I am pleased to announce The Beatitudes Society's 2013 Brave Preacher Award goes to the Rev. Carrie Smith, Senior Pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church, Crystal Lake, Illinois.
The theme of The Beatitudes Society's 2013 Brave Preacher Award is gun violence in America. The Beatitudes Society announced the first Brave Preacher Award to honor a preacher for a prophetic sermon delivered in response to theJanuary 2011 shootings in Tucson. Violence was again the preaching theme in 2012, in the wake of the Trayvon Martinmurder and the worldwide climate of violence. The 2013 Brave Preacher Award was announced just after the Dec. 14, 2012 killings in Newtown, Connecticut. Sermons this year were preached throughout the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and read and listened to by a small panel of experienced preachers. Criteria for selection included relationship of current context to biblical text, courageous proclamation, and attention to the preacher's craft.
Carrie took some risks with this sermon, in broaching a controversial subject in a context in which she is still a new pastor (she has been at her current church for one year), and in choosing to share a difficult family story. In her story-telling, she did not draw attention to herself nor present a policy statement about gun violence prevention, but rather accomplished the kind of truth-telling that invites the listener into examination of both self and community. The result is transformative preaching.
Carrie, a 2009 graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, describes her congregation and the response to her preaching:
"I preached this sermon on Sunday, December 23rd, 2012, at three worship services. This was the 4th Sunday of Advent and one week after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My congregation is a large (1,400 member) almost exclusively white congregation in a northwest suburb of Chicago. The community has a reputation of being overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. I have been senior pastor here for 14 months.
"During the Advent season, our prayer and worship focus had been "Imagine: Peace", using liturgy ideas from the World Council of Churches. Each week we had been praying for peace and examining ourselves, our communities, and our church for obstacles standing in the way of peace. On the Sunday immediately after the Sandy Hook shootings, we brought our prayers for peace forward and placed them in the manger in the front of the worship space. We had a guest preacher that day (a seminarian) who did a fine job on short notice addressing this traumatic event.
"As I prepared to preach on this last Sunday of Advent, I knew I needed to address the issue of gun violence openly. The stories I shared in this sermon were difficult to tell, and in fact have resulted in some backlash-though not from the congregation, but rather from family members who found it difficult to relive these memories.
"In the weeks since Christmas, the most satisfying response to this sermon has been private conversations with parishioners who shared their own stories, and thanked me for being so open. One member asked if I would please preach it again on Christmas Eve, so more people could hear it. I didn't do that, but in retrospect I think he might be right. Perhaps there is no better time for brave preaching than when we have the entire congregation--and visitors--assembled and eager to listen."
Upon receiving the award, Carrie said, "I am honored to receive this award, especially because it was quite an emotional sermon to write and to preach. What a boost it is for a sometimes weary preacher."
Carrie's voice, like Martin Elfert's in 2012 and Allison Harrington's in 2011, is one we need today, and we are proud to honor her and her congregation with the $500 Brave Preacher Award.
Click here to read Carrie's sermon.