Thursday, October 19, 2006

Addressing the Collegeville Board

Tonight, each of the scholars has been asked to introduce him/herself and say a bit about our projects--all in the space of three to five minutes. One never knows quite what to say in such a context; after all, the folks listening in are the ones who have helped make the decision to bring you here and find the money to help pay the bills. So, I hope to say something like the following:

Good evening. My name is Brian Hartley and I am an ordained minister in the Free Methodist Church, a denomination in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition. I am beginning my fourteenth (14th) year at Greenville College, a small Christian liberal arts institution some 150-plus years old in southern Illinois, situated about 40 miles east of St. Louis. As in most such institutions, I am called upon to wear several different hats--as Associate Professor, Dean of the Chapel, and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion.
Growing up the eldest child of teenage parents in the hard-scrabble Ozarks, it was the church that provided for me my primary sense of identity. Though we were a small sect who identified ourselves over against much of the rest of culture, the love of those largely uneducated and rustic folk and the stories they told with such gusto and joy provided me a kind of spiritual nourishment that sustained me, particularly during those painful times of change every year or two as the ministerial appointments were read out by the Bishop. An odd duck of sorts, when I wasn’t attending church services, I was usually holed up with my nose either buried in a book or listening to the elders in the various communities where we lived tell tall tales.
The art of storytelling was perfected for me by my grandfather who was both a bi-vocational pastor and an accomplished jokester. It was he and his books which held me mesmerized--by ancient family folklore, particularly of his own grandfather who had been an early Free Methodist circuit rider. So, it was that after graduate work at Princeton Seminary and St. Louis University, and preaching assignments in London, England, and Toronto, Canada, I’ve come back around to try and make sense of how preaching and its inherent narrative provides a sense of meaning and order for people who oftentimes find their world flying apart.
My project focuses on a set of twenty sermons which served to reframe a new liturgical and societal understanding for those living through the disorder of the early Elizabethan regime. Through them, a female monarch sought to assert her authority, cast a vision for the emerging Church of England, and urge people to behave and practice their faith in certain ways. As such, these homilies (published under her imprimatur in 1563) provide a helpful case study in how sermons shape worshipping communities and forge bonds of societal identity. Delivered at a time when chaos reigned and when three generations shaped by entirely different circumstances and oftentimes given to different theological commitments had to learn to live together (oftentimes in the same household), these sermons help us to better understand how a previous generation negotiated religious differences in a world in which they oftentimes found themselves living as “resident aliens.”
Thank you all for providing this quiet and prayerful Benedictine environment-- particularly on behalf of those of us from less-represented voices in both the Protestant movement and the church at large. I believe the fruit of the time spent here will have an immeasurable impact on my future teaching, preaching, ministry, and writing.