Lynne Hinton: Pastor or writer?
Being both a minister and a novelist is a delicate balance for the author of "Friendship Cake" and other books.
July 17, 2012 | Novelist Lynne Hinton grew up in the church, in a family of pastors, and is ordained in the United Church of Christ. She has spent much of her adult life pursuing two vocations: pastor and fiction writer.
The two paths intertwine and overlap in many ways.
She draws directly on her experience as a pastor in many of her books -- for example, five novels involve a group of women at the fictional Hope Springs Community Church who work together to create church cookbooks. Two more feature a Catholic priest as a major character.
Blending the two passions, both personally and in her work, is part of the balance of Hinton’s life.
“Both of those professions, writer and professional minister, are very sacred and holy positions,” she said.
Growing up as a “preacher’s kid” in Fayetteville, N.C., Hinton was the youngest of three children. She attended Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and later received a master of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.
She served as pastor of congregations in Guilford and Randolph counties in North Carolina, including one that was predominately African-American. Her first novel, “Friendship Cake,” was published in 2000. She now lives in New Mexico, the setting for some of her latest novels.
Hinton spoke with Faith & Leadership recently about how she came to combine her faith life and her calling as a storyteller. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: What is the story of your life as a pastor?
My father is a Southern Baptist preacher, and both of my siblings are Baptist ministers. So I came by it naturally. If I wanted to find my father, I’d have to go to the church to find him, so it just became a second home for me.
When I started college, I had not met a woman minister. Yet I felt a call to the ministry. So I thought my choices were to be a Christian education director or a missionary. Those were the only two roles I had seen women in.
I decided to be a missionary doctor. I went to Wake Forest University and took freshman first-semester chemistry and realized that was not going to happen. So it was kind of a struggle. By the time I finished college, I had met women in other roles in ministry and decided being a chaplain in a hospital setting was a good fit for me.
I was at Southeastern Seminary the year of the conservative takeover and was deeply impacted by that. So I went as far away as I could from North Carolina and from my Baptist tradition and landed in Berkeley, Calif., at a school called Pacific School of Religion. That changed pretty much everything for me.
I learned about social justice as a part of a life of faith. I learned about different ways to be a minister, and I learned about writing and telling stories. I took classes in third-world literature and Harlem Renaissance literature.
My world was rocked. I read and heard wonderful stories by women that inspired me to try and tell my own stories. So lots of stuff happened for me in Berkeley.
I came back to North Carolina and went to work in hospice as a chaplain. Then I went into pastoring two very different churches.
The first one was a rural congregation [Mount Hope, in Guilford County, N.C.], a white congregation that loved to eat, and we were very happy and loved each other. And that was where I wrote “Friendship Cake.” It’s a story about women in a church who put together a cookbook and become friends.
Yet I felt troubled by the issue of segregation during worship. So I did a pulpit exchange with a friend of mine who came from Asheboro, N.C.
Something happened for me while worshipping and leading worship in this African-American church. I knew that at Mount Hope if they did anything around racial justice, they did it because I asked them to -- not because they had the same passion about it.
I thought, “Before we get mad at each other, I should probably leave and figure this thing out for myself.” So I did. I went to film school, and I joined an African-American church to learn their traditions and how church is done in African-American tradition.
After about a year, the church where I had done the pulpit exchange came open, and I applied. I became their pastor for five years. It was the most redemptive and lovely professional and, probably, personal experience I’ve had. I loved being the pastor of this church.
The rest of the history is that when my husband retired, we wanted to move to New Mexico. We did, and I pastored a church. But it was not a good fit. I went back into training for intentional interim work, then came back to Albuquerque and was able to work as a writer for a year. Now I’ve gone back into chaplaincy again.
I am trained as a pastor, but my real love and passion is writing and being a storyteller.
Q: Is there a connection between those two callings: pastor and storyteller?
As a pastor you get this incredible front-row seat into people’s lives, in the most important moments of their lives. That is the greatest gift of being a pastor, in those moments stories are happening.
I don’t ever tell stories that happen in exactly the way that they happened, but emotionally I tell those stories. As a pastor, I get to be in these awesome moments of people’s lives or people’s stories, and as a storyteller, I get to use that wonderful vessel of storytelling to inspire and change, encourage and challenge other people’s lives.