Dr. Fred Craddock is minister of Cherry Log Christian Church in Cherry Log Georgia. He is also professor of Preaching and New Testament in the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. His books on preaching are the first books on preaching I can remember reading. I have listened to his recorded sermons on various occasions. The messages of those sermons still live within me. I often follow Dr. Craddock's instruction to preachers because it is so plain and sensible. I agree entirely with one comment declaring that Dr. Craddock "speaks the folk idiom with prophetic authenticity."
Dr. Craddock was speaking at the Rochester College Sermon Seminar this week. It was the third time that I attended the Sermon Seminar. The director of the seminar is David Fleer, professor at Rochester College. He too has taught me to preach. David understands that such a seminar should not be limited to technical discussions of biblical texts or communication technique. We are handling the word of God, so worship and fellowship are essential. David is gifted with the ability to encourage community. When the assignments are passed out in the Great Beyond, I hope that David will be given the role of greeter at the gates or emcee at the banquet. His welcome and introduction of speakers is as significant as the key lectures.
I could tell that David was also excited that Fred Craddock was speaking this year. Of course, David already knows Dr. Craddock and has heard him speak in person. For me, this was the first time to meet in person the man that nearly all of us there consider a mentor in preaching. I agree with David that it was a blessing to simply have Fred Craddock talk to us.
The entire seminar experience was a blessing. As always, it is a chance to meet up with my comrades in preaching. Seven of us were staying at the Concorde Inn in Rochester Hills. I have been to preaching and ministry gatherings in the past that seem to be more about professional placement and advancement. This has never been the case for my colleagues and me at the Sermon Seminar. When we speak of our churches and ministry it is as if old friends are talking about the news. Mostly we talk about our families, sports, politics, books we have read, movies we have seen, and we tell jokes. Some may say that this mundane talk is idleness unworthy of a ministry seminar. I strongly disagree. I say it represents the sort of authenticity that emerges from spiritual concord. I say it is the sort truthful community and encouragement we need for evangelism and the long journey.
The seminar closed with worship and David Fleer's wonderful summary and blessing. I wait expectantly for next year. The good fellowship was not over yet, however. My friend, John Knox, and I had the honor of driving Fred Craddock to the airport. Now I had the added blessing to spend downtime with a very special mentor who had been for me only a disembodied voice and the author of a few books. Can you imagine what we talked about on the hour drive to Detroit? We talked about our families, sports, books we have read, and of course we told jokes. And yes, Fred's jokes were the best.
There were no less than seven of my cohort of preachers and professors on the flight to DFW. Because of delays at DFW I spent even more time with my friends. I even had the chance to talk about matters with another mentor, Dr. Charles Siburt. He too taught me to minister and preach. I said farewell to these friends and boarded a flight ready to depart at 6:45 p.m. It was an earlier flight that had been delayed and I would have arrived home earlier than originally scheduled. Unfortunately, all standby passengers were forced to get off the plane because the maintenance crew had overfueled the aircraft and now it was too heavy to take additional passengers.
I disembarked the plane aware that my friends from Abilene had already departed. I found a seat in the airport to wait out the next two hours. Usually I don't mind the loneliness in the midst of a crowd that comes with air travel. This time, however, my cell phone and laptop were both without power as I had neglected to charge them. I began to read a rather uninspiring magazine article when I saw Larry Roper walk in front of me. I am thankful for the blessed surprise of meeting one of my brothers from the West-Ark congregation. It was a nice transition back to Fort Smith. Larry and I spent the next three hours talking about our families, the books we have read, and the movies we have seen. Due to the delays we even took the same flight. Along the way I anticipated the spiritual concord I have with my brothers and sisters at the West-Ark congregation and I gave thanks for the truthful, spiritual authenticity for the journey ahead.