By Melanie Patterson
The North Jefferson News
A Fultondale church is trying a new approach to give people a start behind the pulpit.
Mary Magdalene Christian Church is starting a program called, “So You Think You can Preach,” in which men and women can get a chance to preach a sermon at the interdenominational church.
Modeled after TV shows like “So You Think You Can Dance,” the program is open to anyone who feels called by God to preach, according to Mary Magdalene Christian Church pastor Liam Sullivan.
The program not only helps people get a chance to preach, but it helps connect those people to churches without a pastor by inviting congregants to listen to the visiting preacher.
Sullivan said he has already been criticized by other pastors for the idea, but says he will closely screen participants before sharing his pulpit with them.
“I’ve gotten flak from some pastors saying ‘You’ll get some real strange people in your pulpit,’” said Sullivan.
But he said that he would talk with the candidates first. He will require that they give him an idea of what they will preach about and will make sure their message comes straight from the Bible.
“We feel there are people out there, men and women, who feel called by God and feel intimidated by the huge churches in our area or that they have to be ‘holier than thou,’” Sullivan said.
He suspects that many would-be preachers are also intimidated by a lack of education.
“Most of the preachers and pastors today are pretty well educated,” Sullivan said. “A lot of people probably feel that they’ve been called by God to preach the word, but feel intimidated by the demands of education and having experience.”
Sullivan said, however, that “Jesus did not call upon the religious people or the highly-educated people. The 12 apostles were uneducated men, but Jesus chose them to lead his church.”
The idea for the program originated with Sullivan’s wife Karen, who teaches the church’s adult Sunday school class.
“She was encouraging people to act upon their dreams,” said Liam Sullivan.
She revealed to the class a dream that she’d had for some time.
“She told them her idea for “So You Think You Can Preach,” said Sullivan. “Everybody in the class got excited about it because they’re a fan of the reality shows. It took off from there.”
The program will take place at the church the first Sunday of every month, starting in August.
Mary Magdalene Christian Church was founded in 2001, starting in Birmingham. It then met at Fultondale City Hall, and has been at its current location on Carson Road for four years.
Sullivan said people sometimes think the church is Roman Catholic because of the name, but “we are totally Protestant,” he said.
However, Sullivan has not always been Protestant.
Born in Cork, Ireland, Sullivan moved to the United States 36 years ago. For 25 years, he served as a Roman Catholic priest in Alabama, doing mission work for the Catholic Church here starting in the 1970s.
“I felt after 25 years that God was calling me to minister to everybody,” he said. “I felt a call to minister to other people. In the Catholic church, the only people allowed to take part in the sacraments are Catholics.”
He said that at Mary Magdalene, “our doors are open to anybody. We allow anybody in. We minister to anybody.”
And once a month, he wants to open the pulpit to those with a desire to share God’s word.
For more information about “So You Think You Can Preach,” call the church at (205) 808-0504 or toll-free at 1-888-714-3389, or visit www.smmcc.net.
Mary Magdalene Christian Church is located at 1879 Carson Road in Fultondale.
By Melanie Patterson