#16: Fellowship for the Future (Reverend Elijah McDavid III & Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman)

Rabbi Zimmerman talks with Reverend Elijah McDavid III, the new senior pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Together, they explore his upbringing in the Baptist tradition; Fellowship’s response to the pandemic, police brutality, and inequality; and emerging trends in religious life. This episode is sponsored by the Rabbi Albert & Frances Minda Leadership Fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. Please subscribe to Temple Talks and review the show. Comments and questions can be directed to tmoss@templeisrael.com. Talk with us!
An edited excerpt from this week’s Temple Talks follows below. 

Rabbi Zimmerman: So talk to me about the art of preaching, where you learned it, who are your role models and how you continue to work on it? 

Reverend McDavid: I'm grateful that I had old-school parents who took me to church every Sunday. I grew up in one of those houses where it just wasn't optional. Right. We may have missed church one Sunday a year. And so I was always hearing it: the amazing artistry that is the black preaching experience, right. 

I think my dad started to do something around the time I was in the middle school. He would take me to rank and chapel, which is on the campus of Howard university. But every week, Rankin chapel would feature a nationally known preacher from somewhere in the country. 

Wow, hearing some folk who just were masters of the craft, right. Men and women who were lauded everywhere for the work that they had done. That planted the seeds for my interests that would grow and develop at Morehouse. I really give credit to that space more than any other for really developing my abilities as a preacher, and for understanding what it means to search our texts and scriptures in the fullest way possible to find what is there that can speak to the present moment and the pain that individuals are carrying. My early teachers of preaching taught us that every moment of the pulpit is life or death; that you never know how weak somebody may be and how fragile they may be on that given Sunday or whatever moment you may be preaching. And that that time is valuable. And so never to waste a single word, sentence, or paragraph, because there is an opportunity for, through the power of God, for you to help save someone's life.

And so always think about that. It's just a huge privilege and enormous burden at the same time, but that's the beauty of the work we're doing. And so I was there at Morehouse under the tutelage of Dean Lawrence Edward Carter. He's been the Dean of the Martin Luther king chapel there for 40 years teaching and so it was beautiful to be there. And that's where I've found my circle. So many of the folks that you saw on that installation day shared in that lineage of coming out of Morehouse and that great tradition of preachers; others, I met along the way in seminary while I was at Union Theological Seminary. I got to study under Dr. Lisa Thompson. I was working under Pastor Michael Walrond in New York and Harlem. 

They and others mean so much to me because they took the hours of opening you up to a text and saying, okay, find the message here, find the meaning. What is this speaking to in our current predicament? You would have a sermon idea and they said, “that's not good enough drill a little deeper. You can go a little deeper. You can reach for it. Find what is the essence of what God wants to say.” 

So much of what I do, and this also goes back to my time at Union, is thinking about the psychology of religion. What are the tonalities psychologically in the texts that may relate to our current dilemma? 

We are such a busy people, right? And I think I had one person, one mentor who told me, you know, unfortunately part of the pastorate in the capitalist society that we live in is that you get paid to stop, sit, breathe, and think, so that you can come up with these sermons and these messages from God that other folk are too busy to hear.

Right, that everyone else is running and constantly on this grind, trying to keep up with the demands of the life that we live and that the goal of the pastor, priest, clergy, is to actually take time to seriously pause, breathe, listen, pray and hear from the spirit as to what needs to be said. 

It'd be great if we could all do that but our world doesn't allow for that. So we have to stand in that gap. 

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