William H. Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School and a retired United Methodist bishop, has been invited to give the 2020 lectures for The Lyman Beecher Lectureship, the most prestigious and historic lectureship on preaching in America.
Willimon was invited to give this year’s lectures Oct. 14-16 by Yale Divinity School Dean Gregory E. Sterling, on behalf of the faculty. Yale Divinity School's historic lectureship, which begins with a convocation and processional, began in 1871.
“I’m honored to be giving these lectures at the divinity school that prepared me for ministry five decades ago,” said Willimon, who earned his M.Div. degree at Yale. “It’s my opportunity to express my gratitude to Yale Divinity School on the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation. I plan to emphasize preaching as a theological endeavor in which God speaks to God's people. To prepare, I’ve gone back and read or listened to all the Beecher Lectures for the past fifty years. I’m honored to be in this company of great preachers.”
The theme for Willimon’s lectures is “Preachers Dare” and will be inspired by theologian Karl Barth’s theology lectures in Germany in the 1920’s. The Beecher Lectures by Willimon will be published by Abingdon Press later this fall in the book Preachers Dare: Speaking for God.
“My lectures will stress the centrality of preaching as if God matters,” said Willimon, who recently published the book Leading with the Sermon: Preaching as Leadership. “I will try to show why preaching is the most significant theological endeavor of the church, the main purpose of pastors, and how theology is preaching’s most important guide and critic.”
In recent years, the Duke Divinity School faculty has accumulated an impressive record of presenting The Lyman Beecher Lectures. Previously giving the lectures were: Charles Campbell, James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Homiletics (2018); Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology (2003); and Richard Lischer, James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor Emeritus of Preaching (1999).
Prior to his current position, Willimon served for 20 years as a faculty member at Duke Divinity School and as dean of Duke Chapel at Duke University. He also served as bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the UMC.
Willimon’s ties to Yale Divinity School also run strong and deep. He was the first to receive Yale Divinity School’s Distinguished Alumnus award. Willimon and his wife, Patsy, have established a scholarship endowment for students at the school that gives preference to students who come there from Wofford College, where Willimon earned a B.A. degree. He earned his S.T.D. degree at Emory University.
Earlier this year, when Willimon’s memoir, Accidental Preacher, was published, Duke Divinity School Dean L. Gregory Jones hailed the book as “a remarkable portrait of the excitement of ordained Christian ministry as a vocation.” Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, in his endorsement called Willimon “a Jesus-loving, story-telling, truth-talking, laugh-generating gift from God for the church.”