Homiletics and Trauma

Since announcing that I would be departing BMPC this summer to pursue a Ph.D. in Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary, several people have asked me variations on the same two questions:

  1. What is “homiletics”?
  2. What do you plan to research?

Both of these questions are good ones (the first one in particular), and I have enjoyed discussing these matters with many of you. If I have not had the chance to do so, however, and you are interested, I thought I could answer them here:

First, what is “homiletics”? In short, “homiletics” is just a fancy word for preaching. It’s more familiar linguistic relative is the word “homily,” which is often used in the Roman Catholic tradition to describe what Presbyterians call a “sermon.” Perhaps you have even heard the joke, “What is the difference between a homily and a sermon? About 10 minutes!”

Second, what do I plan to research? My hope is to study preaching in the aftermath of mass trauma. I am particularly interested in how a preacher helps a community of faith through times of acute grief, whether it be a natural disaster, a communal tragedy, or, sadly, a school shooting. Regrettably, such research is needed now more than ever, and the field of study around it is just beginning to grow.

If you are interested in learning more about current resources for preaching and trauma, here are a few books to consider:

  • Trauma and Grace by Serene Jones. Many of you probably remember Serene Jones’ time at BMPC back in January 2020. Jones is president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and her book, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World,is a thorough exploration of the ways that trauma shapes theology. It is a leading book in this field.
  • Fractured Groundby Kimberly Wagner. This is one of the newest additions to this field, and it was written by Dr. Kimberly Wagner who will be my Ph.D. advisor. The book focuses on specific examples of preaching in the wake of mass trauma, providing some suggestions for pastors who must do the same.
  • The Body Keeps the Scoreby Bessel van der Kolk. Many of you are probably familiar with this book. In recent years it has become a popular primer for trauma studies from one of the leading trauma experts in the world. While it is not specific to theology or preaching, it is an invaluable book about the impact of trauma on our whole body. 

As I say to anyone who asks me about my upcoming studies, I also will add: I am very excited to pursue this new opportunity, but I will greatly miss being here with all of you. Thank you for all your support and interest.