Originally published on Thirteen.org.
or many, the upcoming holidays means awkward office parties followed by eggnog hangovers, off-key caroling and tedious dinners with relatives — all culminating in a long church service.
But a growing number of spiritual leaders in the New York region bring their own flavor to Christmas. MetroFocus compiled a list of those who will lead a flock on Jesus’ birthday, but who still manage to have, shall we say, “mass appeal.”
The Comedian Minister
Trial lawyer-turned-world traveler, motorcycle enthusiast, stand-up comedian and progressive Baptist minister.
Genesis: Born into a strict Southern Baptist family in Charlotte, N.C., biker-chick Rev. Susan Sparks was raised to worship a stern God who resembled a cross between “Walter Cronkite and Clint Eastwood in ‘High Plains Drifter.’” Disenchanted with a church that she says wasn’t accepting of women, Sparks deserted her religion as a teenager. After working as a corporate lawyer, while moonlighting as a stand-up comedian, for 10 years in New York, Sparks felt called back to God.
Confused, she left her practice, and took off on a two-year round-the-world trip. She climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. She drove the Alaskan Highway. Then, while working alongside Mother Theresa in Calcutta, Sparks had an epiphany in the form of the laughter of an impoverished little girl who’d been born blind and deaf. That was the moment she said her mission became clear.
I am what I am: Sparks wrote her master’s thesis on humor and religion at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Today, she is the senior pastor at what she describes as the open-minded and left-wing Madison Avenue Baptist Church, where her sermons double as stand-up routines. She also tours with a rabbi comedian and Muslim comedian — in and of itself the butt of many jokes — on the Laugh in Peace Comedy Tour. When not attempting to “break open the face of the church” through humor and acceptance, Sparks blogs for the Huffington Post, Good Morning America and Psychology Today, and can be seen cruising around town by motorcycle.
Christmas plans: Sparks will lead a Christmas Eve service at 5 p.m. and a Christmas day service at 11 a.m. at Madison Avenue Baptist.