The Rev. Susan Sparks is a trial lawyer turned preacher, comedian, speaker, author, nationally syndicated columnist and Harley-riding cowboy boot addict. America’s only female comedian with a pulpit returns as chaplain for Week Six — this time, bringing some Christmas cheer with her.
Sparks will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday, July 28 Ecumenical Service of Worship and Sermon in the Amphitheater on the topic “It Wasn’t Exactly a Silent Night.” She will talk about her faith journey at the 5 p.m. Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy. She will preach Monday, July 29 through Friday, August 2 at the 9:15 a.m. Ecumencial Service. Among her topics will be “A Star is Born,” “The Politics of Sweet Potato Casserole,” “What are You Getting the Baby Jesus for Christmas?,” “Healing the Humbug” and “Taking Down the Tree.”
Her newest book, Preaching Punchlines: The Ten Commandments of Stand-up Comedy, will be launched at Chautauqua during her Preaching Punchlines workshop at 3:30 p.m. Monday, July 29 through the Special Studies program.
In Preaching Punchlines, the seventh commandment is “Thou Shalt Throw A Party.” Creating a successful church service is like planning a party — you focus on the guests.
“On the day of the party, you don’t lock the door,” Sparks wrote. “You stand there and greet the guests as they arrive. Welcome them with good food and great conversation.
After the party, share photos or emails that will encourage them to return. And throughout, “add personal touches to make your guests feel special, like they matter more than anything else. Why? Because you invited them,” she wrote.
Her other commandments are: Thou shalt remember thou art creative; thou shalt learn to write like a comedian; thou shalt get to the point — please!; thou shalt preach like an EKG, thou shalt find creative material; thou shalt not be a victim of identity theft; thou shalt not be exhausted by the Sabbath; thou shalt achieve world peace through humor and thou shalt have joyous communication.
A North Carolina native, Sparks received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of North Carolina and a law degree from Wake Forest University.
After 10 years as a lawyer moonlighting as a stand-up comedian, she left her practice and spent two years on a solo trip around the world, including working with Mother Teresa’s mission in Kolkata.
Upon returning home, she entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where she earned a Master of Divinity and wrote an honors thesis on humor and religion.
In May 2007, Sparks was installed as the 15th Senior Minister of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. She is the first woman pastor in its 170-year history.
Sparks tours nationally with stand-up Rabbi Bob Alper and Muslim comic Gibran Saleem, as part of the Laugh in Peace Tour and writes an award-winning, nationally syndicated column through GateHouse Media, distributed to over 600 newspapers reaching over 21 million people in 36 states. She is the author of Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor. Sparks is the 20th recipient of the John L. Haber Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts given by the University of North Carolina (and comedian/alum Lewis Black), as well as a recipient of the Intersections International Award for interfaith work to promote justice and reconciliation among diverse communities.