Faithful readers of Faith Tides, and its predecessor the Diocesan Post, will know that for many years, one of its best-loved regular features has been the column of reflections by Herbert O’Driscoll. Herb is a retired priest and honorary clergy at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria. He is a well-known and widely respected preacher and teacher, leader of numerous retreats and pilgrimages, author of many popular hymns and nearly 50 books, including his recent memoir, I Will Arise and Go Now. He served as dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, during the tumultuous 1960s, and later as warden of the College of Preachers in Washington, DC, and as rector of Christ Church, Elbow Park in Calgary.
A few years ago, a group of friends and admirers of Herbert O’Driscoll – and of his wife Paula, a gifted musician and visual artist in her own right, whose fabric creations grace several parishes in this and other dioceses – decided it was time to establish a permanent program named in their honour and devoted to the causes that have meant the most to them over many decades. Thus was born what has come to be known as The Herbert and Paula O’Driscoll Forum: A Celebration of Preaching, Teaching and the Liturgical Arts. Over $300,000 was raised for a perpetual endowment to support the annual Forum, which is now incorporated into the summer school curriculum at Vancouver School of Theology (VST). The Diocese of Islands and Inlets contributed generously to the project, through the Educational Trusts Fund, as did a number of individual members of the diocese.
The first edition of the O’Driscoll Forum took place this July, with additional support provided by the Anglican Foundation. A small group of students participated in an intimate weeklong workshop, co-led by scholar-in-residence Bishop Todd Townshend of the Diocese of Niagara – a distinguished teacher of homiletics – and the Reverend Louise Peters from the Territory of the People, who served as the program’s artist-in-residence. Herb and Paula sat in on one morning of the workshop, and Herb spoke at the public lecture held as part of the Forum, where Bishop Todd delivered a talk entitled Taking the Plunge: Biblical Patterns for Coming to Faith in Christ. That event, which took place in the Epiphany Chapel at The VST, can be watched here.
The Forum is patterned to some extent on preaching workshops which Herb led for many years at the College of Preachers. Participants learn, not only from the teacher, but from each other, and not only by watching and listening, but by doing: preparing and delivering short homilies and receiving feedback from faculty and colleagues.
A central tenet of Herbert O’Driscoll’s approach to the pulpit is narrative preaching – what he refers to as “telling the story.” As Herb himself puts it:
“Most of the content of Holy Scripture is story. Again and again, when he is asked a question, Jesus responds by telling a story. This is the tradition Jesus would have grown up in and learned. When a lawyer asks him one day, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus immediately begins, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves….” Thus begins one of the world’s great stories.”
Participants in the inaugural O’Driscoll Forum received copies of a small pamphlet entitled Telling the Story: Some Thoughts about Christian Preaching in the Twenty-First Century. It contains excerpts from a forthcoming book, which brings together many of Herbert O’Driscoll’s experiences of, and reflections on, a long lifetime as a practitioner and teacher of the art of preaching. It is hoped that the full book-length study will be available by the time of the second annual O’Driscoll Forum in 2024