Last week, the Urban Theological Institute at LTSP held its annual Preaching with Power series. Several African-American pastors, from a variety of denominational backgrounds, preached at several venues in the Mount Airy area. Due to my schedule, and my lack of mobility, I attended only three of the events, including the headliner. I saw Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. preach at Grace Baptist of Germantown.
The service began at 7. For the first hour, the service was fairly standard. The place was packed with clergy and some seminary students. The president of LTSP, several professors, and the head of the UTI program were in attendance. There were a few speeches, a very strange and blunt stewardship message (“Those who are going to give fifty dollars or more, please stand up so we can recognize you”), and both men and women choirs sung. I took a few pictures but I was really waiting for the main event. I wanted to see what Rev. Wright Jr. was going to say. I wanted less average church worship and more fire and brimstone.
Rev. Wright Jr. took the podium and read some scripture off a blackberry. The messages picked involved Philip. Rev. Wright opened his notebook and began to preach. The text was on Philip and the eunuch which led into a sermon about deacons, discipleship, and what preaching with power means in the light of what the NT tells us about Philip. It started off slow but slowly snowballed. I could tell that he was trying to build momentum to his climatic message. He took a few potshots at Sarah Palin, mentioned reparations, and attacked homophobia. And then, out of nowhere, he reached his fiery climax and conclusion. The sermon was over much sooner than I had anticipated. In fact, I expected more. I found it slightly underwhelming, a tad dull, and short. One of my classes was canceled for this event and I wanted it to be worth it.
With the service over (and an unfilled altar call seeming to stretch for days), people began to leave. In the education hall, a Q&A session with Rev. Wright Jr. was going to be held. Some classmates and I sauntered downstairs, picked up a few cookies from the refreshment table, and discovered that Rev. Wright Jr. had beaten us to the place. He was already at the podium, talking. For the twenty minutes we were there, he didn’t pause once.
He was talking about African music beats and rhythms that are not taught in public schools. He’s obviously a brilliant man but I was waiting for questions but all I heard was an answer to a question I did not hear asked. My classmates and I left to the sound of South African work songs. The general consensus among my pals was that the sermon could have been better. Or maybe we all just hyped him up after what happened during Obama’s campaign two and a half years ago. Ah well.