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Discovering your purpose with John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany

People will tell you that it’s not a religious book

Sue Brookshire
Sue Brookshire

Pioneer Ocean View United Church of Christ

  • Contact: 2550 Fairfield St, San Diego (619) 276-4881 www.povucc.org
  • Membership: 154
  • Pastor:  Mary Sue Brookshire
  • Age: 50
  • Born: Winslow, NC
  • Formation: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC; Candler School of Theology-Emory University, Atlanta, GA
  • Years Ordained: 20

San Diego Reader: What is the mission of your church?

Pastor Mary Sue Brookshire: I’d say that 80 percent of our church can recite our vision: To ignite hearts everywhere with God’s love. Then we flesh that out with a mission statement: Extending God’s extravagant welcome to all, we serve our community with openness and acceptance, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we promote peace and social justice, nurtured by prayer, worship, and music ministries. Day to day, we live that out by just trying to be the church. One of the things that makes us unique is every Sunday we have a full lunch together after worship, in part because we believe that time around the table builds the strength of our community – we know one another better. We joke that we’re really good at feeding people. We try to do that in other ways as well. We’re active in our local community service agencies, always collecting food for the needy, and providing needs in our community.

SDR: What book besides the Bible has had the greatest impact on your ministry?

PB: John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I remember reading that book (and I had never read any John Irving before that) and it unfolds this incredible, honest, beautiful story about this one person who has a purpose and spends the whole book discovering that purpose – and when it comes he knows it. He’s prepared. He senses God at work in that. People will tell you that it’s not a religious book, but I must have read it three or four times, and each time I just cried the whole end of the book – it was just so beautiful.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

PB: At a drag-show in a gay bar in Atlanta, every Sunday night they had a show called “The Gospel Girls.” It was packed. I used to go with my seminary friends and they would sing all the songs from the Evangelical Churches that had excluded them. They would sing with such joy and gusto, and it was heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. We used to say that we went to church when we went to “The Gospel Girls.”

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PB: I don’t think this life is all there is, but I don’t think it’s a literal gates-and-streets-paved-with-gold kind of thing. I think we return to the love for which we were created. I think love brings us into this world and love stands ready to receive us when we leave it…. The love will be so great and big, I won’t even notice the absence of what I thought it would be. I also don’t think there’s a hell with a guy with a pitchfork poking at people. But the best I can say is that God respects our choices and if we don’t choose love, then God respects that. If we don’t want to be with God, there may be a not-with-God place. But I don’t think we have to measure up – that if we got a 69 instead of a 70, we didn’t pass. Love is so big and forgiving, and holds us all if we want to be held.

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Sue Brookshire
Sue Brookshire

Pioneer Ocean View United Church of Christ

  • Contact: 2550 Fairfield St, San Diego (619) 276-4881 www.povucc.org
  • Membership: 154
  • Pastor:  Mary Sue Brookshire
  • Age: 50
  • Born: Winslow, NC
  • Formation: Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC; Candler School of Theology-Emory University, Atlanta, GA
  • Years Ordained: 20

San Diego Reader: What is the mission of your church?

Pastor Mary Sue Brookshire: I’d say that 80 percent of our church can recite our vision: To ignite hearts everywhere with God’s love. Then we flesh that out with a mission statement: Extending God’s extravagant welcome to all, we serve our community with openness and acceptance, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we promote peace and social justice, nurtured by prayer, worship, and music ministries. Day to day, we live that out by just trying to be the church. One of the things that makes us unique is every Sunday we have a full lunch together after worship, in part because we believe that time around the table builds the strength of our community – we know one another better. We joke that we’re really good at feeding people. We try to do that in other ways as well. We’re active in our local community service agencies, always collecting food for the needy, and providing needs in our community.

SDR: What book besides the Bible has had the greatest impact on your ministry?

PB: John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. I remember reading that book (and I had never read any John Irving before that) and it unfolds this incredible, honest, beautiful story about this one person who has a purpose and spends the whole book discovering that purpose – and when it comes he knows it. He’s prepared. He senses God at work in that. People will tell you that it’s not a religious book, but I must have read it three or four times, and each time I just cried the whole end of the book – it was just so beautiful.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

PB: At a drag-show in a gay bar in Atlanta, every Sunday night they had a show called “The Gospel Girls.” It was packed. I used to go with my seminary friends and they would sing all the songs from the Evangelical Churches that had excluded them. They would sing with such joy and gusto, and it was heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. We used to say that we went to church when we went to “The Gospel Girls.”

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PB: I don’t think this life is all there is, but I don’t think it’s a literal gates-and-streets-paved-with-gold kind of thing. I think we return to the love for which we were created. I think love brings us into this world and love stands ready to receive us when we leave it…. The love will be so great and big, I won’t even notice the absence of what I thought it would be. I also don’t think there’s a hell with a guy with a pitchfork poking at people. But the best I can say is that God respects our choices and if we don’t choose love, then God respects that. If we don’t want to be with God, there may be a not-with-God place. But I don’t think we have to measure up – that if we got a 69 instead of a 70, we didn’t pass. Love is so big and forgiving, and holds us all if we want to be held.

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That is one point of view. But St Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, was hardly speaking ex cathedra, and is not a reliable narrator in any case. He was always dragging old Pharisaical baggage with him. And prior to the Incarnation, the Second Person of God was neither male nor female nor human at all, so the "Jesus is a man not a woman" (present tense) is laughable.

Sept. 28, 2019

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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