No one has a blueprint for what to do during the time of a pandemic and protests for racial equality, so the Rev. Leslie D. Callahan considers herself “blessed to shepherd a congregation that is flexible. There are many things we can’t do, but we are doing more of what we can do to keep connected.”
The pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Callahan will serve as the chaplain-in-residence for Week Six at Chautauqua Institution. She will preach at the 10:45 a.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 2, service of worship and sermon on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her sermon title is “Divine Disruption.”
She will also preach at the 9:15 a.m. EDT morning devotional services from Monday, Aug. 3, to Friday, Aug. 7, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her sermon titles include “Who Told You That?,” “Family Values,” “Good Trouble,” “Waiting for Morning” and “Decisive.”
In order to help the church members stay connected, the deacons at St. Paul’s have divided up members of the congregation, and every week, each deacon calls, texts, or emails each member they are responsible for. Every week they ask a question. This week’s question was, “Are you responsible for any children?”
“We will have an online schooling program for the first two months of school in Philadelphia,” Callahan said. “We are asking what kinds of support they might need as a congregation.”
The church provides a daily prayer call and holds worship online.
“We provide a lot of platforms to keep people engaged when they are physically absent,” she said.
Preaching when there is no congregation present, Callahan said, “is a different genre. I had to let go of how I would be or feel in a live context. I have gotten better at it.”
Being able to stop and start a sermon and go back and do it over has caused some problems for Callahan. “I flub words more, and I am always tempted to start over. For each sermon I sent to Chautauqua, I have two or three complete ones recorded here,” she said.
She continued, “I spend two hours in production for a 12- to 15-minute sermon. Also, I am funnier in person. I preach from an outline so I can pause, chuckle, see the congregation react in real time. But this way, I don’t know how humor will land.”
After listening to President Barack Obama give the eulogy at Congressman John Lewis’ funeral, she said that her sermon “Good Trouble” will be an ode to Lewis. The scripture she will use during the week, Romans, Chapters 7 and 8, revolve around suffering and glory.
“Lewis had a way of recognizing the trouble of the world and injecting hope. His deep sense of faith got him into trouble, but he always saw hope in the middle of trouble,” Callahan said. “I am honoring his life and Christian witness, his faithfulness to God rooted in hope.”
Callahan is the first female pastor at the historic St. Paul’s Baptist Church, and was installed on Sept. 27, 2009. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Harvard University/Radcliffe, her Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, and her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Religion from Princeton University. She was ordained in 1997 at Judson Memorial Church in New York City and served as Minister of Christian Education at the First Baptist Church of Princeton, New Jersey. She also served as interim pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.
She has served on the faculty of New York Theological Seminary as assistant professor of modern church history and African American Studies. Prior to her time at NYTS, she was a member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania as assistant professor of religious studies.
This program is made possible by the Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy and the Harold F. Reed, Sr. Chaplaincy.