Pastor's journal promotes black preaching White minister PTC contends African-American sermons deserve more recognition

November 03, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Rev. David Albert Farmer is an unlikely candidate to be the editor of a publication titled the African American Pulpit.

Farmer, pastor of University Baptist Church across from the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, has edited the respected Pulpit Digest for 15 years. He is also white.

But Farmer said he has long been attracted by the power and beauty of black preaching and he noticed the lack of any publication promoting it. His idea for such a publication has resulted in the premier issue of the African American Pulpit, a quarterly journal published by Valley Forge, Pa.-based Judson Press and being mailed to subscribers this month.

Farmer said he has received a few polite inquiries, like, "Why are you, a white guy, involved in the African American Pulpit?" he said. "Well, my first book was on the preaching of women. I'm not a woman, but it hadn't been done before, so why not me?

"There never has been a magazine for black preachers, either to emphasize it, or to help black preachers prepare sermons by giving them ideas or showing them what their colleagues are doing," Farmer said.

One of his first moves was to seek a black preacher who would be co-editor. "I thought it didn't make a whole lot of sense for a Caucasian to launch this project by myself," he said.

Farmer turned to Kirk Byron Jones of Andover Newton Theological School near Boston. After a year of planning, Jones and Farmer produced the first issue, which features nine sermons, including one delivered by the Rev. Brad Ronnell Braxton, pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore. It includes book reviews and an interview with the Rev. Dr. Henry H. Mitchell, considered one of the deans of African-American preachers.

Twenty-seven years ago, Mitchell wrote what is considered the seminal work, "Black Preaching."

The Rev. Vashti McKenzie, pastor of Payne Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church in West Baltimore, said the new journal will be "a great resource."

"There really aren't a lot of publications dedicated to collecting the writings of African-Americans," she said.

Farmer said that he intends to maintain a balance in the featured sermons, in terms of the gender of the preachers, where they come from and the denomination they belong to. He also wants to maintain a mix of sermon styles.

"You'll find some sermons built around simple stories, and you'll find the well-researched, academic sermon," he said.

One might think that sermons transcribed to the printed page might lose something, an issue Jones addresses in his opening essay.

"The classic argument against printed sermons, particularly black sermons, is that they look awfully flimsy when compared to our dynamic preacher-congregation dialogical feasts," Jones wrote. "But if we lose something in printing the sermons, we gain something more. The printed sermon is not a dead letter; it is new life. Some would even argue that it is enhanced life on the grounds of its ready and repeated availability to you."

Farmer hopes to dispel any notion that black preaching is high on drama but thin on content. As an example, he points to Braxton's sermon, which was delivered at Farmer's University Baptist Church. Farmer recalls that it was an exhilarating piece of preaching.

"But Brad's scholarship and careful preparation are very evident in that sermon," he said.

He hopes the African American Preacher will allow people who rarely attend a black church to appreciate "the span and breadth and variety" in the sermons.

"I would like to see some serious racial bridges built," he said. "If churches can't show people how to bridge these barriers, no other institution is going to do it."

Pub Date: 11/03/97

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