Margaret McFaddin has continuously made a point to tie social justice into her preaching, and her work in Albuquerque is no different.
“(The church) empowers you to be able to love people without restriction. That's really who we are and what we do,” McFaddin said.
McFaddin was appointed on Sept. 11 of last year to Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Albuquerque, and she currently serves as the second female pastor in the church’s history.
McFaddin started her work as a preacher in 2004 at a church in St. Louis, where she commuted 124 miles for every Sunday service. Preaching has taken McFaddin all around the nation, and she’s moved seven times for different assignments.
“If you do well where you are, and if there's a need for the church with your gifts and graces, the bishop makes a decision on where to send you,” McFaddin said.
In New Mexico, McFaddin has prioritized building community so she can deliver meaningful sermons despite the pandemic forcing the church online.
“Keeping up with our members and what's going on in their lives, that informs our preaching as well,” McFaddin said.
Within the greater church community, McFaddin joined the New Mexico Council of Church’s efforts to address white privilege and racism.
“We just started, but I think one of the reasons I was asked to join was because I am a social justice preacher,” McFaddin said. “I don't have a problem with having hard conversations, so I guess that's why they picked me.”
McFaddin focuses most of her sermons around politics and current events affecting the Black community.
“This week, I know I'm going to talk about … well, I always talk about politics. I always thought Jesus was a politician,” McFaddin said. “I look at it as my task to interpret what's going on through the lens of scripture.”
McFaddin attended Eden Theological Seminary in Missouri, where she was surrounded by other individuals who were also passionate about integrating social justice into their preaching. That further influenced the way she evangelizes.
“God spoke to me, and he said ... ‘America is enslaved,’” McFaddin said. “And the Black church has something to say to the world about what god can do if we let him. One of the driving forces for me is to let people know what the Black church really is about.”
According to McFaddin, social justice has been a key aspect of Black churches since their inception, and for her the church always provided a safe place for her community to heal.
McFaddin added that although Kamala Harris being picked as vice president was a historic event for the Black community, her nomination over Stacey Abrams reflects decades of respectability politics and microaggressions.
“Those are the things that we've always lived with and always dealt with,” McFaddin said. “In the Sunday morning worship, (churchgoers) expect those things to be addressed. Yes, it's awful, but that's how we have grown to where we are now.”
McFaddin also described her first religious experience when, as a child, she watched universities in her area become integrated and thought it was the work of god.
“I remember telling my mom I wanted to go to the University of Mississippi, and she said, ‘Well, baby, they don't let colored girls go there,’” McFaddin said. “The next year was the year that James Meredith integrated the University. And I remember telling my mom, ‘Oh, god did that just for me,’ as just, you know, four-year-old thinking.”
Being a woman posed challenges for McFaddin’s journey to becoming an ordained pastor.
“The AME church was the first Black denomination to ordain a female bishop, and that was in 2000,” McFaddin said. “It was hard, and the misogyny is there. But, as the spirit will, a way was made for women.”
One of the goals McFaddin has for the church moving forward is working on bringing back old members that could be reinvigorated by new leadership.
“People vote with their feet and their purse, so (if) they're not happy, you don't see them,” McFaddin said. “When a change comes, everybody comes back to, ‘Let's kick the tires on the new pastor and see what he or she is going to be about.’ That's my goal.”
In the meantime, McFaddin has had to adjust to not being able to preach in front of a live audience due to the pandemic.
“Black preaching is call and response, which is what we're so much used to,” McFaddin said. “When you don't have that ... You have to really dig deep and be your own call and response. After 17 years, it's not that hard.”
Dawn Smith, a member of the Grant Chapel AME Church and a University of New Mexico alum, is looking forward to being able to attend McFaddin’s sermons in person.
“I have known her for many years through work inside our conference when she was a pastor at other churches,” Smith said. “She’s a hard-working woman of god, and I was very excited when I heard we got her as our new pastor. It has been good so far, and I can't wait until we are back in the sanctuary and the entire congregation can experience her in person.”
McFaddin will continue delivering sermons at Grant Chapel AME Church on Sundays at 11 a.m. on Facebook Live.
Madeline Pukite is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madelinepukite