Chicago Church Adopts ‘The Gospel According to Dolly Parton’

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CHICAGO (RNS) — She’s been hailed as a “secular country-pop saint” and the “Jesus of Appalachia.”

Her ability to bridge the gap has made her the subject of many recent thoughts, a series of popular podcasts and even proposals to replace statues of Confederate figures with her likeness.

And over the past few weeks, Dolly Parton has been the subject of a five-part sermon series at the Church of Three Crosses in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood.

Reverend Britt Cox concluded her “The Gospel According to Dolly” series of sermons May 29 at the church, which describes itself as an “ever-expanding, inclusive Christian community” belonging to both The United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. .

“We used Dolly as a way to talk about history and our larger story of faith and that all of our stories matter and God’s story continues within us,” Cox told the congregation, accompanied by a church marching band. pianist.

Three Crosses Church has been focused on sharing personal stories since returning to in-person services during the covid-19 pandemic, Cox told Religion News Service. New members began to attend as the church met online. The longtime members hadn’t seen each other face to face or caught up with each other in months.

Parton’s ability to connect with many different people – young and old, religious and non-religious, red and blue states – throughout history proved instructive as the congregation got to know each other again.

Additionally, Cox said, “He’s really a person who follows his speech.”

Growing up in Texas — where the pastor says country music is woven into the church — she admired Parton’s music and his subversive sense of humor. She later realized that the singer-songwriter, who is Christian, also shares beautiful messages in his songs — some overtly religious, like his 2019 song “God Only Knows” with Christian music duo For King & Country.

Parton also invests the money she earns in causes close to her heart, such as children’s literacy. Most recently, she received accolades for her $1 million donation to covid-19 research, which was partly used to fund Moderna’s vaccine.

Parton said she thought it was good if she could set a good example.

“But,” she told People Magazine in December, “I don’t want to be worshiped because there’s a verse in my Bible that talks about idol worship. And I see that happen all the time with movie stars and these celebrities. People literally worship them more than they worship God. And I just – I cringe sometimes.

Each Sunday’s sermon at Three Crosses Church focused on a different Parton song, all but one performed by a member of the congregation.

Cox drew inspiration from a series of sermons called “The Gospel According to Dolly Parton” at the Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, the WNYC “Dolly Parton’s America” ​​podcast, and current events.

A planned sermon on Parton’s song “Coat of Many Colors” — a natural fit, since the lyrics are inspired by the biblical story of Joseph and his coat of many colors — was scrapped the weekend after the project opinion of the Supreme Court that would reverse Roe vs. Wade has been disclosed.

Instead, Cox preached on the “19th Amendment,” Parton’s contribution to a WNYC project collecting songs inspired by each of the 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. She weaved together the song about women fighting for the right to vote with the biblical story of a Canaanite woman arguing with Jesus to heal her daughter.

Other sermons were exhibited on “9 to 5”, “Jolene”, and “My Tennessee Mountain Home”.

At Sunday service, held in the grassy side yard of the church on a warm, albeit breezy, almost summer day, life was as peaceful as a baby’s sigh, as the saying goes. the song.

Cox played a recording a church member had made of an upbeat rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” the 1974 Parton song made most famous by Whitney Houston in the 1990s, and the used as a starting point to talk about Jesus’ command in the Gospels to forgive “not seven times, but, I tell you, 77 times”.

“I will always love you” is not a love song, but a goodbye song, the pastor explained. Parton had written the song in part as a farewell to her musical partner Porter Wagoner when she embarked on a solo career, she said.

“It’s a song about goodbyes, about endings, about forgiving both sides of them so they can enter into a new beginning,” she said.

It was a fitting song to end the series as Cox prepares to say her own farewell to the congregation, leaving on a proverbial note as she sets out on a new date.

“Why not Dolly Parton?” Dana McKinney, a longtime member of the Church of Three Crosses, said over coffee and cookies after the service.

McKinney isn’t sure she believes “all dogma.” But, she said, “coming to worship is about changing perspective, being able to look at something in a way that’s going to help me go out into the world and just be a better person.”

She will never hear “I will always love you” again without thinking about forgiveness, she said.

Religious News Service

Jerry B. Hatch