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Comedian and pastor Susan Sparks will teach others how to laugh at First Presbyterian Church

SALISBURY — Most people don’t think of churches as a place for laughter, but pastor and comedian Susan Sparks is looking to change that.

A licensed minister and professional stand-up comedian, Sparks says she hopes to help others tap into their God-given humor and to connect with the facet of God’s character that is pure joy.

Sparks will come to Salisbury the weekend of Feb. 24 as part of First Presbyterian Church’s 2018 Lewis Preaching Series.

“It’s about humor and healing, it’s about humor in our communities, it’s about facing down bad times and also about how to live an ethical and moral Christian life — and all of that through the lens of humor,” Sparks said.

A Charlotte native, Sparks is a former lawyer. She is the author of “Laugh Your Way to Grace” and has been featured by Oprah magazine, The New York Times, CBS News, CNN, ACS and TedX. She is the senior pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.

But her journey started long before that.

“Even at age 6, I remember putting stuffed animals in a corner and making up sermons,” she recalled.

Sparks grew up in the South in the Southern Baptist tradition and was told that girls couldn’t be pastors. So instead, she pursued a career in corporate law. She also began pursuing stand-up comedy as a hobby — she’d always loved to laugh, she said.

“And all that time, that call was still there and it just got louder and louder and louder until I couldn’t ignore it anymore,” she said.

So Sparks quit her job and hit the road, traveling the world for two years. That was when the call became a pull. Sparks knew she wanted to become a minister, but she also loved the light and laughter of stand-up comedy.

“I was struggling with this idea of how could a comedian fit into the church,” she said.

Sparks found the answer in an unexpected place — a young girl living in one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages who had been blind and deaf from birth. But, Sparks was told, the girl loved to laugh.

One day, she sat on Sparks. lap and, out of curiosity, Sparks laughed to see what would happen.

“She put her ear right to my chest and felt the vibrations of me laughing and then squealed with laughter herself,” she said.

The girl “exuded joy” despite her circumstances and the challenges with which she was born.

“There it is,” Sparks thought. “That’s the message.”

As a speaker, writer and pastor, Sparks spreads the message that all people are born with the gift of joy — and it flourishes, no matter how the world has tried to beat it out of us.

Sparks said that learning to laugh in church can go against what many people have been taught.

“People think you have to be serious in church to be serious about church — and that’s just not true,” she said.

The Gospel is often called “the Good News,” and Sparks says she puts extra emphasis on the word “good.”

“In a house of worship, they should leave straighter and stronger … and that’s our goal here is to remind people of that,” she said.

Area residents can choose from four talks over the course of the weekend. The first, at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 24, is a women’s luncheon framed around Sparks’ book “Laugh Your Way to Grace.” At 5 p.m. that day, Sparks will give a talk called “It’s Our Time to Move,” in which she discusses how people can find reconciliation and healing with each other.

At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, Sparks will deliver the sermon at First Presbyterian. She says the sermon is titled “Trust, Jesus and Elvis” and covers a road trip she took to Memphis and how the lessons she learned from Elvis fans can also be applied to being a good Christian.

Her final talk in Salisbury, “Weathering the Storms of Life,” is at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25 and will be about a motorcycle trip she and her husband, Toby, took. They ran into a monstrous storm while crossing the Dakotas.

Reservations are required for some programs. The luncheon costs $10.

To register, email cmowery@salisburyfirstpres.org or call 704-636-1321. Reservations must be made by Wednesday.

For more information, visit www.salisburyfirstpres.org/lewis-preaching-series.

For more information on Susan Sparks or to catch live streams of her sermons at Madison Avenue Baptist, visit http://susansparks.com.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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