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Finding humor in salvation

Humor is the most powerful gift we have, Baptist minister the Rev. Susan Sparks told a group of 2,500 Lutherans Friday.

It helps us grieve loved ones, get through difficult surgical procedures, and it even gets us through long lines at the Division of Motor Vehicles, she says.

“To me, we are all children of a God with a sense of humor,” Sparks said.

Sparks was one of three featured speakers Friday morning at the Women of Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s triennial gathering at the Charlotte Convention Center. The gathering runs through Sunday and includes group worship and workshops.

The gathering is held every three years in cities across the country. “We have a commitment to go to a different time zone each time,” said Linda Bushkofsky, executive director of the ELCA. This year’s gathering theme is “Of Many Generations.”

On Friday, Sparks, who is also a stand-up comedian, focused on how humor can help people “repair the breach,” or restore their communities.

“If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself, and if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others,” Sparks said Friday, quoting a line from her book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace.”

Sparks, a Charlotte native, discovered the connection between humor and religion about 15 years ago. For 10 years, she practiced trial law in New York City and performed at comedy clubs at night. A Baptist all her life, Sparks left law and turned to ministry work in 1997.

She traveled for two years, volunteering with Mother Teresa’s mission in India, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and driving the Alaska Highway. She then enrolled at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary. She became an ordained minister in 2004.

Sparks is now the senior pastor at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York. She’s the first woman to hold the position in the church’s 165 years.

The road to becoming a female Baptist minister wasn’t an easy one, she said Friday. Sparks grew up as a Southern Baptist, a denomination that only ordains men. So Sparks had to turn to another denomination to pursue her dream.

“It’s kind of funny to me because they’re OK with women serving on the Supreme Court, (and) women can fly the space shuttle. They would have been fine with putting Sarah Palin in the White House,” she said. “Bless their hearts.”

Sparks will preach at the Myers Park Baptist Church on Queens Road on Sunday. The church she attended while growing up in Charlotte, First Baptist on South Davidson Street, could not allow her to preach there because she’s a woman.

Sparks recognizes that humor isn’t the only “gift” people have that make their life unique.

“Each of us, every single one of us, is given wonderful and unique gifts,” Sparks said. “It’s our duty, it’s our responsibility as Christians to use that gift to the fullest no matter where we find ourselves.”