague at Columbia, Jake Myers, we have been teaching together for 10 years. We applied for one of those Lilly grants, and our focus is tired preachers. We have begun what we’re calling the Columbia Preachers Studio for Renewal. I have been always very impressed with the work that The Actors Studio in New York does. On Monday when the theatres are dark, when they’re closed, everybody goes to class. It doesn’t matter if you are Robert De Niro or Meryl Streep. People go to class and they do scene work, and they are there all together, newbies, new ones and people who are going to go back and have just won a Tony for the production that’s on Broadway right now. And they’re at the same level. They do scene work.

And I wanted preaching spaces where we could have some of that. For preachers to reconnect with their vocation, their love of Scripture, their excitement for the world around them. And so Jake Myers and I are coming at it in three ways. We’re going for renewal of preachers’ relationship with Scripture and those are workshops that we’re leading around the country. Come to the Columbia website, send us an email and we’ll come to you because we’ve got funding to do that now. The second leg is Jake is creating all kinds of really wonderful online resources that will be free, that are about the context around us, interviews, some podcasts, things like you’re doing. And then the third component Jake will do with his wife, Dr. Abby Myers, who’s a psychologist, and they will be leading some pilgrimage experiences to the Camino in Spain, to some yoga retreats to come back in touch with preachers’ sense of vocational calling and energy.

And so we’re going to come at tired preachers and hopefully what we want to do is try to reignite some fire. This is hard work and post-COVID, you know this, and I’m married to one of you. My husband David Carter Florence is an associate pastor at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina near Asheville. Y’all are tired and preachers need support. And I am really grateful to Lilly for putting a lot of resources in so many hands so that we can try to reach the ones who give so much.

Prince Rivers:

Well, this is year 25 of pastoring for me, so sign me up for the yoga retreat. That’s great. That’s great. I know you will really, really serve a lot of clergy well. They are going to benefit greatly from this.

This is another question that came to my mind and we have a few more minutes together. There are people who approach what I’m about to say in different ways. So I’m thinking about just the idea of intergenerational ministry and worship and where children fit in in all of this. And most of the people who go to seminary and are trained in an intro to homiletics class are trained to preach to adults. And they may have different gifts that may orient them in certain ways.

And so then in our churches, there is a lot of conversation, can be, about: should children go away to children’s church? And if they do, how many Sundays? And I know for me growing up in a church where I was sitting in the pew, I didn’t hear everything, but I did hear some things and some things that still sit with me today. I’m just curious: what are your thoughts about intergenerational worship and the place of children and the place of the sermon in the lives of children?

Anna Carter Florence:

What a great question. And you are right. Everyone is wrestling with this, right? And I would hope that we have always wrestled with that no matter where we are in time, because nurturing young ones in the faith is part of the church’s mission. I was like you. I was raised like you where I was in church with my parents, bored sometimes, but also fascinated at other times. And our kids did some of that. But it’s a different era now. And I have watched my best teacher, and this has been my spouse, my husband David at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church, because he as the associate pastor for faith formation and families listened to what the families wanted. And what they wanted was not to be separated from their kids by having worship at the same time as Sunday school. They had enough of that during the week.

They wanted to worship with their kids. They wanted it to be something even the smallest ones could understand. Some of them were new to the faith or coming back to the faith. I’m talking about the parents themselves. And so they needed kind of a place and a community ease-in, and they needed to meet other young families. And so David just created a 35-minute sermon in between the other two worship services, and it is packed. And people are coming and the little ones are coming. And what they do for proclamation, I mean they do by teaching. It’s what we used to do in big church, but it’s now at a level where they aim for two to four.

Prince Rivers:

Two to four…?

Anna Carter Florence:

Years old.

Prince Rivers:

Wow. Okay.

Anna Carter Florence:

And so there are songs that everyone sings. They do a little bit of teaching: “Why do we take an offering? We do it for this.” And then all the kids come forward and there’s a real deliberate story time. Sometimes it’s a picture book and then sometimes David will also tell another story. But primarily what I’m seeing evolve is it’s becoming a community space. I don’t want to say a gateway because it is powerful in itself, and these families are joining the church and connecting with one another. But it’s also, the church really listened to those families and they were willing to take a risk and to try some things, experiment with some things. The families themselves are involved in what goes on too. And it’s evolving. So there’s not a sense of this being finished. I raise this just because I remember when I was a pastor we would launch a program and it would be very – I was at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis. It had three thousand members. It was downtown. Everything we did was very beautiful and polished and deep. We didn’t do anything without really getting all the bugs out of it. And I think now pastors who are trying things out and willing to shift gears and willing to say, “Okay, well, that particular thing didn’t work. Let’s come back to the table and do it again.” And the ones who are really not afraid to say, “Proclamation to a three-year-old is just as important as proclamation to a 93-year-old.” I think that’s really powerful. I wish you could see their Wednesday nights too, Prince, because they have an after-school thing. And do you know who cooks dinner for these families? The retired people.

Prince Rivers:

Wow.

Anna Carter Florence:

It’s just amazing. They are so giving and so behind all of this, and it feels like the kind of support a family needs at that time of life.

Prince Rivers:

Yeah. Well, I’m in North Carolina, so it sounds like a learning journey to Black Mountain needs to be on the agenda. That is amazing. So just so I have it right, there’s a 35-minute service in between the two main services, and that’s where the children are really center of?

Anna Carter Florence:

That’s family worship. They have an 8:45 early service and then they have an 11 o’clock traditional service, and then they have a 10 to 10:35 family worship, and it is wild. It is hilarious. Half the people there are under four and there’re about 50, 60 people who show up.

Prince Rivers:

That’s incredible.

Anna Carter Florence:

Yep. They run around.

Prince Rivers:

That is incredible. So I’ll ask you this then. So what do you think about the future of preaching? How is preaching evolving, particularly in the context of changing communication, technologies and trends? What’s next for us? What does your crystal ball say?

Anna Carter Florence:

Such a great question. I mean, I really wish … Don’t you wish sometimes you could just peek 20, and for me, 20, 30 years down the road when I’m not here anymore?

Prince Rivers:

It would be great.

Anna Carter Florence:

I guess I’ll say this. There’s some things I hope that will still be part of it. And then there are forms that are not as important to me that are still part of it. So for me, the heart of preaching is going to continue to be a preacher. And in my tradition, the biblical text, I feel like this book that we have is important and powerful, but I think canon and what we think of as canon is something we need to keep coming back to so that our canon is not just the stories in that book, but the stories we have experienced in our own lives that speak another kind of holiness into that. Those are the things I hope that are going to continue to be a part. I hope preachers will continue to bring the holiness of life to the people so they can recognize that. How they do that is less important. But I hope that it will continue to be conversation and a multiplicity of voices. I hope it’ll be never limited to only one kind of person with one kind of credential and one kind of voice.

Prince Rivers:

Last question. What advice would you give to aspiring preachers, and you probably do this in your class, someone is just starting out in this good journey, the burdensome joy of preaching, right?

Anna Carter Florence:

Three things. Three things. First of all, have a great time. Enjoy it. This is the best. And if you’re not having fun, you need to change that. Second, get a good community of other people who love preaching and who want to do it with you, because the best thing for preachers to do is preach and just preach to each other and get support from another. And the third is, oh my gosh, there’s so much great preaching out there. I mean, listen to other people. Not to make yourself have to be like any one of them, but notice how authentic they are in their own tradition, their own space, their own voice, their own body, their own life. I mean, that’s the stuff you really can recognize and that’s empowering. So go listen. There’s stuff all over the internet and it’s pretty great. And I want to give a big shout out to Duke and to what Luke Powery, Dean Powery is doing at Duke Chapel. They’ve got archives you can go listen to, and I am so impressed with what Dean Powery has done to make those resources available to the world.

Prince Rivers:

I echo that. When I was a student at Duke, internet was just evolving and we could go down and we could get cassette tapes copied of anybody who had ever preached at Duke. And that was the first time I heard Howard Thurman’s voice.

Anna Carter Florence:

Isn’t that an amazing thing?

Prince Rivers:

It blew me away. Reading is good. Hearing is incredible.

Anna Carter Florence:

Hearing is amazing.

Prince Rivers:

Yeah. Well, Anna Carter Florence, it has been an absolute pleasure to speak you today. I can’t wait to see what happens through your Compelling Preaching project for tired preachers. I know they’re going to be renewed and uplifted and engaged through the work that you’re going to do. I will say that I’m currently reading “A Is for Alabaster” – your book – “52 Reflections on the Stories of Scripture.” It is beautifully written. I’m enjoying it tremendously. And again, thank you for being my guest today on “Leading and Thriving in the Church.”

Anna Carter Florence:

Reverend Dr. Rivers, thank you so much for inviting me and thank you for the gift you’re giving the church with this.

Prince Rivers:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Leading and Thriving in the Church. This podcast is produced by Emily Lund and recorded in the Bryan Center Studios on the campus of Duke University. I’m your host, Prince Rivers. If you want more great leadership content, be sure to check out our website alban.org, where you can sign up for the Alban Weekly newsletter, and make sure you subscribe to this podcast on your preferred podcast platform so we can keep you informed as we release new episodes. Until next time, keep leading.


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