A Web Portal For Lesbians Of Color
Reverend Yvette A. Flunder was born in San
Francisco, to a family who were pioneers in the Church of God in
Christ. At 13, she attended Saints Academy in Lexington,
Mississippi and started her first ministry by organizing the
Campus Ministry. A graduate of Armstrong College, Reverend
Flunder became a foster parent in her early 20's and later
established a group home for high risk teens.
In 1979, Reverend Flunder began her work with the elderly population and moved into providing direct services by developing a variety of social services for the elderly in residential housing. Her work in this arena received many awards, including the Award of Excellence and the Mayor's Award from the City and County of San Francisco.
In response to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS, Rev. Flunder, along with other members of Love Center Ministries, established An Ark of Love, Inc. which opened The Ark House, a communal living facility, the first of its kind to be run by an African-American church in Northern California.
Moving to San Francisco in 1991, Reverend Flunder founded the City of Refuge Community Church in order to unite a gospel ministry with a social ministry. Preaching a message of action, the church has experienced a steady numerical and spiritual growth in its new building at 1025 Howard Street from 50 at its first service to over 600 member in four years. On April 30, 1995, City of Refuge Community Church made a covenant with the Protestant denomination United Church of Christ.
Responding once again to the needs faced by the HIV infected clients, Reverend Flunder and her staff opened the Hazard-Ashley House in Oakland and the Restoration House in San Francisco through the Ark of Refuge, Inc., an HIV specific non-profit agency whose purpose is to provide housing, direct services, education and training for persons affected by HIV/AIDS in the Bay Area. Restoration House is a dual-diagnosis residential facility for African-American women and the first of its kind in San Francisco.
Reverend Flunder has received numerous awards for her work in the HIV/AIDS field including:
Presently, Reverend Flunder serves as:
IS THIS PREACHER?
REV. DR. YVETTE FLUNDER
My voice is rooted in the African American
Southern Pentecostal Church where passion for God in Jesus is
heard and seen in the songs, preaching, dancing and daily
at-home meditations. I have struggled with the church and the
Bible, but not with the freestyle celebratory worship of the
Pentecostal Church. My struggle has been with the Christian
Church’s position regarding the treatment of women, homosexuals,
war, people of color and slaves (My grandmother, Bessie Hamilton
born 1895, was the daughter of Stella Wyatt who was born a
slave). I am an avowed womanist, and a reconciling liberation
theologian who dances in the Spirit and speaks in tongues.
Holding on to Jesus in spite of the church and the tortured
interpretations of scripture used to mortally wound my faith,
has been a life long journey. Finding my way, following the
Light, refusing to believe Jesus didn’t love me; this is the
foundation of my preaching. I am a desperate preacher who knows
personally how theologies are fluid and new ones are born at
Mine is a voice that passionately preaches justice and freedom with responsibility; however not to the exclusion of Jesus. Justice without Jesus will not work for me.
I preach to a desparate people, who are struggling to make sense of their lives on the margins of society. They are my beloved.
In my community, you must find God in the struggle for equality, parity and justice; the struggle is the long, strong, deep, resonant base of all we preach, sing and pray about. 'Through many dangers toils and snares’...is foundational to our worship, and the locus of our passion. If we cannot see God in the struggle and believe day after day that God will make it all right, then we cannot see God at all. This is the starting point.
I preach faith based sermons to build self-worth and self-value in the lives of people who have often been stripped of all that is right and good. I strive to see peace and a sense of security present in the lives of those I pastor, preach to and serve. Emil Thomas said that, “our slave ancestors had a basis for calm: a special inner peace born of a profound conviction that their self worth had been well established already and was guaranteed by the Ruler of the universe”. This is a peace born from the assurance that God will come through for us; God is on our side. This is what I believe; this is what I preach.
I identify with Craddock in his book Preaching because his approach to preaching/ teaching is very Bible, Jesus and God centered. I’ve seen the methods he recommends for sermon structure used both in the United Church of Christ and in the churches of my youth; however what flows out of his center is scripture based preaching with other sources used to support the scripture. While I am not in total agreement with the extent to which Craddock lifts up the authority of the Bible, I do appreciate and believe strongly in scripture based, Christ centered preaching for liberation. This kind of preaching requires much study with an eye to taking Jesus back from the fundamentalists, but it is the most effective kind of preaching for my community. I, like David Buttrick would argue “for a church animated by the Gospel, rather than a church heavily under the rule of an imposed scriptural authority” , but people who have for generations been abused by the preaching of the Bible need to hear the Bible preached in ways that affirm and validate them.
Craddock lifts up the need to study, to listen in silence and reflect, and to attend to structure, form and delivery. He also asserts that preaching is both learned and given; the learning is the ‘how to’ method in his book, the given is the content or core of our preaching...the Word of God. The words come from us, the Word comes from God. I agree that when our words are empowered by the Holy Spirit, positive change takes place, both in the preacher and the listener.
According to Craddock, the preacher must also have good moral character , as preaching is not just another vocation; it assumes to give to the listener revelation from God and as such carries great responsibility. The position of preacher is a lofty one in my community, with equally lofty expectations.
There is a need, says Craddock, for the preacher to be sensitive to the needs of the listener i.e. sermons should speak for as well as to the congregation, the Gospel is from the community as well as to it. He expresses the need for honesty and intimacy, and the importance of preaching about things that are familiar to the listener. Preaching in my tradition uses life experience, or what I call ‘personal transparency’ to identify with the experiences of the listener.
Craddock says preaching should include something people can recognize, even in the introduction of new truths…”A rearrangement of the familiar can make it as interesting as the new yet satisfying as the old…present the familiar with interest and enthusiasm”. Craddock also talks about identification or being genuine and not exaggerated or artificial in presence or preaching. He seems to be encouraging the preacher not to simply be profound but to seek to be a profound blessing, by hearing from God and paying close attention to ‘voice’ of the listening congregation. I believe that in order to genuinely be a blessing to the congregation the preacher must seek to know and understand who she/he is preaching to. Lenora Tubbs Tisdale in Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art calls this ‘Exegeting the Congregation’. Tisdale says, If we as preachers are going to proclaim the Gospel in ways capable of transforming congregational identity, we first need to become better acquainted with the ways our people already imagine God and the world. If we are going to aid in the extension of myopic vision or the correction of astigmatic values then we must first strive to ‘see’ God and the world as our people do.
It is through this synergistic relationship that the preacher and the congregation become one organism, worshiping God together. The preaching and the response are then filled with faith, passion and power. This is preaching, as I understand it.
My preaching is greatly influenced by my grandfather, my father, my uncles, my mother and my grandmother all of whom are/were preachers. I spent my youth as a pastor’s kid in the Church of God in Christ, a predominately Black Pentecostal denomination. My style of preaching echoes the preachers who surrounded me, both in my family and throughout the organization. Most of the preachers I knew were blue-collar folk who came to their role as preacher and or pastor without the benefit of formal training. There were not many African Americans in college, and if they were in school they were seeking a way to make themselves more eligible for jobs. The call to preach was not often planned as a vocation. It sort of ran up behind you and tackled you while you were trying to get ahead in life. Authorization for ministry came from the Church at such time as it was determined one was ready. “Ready” meant having demonstrated faithfulness and an ability to preach. The Church of God in Christ believed that no matter how educated or filled with deep knowledge a person was that knowledge had to be evidenced by good preaching for a preacher to gain affirmation from the Church. Good preaching meant good performance that included choosing a good text, a good reading of the text, good entertainment, believability/authority, identification, food for thought, power, humor, passion and a super celebration. I know that Craddock’s statement; “Listeners tend to lean into narratives which have emotional force, but which are presented with emotional restraint“ is an indication that we come from different cultures. Emotional restraint was not exercised particularly at the close or celebration time in the sermon. I tend to agree with Frank A. Thomas, regarding celebration and emotion. Thomas writes, “It is precisely because so much of Western preaching has ignored emotional context and process, and focused on cerebral process and words, that homileticians most recently have struggled for new methods to effectively communicate the Gospel” . The preaching was central to the worship experience; it was the highlight. All things lead up to it and out from it. It was a Word from the Lord.
I am fascinated when I read books like Speaking from the Heart which detail the method often present in black Pentecostal preaching and lift up that method as an example of how good preaching is accomplished. I find myself often wishing that my Grandpa Eugene (Bishop Eugene E. Hamilton) and my Uncle Rudolph (Bishop S. Rudolph Martin) could have lived long enough for me to share with them the fact that a science is being taught that captures what they did among us for many years. They did not adhere to any particular preaching calendar or use many sermon helps written by others but the power of their sermons lives on.
Of particular interest, is the ‘science’ and skill I now recognized in the preaching I grew up around; I know most of those folk did not realize what masters they were in the art of using illustrations, simile, or hyperbole, but all these thing were part of their preaching process.
Storytelling, speaking in hieroglyphics and word pictures were methods employed to leave a lasting impression on the hearer. You could see it, taste it and feel it while they preached. My Grandpa lived his sermons so his ethos and personal conviction came through with the great passion, energy, and emotion.
The Pentecostal preaching influence is one where the language is ordered, the lines are metrical and poetic and the sermon is ‘sung’, in places with the help of the congregation and the musicians. This form of performance art entertained the congregation while driving home the truths in the sermon. Engaging the audience in a call and response to both the meter and the message encouraged the congregation to not only participate but it signaled that the sermon was successful. Preaching as performance art was and is an essential part of the African American Pentecostal worship experience.
PREACHING ON THE EDGE
As to the content of my sermons, I often preach sermons to raise the consciousness of those who feel they have exclusive rights to Jesus and to empower oppressed people to take their place at God’s ‘welcome table’. I preach to build faith and to demystify success for oppressed people. I do not consider my preaching adversarial or divisive. As I mentioned earlier I call myself a ‘reconciling, liberation theologian’, and my desire is to see harmony in the Body of Christ.
Empowerment and liberation are consistent themes in my preaching. Marginalized people often ask, “Is God for us?” Incarnational liberating preaching is vital in these communities, as preaching has often been used to push oppressed people more and more to the margin. The preaching in the community evidences the extent to which the community is welcoming. After a natural disaster, people come to church in record numbers asking, “Is God for us?” and then they listen for the assurance from the pulpit. In marginalized communities crises is a way if life and incarnational preaching is essential.
Preaching to people who are on the edge of society and the mainline church must have good content and good form. Preaching to marginalized people must be believable, powerful and passionate. Marginalized people frequently have a memory of strong words from the pulpit used to destroy. They need stronger words of affirmation and inclusion. In my sermons I attempt to carry a message that counters the teaching of those who support a theology that calls anyone unclean or claims to have exclusive ‘truth’.
TOWARD A TRANSFORMING MOMENT
I believe there must be a relationship between loving and knowing God, the text and the people the text is shared with. When the interpreter of the text begins by incorporating integrity, relatedness and faithfulness to a relationship with God and to the text there will be a more honest relationship to the congregation/listeners. Additionally preachers must be secure in their relationship with God and witnesses of the truth of the Gospel. Oppressed people seem to be particularly aware when there is disparity between what the preacher says and what she/he really believes. Ward asserts, “If you do not have a secure sense of self and conviction about your right to address your people, then it will be nearly impossible to engage them.”
Marginalized people are people that need to hear from God. How can they hear without a preacher? And the preacher must love God, love the text and identify with the people in order to be authentic.
When these things come together I believe we achieve what Bozarth calls the moment of ‘transformation’. I seek for this moment in my preaching. I have no greater joy than to embody a liberating truth and to participate in the circle dance as the Holy Spirit brings life to me and to those that hear and receive the Word. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit empowering the preacher and the congregation through the embodied Word …The circle is complete, and the kingdom is revealed. It is a glimpse of heaven.
Mitchell, Henry H. and Thomas, Emil M. 1994. Preaching for Black Self-Esteem. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 133
Craddock, Fred B. 1985. Preaching. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 27
Buttrick, David. 1994. A Captive Voice: The Liberation of Preaching. Louisville: John Knox Press, 30
Tisdale, Lenora Tubbs. 1997. Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 57
Thomas, Frank A. 1997. They Like To Never Quit Praising God: The role of Celebration in Preaching. Cleveland: United Church Press, 5
Ward, Richard. 1992. Speaking From the Heart: Preaching with Passion. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 48-49
Bozarth, Alla Renee. 1997. The Word’s Body: An Incarnational Aesthetic of Interpretation. Lanham,MD: University Press Of America, 116
City of Refuge
1025 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
fax: (415) 861-6103
|The Ark of
1025 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
fax: (415) 861-6103
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Yvette A. Flunder
City of Refuge Ministries
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