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Preaching as art
By Brandt Williams
Minnesota Public Radio
September 6, 2001
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The Target Center in downtown Minneapolis was converted into a large Baptist Church Wednesdsay. The National Baptist Convention-USA staged a preaching forum there, as part of an effort to preserve and strengthen the art of preaching. Two of the nation's premier African-American pastors, representing the history and the future of the Black Baptist Church, preached the Gospel and in turn brought thousands of people to their feet.

Rev. Gardner Taylor preached to the National Baptist Convention in Minneapolis. Taylor, a contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is considered one of the deans of black preachers.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
"BECAUSE WHEN YOU KNOW HIM, WHEN YOU'RE HOOKED UP WITH THE HOLY, and got a compact with the Divine, he can make a party break out anywhere at anytime!"

The Rev. Al B. Sutton Jr., delivered his message to nearly 2,000 delegates to the National Baptist Convention session held at the Target Center.

The black minister has many roles within the church. Spiritual leader, teacher, counselor, fundraiser, cheerleader and storyteller. But on Sunday morning he - and the majority of black clergy are men - wraps those into a performance art known as preaching the gospel.

"The boy picked up the phone and said Momma and Daddy, I know you said you don't have anything else to give - I know you said everything you had was in the Word."

Rev. Sutton brought most of the delegates, decked out in their Sunday best, to their feet - shouting and clapping and testifying to their faith. The sermon contains a common theme - a son who's not a churchgoer is asking his parents for financial assistance.

"Momma and daddy said, 'Well, baby, have you read the word of God?' Have I got a witness, the boy said, 'No I have not read the word of God yet, but I plan to read it at some time.'"

Sutton is a young preacher. He's under 40. NBC-USA President Rev. Dr. William Shaw says the gap between preachers of Sutton's generation and older preachers must be bridged. The preaching forum at the Target Center was an attempt to link the emotion of the younger generation with the power of the older generation of preachers. And in turn, enhance the craft of preaching.

And it is a craft. Though the styles vary, preachers generally don't just step up to the pulpit and wail to high heaven. The craft of the preacher says he must warm up his congregation before turning up the heat. Rev. Gardner Taylor is regarded as one of the deans of preachers.

Many delegates to the National Baptist Convention are overcome with emotion during a preaching forum Wednesday. Two of the nation's premier African-American preachers delivered the Gospel, and brought thousands of people to their feet.
(MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb."

Taylor was a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr. and has a long history with the National Baptist Convention. His seasoned cadence does not reach the fever pitch of his younger counterpart Rev. Sutton. But as he raises his voice to emphasize his point, he gets the same reaction from the audience.

"And the tree of life, the tree of life! Life that's stronger than death, life that turns back evil! That makes everything all right."

Following Taylor's sermon, many members of the convention were in tears - including NBC-USA President Shaw. He stands silently at the podium - the large video screens at each end of the stage show his emotion to all of the congregation.

Outside the Target Center, as the large group moves on to the next convention event, Taylor's words still resonate as many continue to discuss the sermon. Mittie Flornoy of Colorado Springs, Colo., says both preachers had great style and substance in their sermons. However, she says the best thing about the sermons was the message at the heart of each.

"Jesus. Talking about Jesus. I think that's the most powerful message you can give."

The NBC-USA convention ends Friday.

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