Alyce McKenzie remembers vividly an image that struck her deeply, in the early days of her career: the look of expectation in the faces of worshippers at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in York, Pa., as she stepped up to the pulpit to begin her sermon.
“It was like, ‘Please, sir, can I have some more?’” she said, invoking the iconic scene where Oliver Twist pleads for more food. “There’s this hope that springs eternal. I thought, ‘Surely there’s additional training I can seek that can help me answer that hunger more effectively.’”
That moment put McKenzie on a path that’s still guiding much of her academic work and career. She’s not only preparing Perkins students to become better preachers, but also coaching current pastors in improving their preaching, constantly researching new ways to help pastors preach more effectively, and often preaching at local churches. All of which, in turn, inspires and informs her academic work.
As Director of the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU, “I’m in touch with church leaders and pastors from a variety of denominations, helping to form and lead groups of pastors dedicated to taking their preaching to the next level,” she said. “It gives me a connection with the challenges and needs for enrichment of pastors in local congregation.”
McKenzie also gives lectures and leads workshops at seminaries and colleges. This spring she’ll lecture at Memphis Theological Seminary, and she is guest lecturer for the John and Marjem Gill Preaching Workshop at Hendrix College. She recently published a textbook for preachers and preaching students, Making A Scene in the Pulpit: Vivid Preaching for Visual Listeners, which grew out of the Lyman Beecher Lectures she presented at Yale Divinity School in 2015.
McKenzie is enthusiastic about a new project co-sponsored by the Perkins Center for Preaching Excellence at SMU and Westminster John Knox Press called “Preaching and…” which came out of a brainstorming session with colleague O. Wesley Allen, Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics. It pairs experts in homiletics with scholars from other disciplines in interdisciplinary workshops that offer fresh insights for preaching from other fields. The first workshop, scheduled for April 8, 2019 at Perkins, will bring together Allen and Carrie La Ferle, a professor at SMU Meadows’ Temerlin Advertising Institute, on the topic, “Preaching and the Thirty Second Commercial.” The second workshop will be Preaching and Politics in which McKenzie will collaborate with a political scientist. Ultimately, the workshops will result in a series of books for preachers, edited by Allen and published by Westminster John Knox Press.
“Now that there is so much competition for people’s attention, it’s more important than ever that we learn strategies from other disciplines for reaching people’s minds, hearts and wills,” McKenzie said. “Marketing experts are masters of analyzing the market, branding the product and then putting on a campaign to convince people that the product is absolutely necessary to their everyday lives.” Future “Preaching and” topics include neuroscience, humor studies and screenwriting.
McKenzie attends First United Methodist in Allen, which will focus its 2019 Lenten sermons and study groups on a book she has written for a popular audience published in 2018, Wise Up! Four Biblical Virtues for Navigating Life. She also serves as “Preacher in Residence” at Christ United Methodist Church in Plano, where she coaches the church’s preaching staff, leads group workshops on preaching, and also preaches several times a year.
This month, McKenzie will be honored by the Academy of Preachers, a group dedicated to nurturing the skills of young preachers, with an Award in Homiletical Writing at the Academy’s National Festival in Atlanta.
“I enjoy teaching at Perkins, but the other things I do are not add-ons,” she said. “They are integral to Perkins’ mission to ‘prepare women and men for faithful leadership in Christian Ministry.’”
Preaching biblical wisdom literature; imagination and preaching; spiritual formation and preaching; preaching as teaching; creative sermon design; preaching the sayings and parables of Jesus; preaching on controversial public issues.
Preaching the biblical wisdom literature of the Hebrew Bible (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job); preaching on the short sayings and parables of Jesus; imagination, storytelling and preaching; creative sermon design; preaching on controversial public issues; preaching in scenes to capture and hold the attention of visual listeners.
Husband Murry McKenzie, who directed youth musicals at the first church she was appointed to after seminary. “The ladies of the church played matchmakers – they put us on the same committees,” she said. The McKenzies have three grown children: Melissa McKenzie, a chef in Fredericksburg, Texas, Matthew McKenzie, a financial analyst for VMG Health Services, and Rebecca Gingles, a Perkins graduate and Director of Communications for The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, who’s married to Dallas Gingles, Associate Director of Perkins’ Houston-Galveston Program. The McKenzies have two grandsons, Graham (5) and Silas (1).
Book on the nightstand
“Right now, it’s a novel, The Witch Elm by Tana French. I rotate between biographies, novels, non-fiction and history. I just finished Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America and The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym.”
Question she’d ask God at the Pearly Gates
“What false assumption that human beings spout about you do you find most offensive?”
Fantasy dinner party
“I’d invite people who, in their own ways, acted boldly in keeping with an inner conviction. George Whitfield, who was a phenomenal 18th century preacher known for his riveting storytelling and resonant voice; Queen Vashti, who stood up to King Ahasuerus in the book of Esther; Sophie Scholl, who at age 22 stood up to the Nazis in Germany, and suffered the consequences; St. Francis of Assisi; Jarena Lee (1783-1864), a traveling female AME evangelist who boldly stood up for her right to preach; Aimee Semple McPherson, the Pentecostal evangelist who founded the Foursquare Church in the 1920s and 1930s; Audre Lord, poet, feminist and civil rights advocate; and Winston Churchill. The question I’d ask each: What’s the source of your fire in the belly?”
“McKenzie’s Fabulous Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, with bran, flaxseed, ground nuts and oatmeal. I made a game out of trying to see how many heathy ingredients I could add and still have them taste good.”