J. Lee Hill: “God’s love is this kind of parental thing that encapsulates our lives as children of God.”
1601 Kelton Road, San Diego
Christian Fellowship Congregational Church UCC
Pastor: J. Lee Hill
Born: Chesterfield, VA
Formation: George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC; Emory University-Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA
Years Ordained: 11
San Diego Reader: How long do you spend writing your sermons?
Pastor J. Lee Hill: I probably spend somewhere between 15 to 18 hours or so writing sermons. I begin that process early on during the week.…Sermons are typically driven by the scriptural context but also by the context of what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in our congregation. I’m continually speaking to issues of justice and equality for all people. The jazz services we’ve been doing is a much looser kind of worship service. For that service, sermons are typically topic-driven.
SDR: What inspired your church’s jazz worship service?
PH: We started doing the jazz services in 2015, every Sunday night at 5 o’clock for an hour, with fellowship and light meal after the service. What I called it then was an experiment. Before coming to San Diego five years ago, I lived in in New York City and worked with the pastors at the Riverside Church there, where there is this long-running jazz ministry. I was impressed by the community that was being drawn to that particular Sunday-evening service.
SDR: Why did you start a jazz worship service in San Diego?
PH: We were able to discover the unique contribution that jazz musicians have given to the black church by way of gospel music. So we did some digging and studying. Jazz music comes together through a collaborative communication that musicians have with one another — in the same way we hope folks are experiencing this worship, finding community, and getting into sync with one another to find new ways of worshipping God, and having their lives expanded and challenged by some good news.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PH: Our mission is to be a Bible-based progressive and inclusive community of believers growing in faith, love, and service to God, the community, and the world. Reverend Jeremiah Wright, president Barack Obama’s former pastor, will be here preaching, April 25–27. His coming to our church is one of the ways in which we embody this commitment to a Bible-based and progressive gospel. His presence here, we hope, will help us ground ourselves more firmly in the gospel message and gospel call to do justice, love, and mercy, and to walk humbly with God. We’re looking forward to his preaching, his challenge, and his investing in the lives of clergy and community leaders, particularly those doing good community-building work here in Southeast.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
PH: I know the experience of being close and near to God when I’m doing what God calls me to do here, such as extending a hand of compassion. That experience of being close to God is what I anticipate will happen when we transition from this world to the next…. Scripture tells us [of] this place called hell, but I often think that if God’s love is as great as I preach that it is, then God’s love is this kind of parental thing that encapsulates our lives as children of God. Scripture says nothing can separate us from the love of God. So, even in that place of absence, there may be a presence.