Introduction to the Preaching for Encounter Program

Renewing Preachers to Renew Preaching

An ambitious program of renewal in Roman Catholic preaching

We live in a unique time. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, refocused the Church on the vital role of the homily in the evangelization of the modern world. It is a great act of love for a preacher to offer a homily that touches the hearts and meets the needs of his people (EG 154-156).

How can preachers be renewed with zeal and passion so that their words inspire their people to encounter the living God? How do we recapture the effectiveness of the original apostles in our preaching?

This pairing of preaching and evangelization is at the core of the new Institute for Homiletics. The Institute is a collaboration between the University of Dallas and the Catholic Foundation. The goal is to revitalize our people by an encounter with the living God through Catholic preaching. That encounter will then inspire committed disciples who are on fire to renew this world in which we live. This is our hope. This is our aspiration. This is our mission.

The Preaching for Encounter Program

There are many “fresh initiatives” in the planning stages for the Institute for the renewal of preaching. But the flagship program is the Preaching for Encounter program. (This was piloted at the University of Notre Dame as the Notre Dame Preaching Academy from 2015-2020. The current program has been adapted from the input from past participants.) The curriculum for the first year is Remembering Why We Preach by Karla J. Bellinger and Michael Connors, CSC, from Ave Maria Pres.

The Joys

The Preaching for Encounter program is a two-year program of ongoing formation in preaching for Roman Catholic clergy. The focus is on renewing preachers in order to renew preaching, tying together spiritual renewal with training in homiletic skill. It is designed to accommodate the pace of a busy parish priest. The goal is to help each preacher bring the people of his parish into an encounter with the living God through the Sunday homily.

Peer learning groups: At the heart of the program are monthly peer learning groups of preachers. In these groups of eight (6-10), preachers support each other toward spiritual renewal, study effectiveness in preaching, and evaluate each other’s homilies.

Whole cohort gatherings: Five times within the two-year program, all members of the cohort and their coaches will come together and away from their parishes to pray and study how to be more effective in their preaching. These are scheduled for weekdays so as not to interfere with weekend duties.

Lay supporters: Each preacher will name a parish coordinator who will recruit ten lay people called the St. Joseph’s Preachers (SJP). These folks will: 1) pray with and study the scriptures; 2) learn what effectiveness in preaching looks like, 3) learn to listen to homilies for what God may be saying to them; 4) gain understanding about how to give helpful feedback that supports their preacher to connect with his congregation. In the second year of the program, the peer learning group meetings decrease in number and the preacher begins to meet regularly with his trained SJP members.

Personal Coaching: Each preacher will have a personal coach to support him in renewing his preaching. His coach spurs him toward effectiveness according to the goals that the preacher and coach have set. He/she listens, evaluates and/or coaches monthly.

Responsibilities for participants
  • Be willing to grow spiritually. Be willing to learn. Try new things in your preaching.
  • Pray for your people, your peers, and your coaches and teachers in the program. Without the movement of the Holy Spirit, we cannot make renewal happen.
  • Commit to gathering with your peers once per month for 3-4 hours, including a meal. Support and pray for each other so that you all grow together in holiness; in Preaching for Encounter, you cannot give what you have not got. Help each other to grow in your homiletic abilities by giving constructive and supportive feedback.
  • Participate fully in the large group gatherings with an open and joyous heart.
  • Schedule Mass coverage for the times that you will be away to study and pray.
  • Submit videos and self-assessments in a timely manner in preparation for your coaching sessions.
  • Make travel plans and submit receipts for reimbursement.
  • Be willing to enjoy each other and the process and praise the Lord in all things.

Cohort: The yearly grouping of all preachers who are participating in the Preaching for Encounter program; The cohort may come from multiple dioceses. The cohort participates together in the large group gatherings, building friendships and support in their learning and growth.

Peer learning group: Seven to nine preachers in one diocese who meet to study, give each other feedback, and share fraternal charity in their pursuit of personal renewal and the renewal of their preaching ministry. In year one, they meet monthly. In year two they meet bi-monthly.

Convener: A clergy member of the peer group who is responsible for leading the monthly meetings; the one who “pastors the pastor” and holds them accountable for their participation; he reports back regularly to the Institute about how the peer group is going.

Saint Joseph’s Preachers (SJP): A group of ten lay people who support their preacher: in year one, they gather monthly to pray, study scripture, understand what effectiveness in preaching is, learn to grow in their ability to listen to the Sunday homily, and study how to give effective feedback. In year two, they serve as conversation partners with their preacher about the upcoming readings, how they encounter God, and offer feedback as to how the homily has been connecting with them personally.

Coordinator: The leader of the local SJP group, responsible for recruiting a diverse group of members, leading monthly meetings, and communicating with the Institute.

Coaches: Homiletically trained experts who work regularly with each of the preachers to help them set personal preaching goals, evaluate, affirm, and coach preachers toward effectiveness in preaching; send in coaching reports after each coaching session.

Meeting names: Orientation, introduction, summer retreat. peer learning group meetings, SJP meetings, winter intensives.