William Barber departs pulpit of Greenleaf Church with an ode to the power of disability

by | Jun 19, 2023 | Religion

RALEIGH (RNS) — For his final sermon as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, on Sunday (June 18), the Rev. William Barber spoke of “the testimony of the cripple.”The sermon, which capped his 30-year tenure as pastor of the Disciples of Christ church in the mostly Black town about 50 miles southeast of Raleigh, the state capital, was unusually personal.
Barber, who some consider a successor to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., for his anti-poverty activism, will devote his time to training future pastors. Late last year, he was appointed founding director of the Center for Public Theology and Public Policy at Yale Divinity School.
In completing his tenure at Greenleaf, Barber, 59, spoke of the struggle that nearly ended his career before it began.
In 1993, the year he was called to lead the church, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. Though he didn’t name the condition, which causes the vertebrae of the spine to fuse together and has resulted in a hunched back and a halting gait, he spoke candidly of the depression and near loss of faith that came with his diagnosis and the ways it forced him to lean more heavily on God.
“I had an officer in the Christian church, the national church, call me and said, ‘Bobby, you probably gonna need to figure out another thing to do besides pastoring, because the church ain’t gonna want a cripple to be a pastor,’” he recounted.
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