Hartford Seminary held its 4th Annual Preaching Festival on May 5, 2021, and seven students gave 7-minute sermons in the friendly competition held via Zoom.
Thomas Butcher, a Black Ministries Program (BMP) student, talked about his upbringing as a Catholic and how he found a new home with the Baptists, who gave him a different “spiritual upbringing.” He now views God as a gentle mother rather than a stern father. “God has blessed me with many mothers to guide my steps,” he said.
Chanelle Goldson of BMP asked “Where is God?” when we are going through hard times, such as the pandemic. In those times, she said, we must “cry out unto the Lord” and have faith that he will help us as we need to be helped.
Heather Hala A. Lord of BMP called out the red outfit she was wearing as a way to recognize the murdered and missing among the LGBTQIA+ and Indigenous communities. She spoke of joy and how it should be “clear,” “constant,” and “catchy.” “Joy is a way of living that becomes accessible,” she said.
Trevian Smith, a Cooperative Master of Divinity student, talked about how COVID-19 did not discriminate among people when it spread around the world. God loves us all, he said, no matter who we are, what we look like, or where we come from. “How can we love somebody who loves us all, yet choose hate,” he said. “Jesus loves you, and so do I.”
Devone Foster of BMP referenced her love for superhero and action movies, and called faith a “superpower” that can be used in concert with purpose. “We need to know that every person has a hero inside of them,” she said. “I hope to form our own Justice League.”
Usama Malik, who is earning a Graduate Certificate in Islamic Chaplaincy, said he became a better Muslim when he attended a Presbyterian Seminary, where he was the only Muslim. He learned that “burning bridges” was better than building them in the sense that building a bridge still keeps people apart. “Bridges only connect us superficially,” he said.
Ali Hager, a Cooperative Master of Divinity student, closed out the festival with a reflection on a difficult passage from the Book of Numbers. The lesson, she said, was that God doesn’t take away our pain, but comes inside it with us. “God tells people to look at the source of suffering,” she said.
The judges — Bishop Dr. Benjamin Watts, Dr. Deena Grant, and Dr. Hossein Kamaly — chose Usama Malik as the festival’s winner. Thomas Butcher and Ali Hager were recognized with Honorable Mentions.
Congrats to all!