Two religious studies majors from University of Lynchburg were in Atlanta last week for the National Festival of Young Preachers. The festival attracts budding preachers, ages 14 to 35, from a variety of Christian denominations and traditions and involves four days of preaching, networking, master classes, and other events.
Morganne Talley ’21 and Evan Griffey ’18 were invited to participate in the festival by the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, which also sponsored the trip. The students also are members of Lynchburg Christian Fellowship, a Spiritual Life organization that meets regularly on campus.
At the festival, Talley, Griffey and the other participants gave 10-to-15 minute sermons. This year’s theme was “Worship the Lord” and sermons had to be based on a passage from the Book of Psalms. For her sermon, Talley chose Psalm 8, which reads in part, “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
While she admits to having a difficult time choosing which of the Psalms to preach from — “They’re all amazing,” she said — Talley said the idea for her sermon came to her during one of her classes at Lynchburg.
“One day, we were discussing different creation narratives,” she said. “The point that God created everything [being] more important than how He created everything came up. My professor referred to Psalm 8 as being one of the Psalms of creation and I thought it would be a good passage for the festival.
“Psalm 8 mentions the heavens and how great and vast they are and how God still cares for humans. Outer space has always fascinated me and Psalm 8 resonated with me because of the outer space aspect. The awe the psalmist has when thinking about the vastness and grandeur of creation, and how much God cares for us, also resonated with me. I looked at other chapters in Psalms but I always came back to Psalm 8.”
Prior to the festival, Talley said she’d written only one other sermon. She said the festival “gave me the opportunity to experience diversity in people and preaching styles,” and added, “I’m very grateful for this opportunity because I haven’t had much exposure to different preaching styles.
“Being at the festival is a very unique experience because everyone there is also discerning and following their calls to ministry. It’s a place where we can fellowship with each other and encourage each other as we wrestle with what it means to be called to ministry. Everything there is nothing but kind and encouraging, and it’s very easy to make friends.”
For his sermon, Griffey chose Psalm 13:5-6: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” He said the passage “jumped out” at him one morning during his devotions.
“At the writing of this Psalm, David, the author, was in some sort of serious distress, likely due to illness, though it is not known for sure why he was so distressed,” said Griffey, who has delivered many sermons for InFaith Community worship services on campus. “He begins the Psalm asking if the Lord has abandoned him and ends it in trusting, rejoicing, and singing to the Lord.
“Knowing my audience has always been a major part of my sermon writing and knowing that I would be preaching to other preachers. I wanted to deliver a message that would be an encouragement to them, especially knowing how easy it is to be discouraged in the Christian life, let alone in ministry.”
A couple of weeks before the festival, Talley and Griffey got the opportunity to give their sermons a trial run at a preaching conference practicum held at the Baptist Theological Seminary. Campus pastor Katrina Brooks went along.
“They did wonderfully, they really did,” she said. “They were very on point and they were very receptive to the comments people made and suggestions, which I thought spoke volumes about them.”
Both Talley and Griffey say they want to be preachers after they graduate from Lynchburg. Talley, who hails from Madison Heights and is the daughter of Lynchburg mail services clerk Earl Talley and Caressa Thaxton Talley ’87, said she was “called to ministry” in her junior year of high school at a weekend church retreat.
“I know being a senior pastor, or a role similar to that, is in my future,” she said, “but I don’t think that it will be the first thing I do once I graduate. Ministry comes in many forms that don’t involve preaching every Sunday, including youth ministry, children’s ministry, and even working at a summer camp in a number of positions. I don’t have a specific place I want to be except where God wants me to be.”
As for Griffey, who also captains the throwing squad for Lynchburg’s track team, he says preaching is about all he’s suited for. “The Lord, by His infinite wisdom and grace, hasn’t made me too good at anything else, other than preaching,” he said.
“If He did make me good at anything else, I, in my own genius, would have probably gone and done that instead. My dream is to be a preacher-teacher-counselor and to stay in the South and minister to a small, close-knit congregation. But dreams change, so we’ll see what happens.”