Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Power is in the Pews—A Student Remembers Rev. Shirley Prince

By Alice Faye Duncan
Special to R3

I am a Memphian who grew up in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. My childhood pastor was Rev. Henry Logan Starks. He was tall and towering like a tree. His smile was bright and golden like the sun. Rev. Starks was a seminarian whose scholarly preaching and homiletic artistry moved and inspired my teenage peers and me. Under his tutelage was a tiny spitfire minister named, Shirley Owens Prince. When she preached in Stark’s place, Minister Prince spoke in direct terms that my peers and I could quote and discuss.

Children at church loved Rev. Starks. Each Sunday he shook our hands and looked into our eyes to announce, “YOU ARE SOMEBODY.” Parents told us stories about the Civil Rights Movement when Rev. Starks marched with Dr. King to help the Memphis Sanitation Workers earn higher wages. We respected Rev. Starks with the greatest reverence. But when it came to preaching, it was Minister Prince with the gift to make us care about runaway prodigals, precocious Peter, the power of giving and the wages to be paid for our unruly behavior.

Rev. Starks died in the summer of 1985. Minister Prince left the A.M.E. Church. My peers and I went to college. Then in 1998, Pastor Prince started a nondenominational church that she named the Philippians V Multi-Ministry. Devoted Methodists, who had been teenagers in years past, joined Philippians V with their children and spouses. Pastor Prince used imagery and metaphor that a baby could understand. The sermons were accessible. For many of us, joining her church was not a difficult decision.

As a pastor, Shirley Prince preached radical ideas that are seldom promoted in church. She understood that each believer must surrender to the call of God. The call is not to do something wonderful and grand. The call is to be something lowly and used like a servant. In acknowledgement of servant leadership, each member in her church was called a “minister.”

As did the Apostle Paul, Shirley Prince preached that each of us was endowed with gifts that were for the edification and maturation of the Body of Christ which is the church. She didn’t promote the elevation of the pastor as some kind of celebrated soul-saving “Lone Ranger.” If the local church is to survive, thrive and bless the community, she said it would do so, only when members are developed to activate their gifts and lead from the pews. Her constant mantra was, “Power is in the pews!” During church, workshops and Bible studies, she frequently declared, “Nobody needs a sage on stage. The power is in you!”

Pastor Prince had a third radical opinion. She encouraged believers to be the primary caretakers of their own spiritual growth and development. She viewed the office of pastor as a leader and guide. But when members depend completely on pastors as a spiritual “brain trust,” she expressed that the church won’t prevail as a life changing and conquering force.

To enlighten believers and position them to conquer with the Word, Shirley Prince encouraged her students and church members to study the Bible for their own understanding. To gain an appreciation for philosophy and classical literature, she encouraged us to read the timeless tales by Maupassant, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Then in small study groups, we studied spiritual writings by Howard Thurman, C.S. Lewis and Watchman Nee. Within her church, it was not mandatory for unlettered adults to gain diplomas and degrees. However, she stressed that it was most important for every church member to participate in lifelong learning.

Pastor Shirley Prince passed away on September 16, 2006. Some members continue to worship with the Philippians V Multi-Ministry, while others have taken the lessons learned in her care and moved on to worship in other places.

During this eighth anniversary of her death, let it be said that Shirley Prince was a shining scholar and preacher who learned from the venerable, Rev. Henry Logan Starks. As he mentored her to be a radical and thoughtful leader, she nurtured and mentored others. Pastor Prince gave me roots to grow. She gave me wings to fly. And by her instruction, no preacher or pastor can hold me hostage. Spiritual understanding begins when I seek God for myself.

Alice Faye Duncan is the author of HELLO, SUNSHINE—5 Habits to UNCLOUD Your Day
This New Kindle E-book for Adults Will be Available October 1, 2014
Email: HelloAliceFaye@aol.com Blog: www.helloalicefaye.wordpress.com
Follow Alice Faye on Twitter: @HelloAliceFaye

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