Opening ‘23, Easterling to preach on theme ‘I am a Friend of God’

Mary Lee Talbot
Staff writer

“When people comment to me about my preaching, they say, ‘If people are looking for warm, cozy, feel-good preaching, that is not you,’ ”said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling. “I am never hellfire and brimstone; I believe that we as church leaders are responsible to lean into the prophetic tradition.”

Easterling is the episcopal leader of the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences of the United Methodist Church and is the preacher for Week One. She opens her week of preaching at the morning worship service at 11 a.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater. Her theme for her sermon series is “I am a Friend of God.” 

“When the worship team invited me to Chautauqua, they shared the theme for the week and said I did not have to follow it, but I thought, ‘Why not?’ I did not want to be disconnected from the other speakers and classes,” she said.

The series begins with “A Bold and Dangerous Call to Worship” on Sunday. During worship at 9:15 a.m. Monday through Friday in the Amp, she will explore “You Mean It or You Don’t,” “Not a Greeting Card Kind of Love,” “As I have been Forgiven,” “Practicing Resurrection” and “Being the Beloved Community.”

“The phrase ‘You mean it or you don’t’ comes from a book by James Baldwin. He was talking to a young student who called himself a liberal, but Baldwin told him that was not enough. 

Baldwin told him that what is required is commitment,” Easterling said. “Ibraham Kendi says it is not enough to say ‘I am not racist.’ 

He says we have to put the sweat equity, the real commitment, into that which we profess. I am tired of the ‘I’m OK, you’re OK; style of preaching. We have to mean it (our faith) or we don’t.”

The preached word, she said, “cuts both ways. I am preaching to myself and to others who are grounded in the word.”

Easterling was assigned to serve the Baltimore-Washington Conference in September 2016, becoming the first woman to lead the historic conference. She became bishop of Pen-Del in September 2021, when the two conferences were affiliated. Prior to being elected, she served as superintendent of The Boston Metro District, where she was also selected to serve as Dean of the Cabinet. Easterling was elected a delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2012 and 2016.

Easterling was ordained an Elder in 1997, serving churches in Massachusetts including Union UMC in Boston’s historic South End, becoming the first woman to lead that church in its 190-year history. A strong proponent of education, Easterling received a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and political science from Indiana University and a doctor of jurisprudence from Indiana University School of Law. She earned her Master of Divinity from Boston University School of Theology, where in 2020 she was named a Distinguished Alumna for her work in justice and advocacy, as well as her leadership within The United Methodist Church.

Easterling currently serves as chair of The Council of Bishop’s Anti-racism Leadership Team, President of the National Plan for Hispanic and Latino Ministries, and President of the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops. 

Among several other leadership roles, Easterling is a member of The Boston University School of Theology Dean’s Advisory Board and the Anna Howard Shaw Center Board. Upon arriving in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, she founded the Seeds of Security ministry, or SOS, which benefits people in crisis who are seeking to leave abusive relationships. Among her awards and recognitions is the 2017 Rainbow Push Trombone Award for Faith in Action, presented by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.