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Pastors’ podcast helps listeners grow in their faith

All questions about God, the Bible or life are welcome

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The Sick & hAlarious podcast launched during the pandemic. Layne Brubaker and Abi Velázquez record weekly episodes from their respective homes in Washington state and Mexico City — 2,800 miles apart. (Art courtesy of illustrator Jillian Ivey)

LOUISVILLE — In college, the Revs. Layne Bailey Brubaker and Abigail Spears Velázquez wore matching hats embroidered with the words ‘Sick & hAlarious.’ These expressions are endearing reminders of their visits with Abi’s grandmother and great aunt, who would frequently exclaim “sick” or “hAlarious” in response to one another’s stories about life in their retirement community.

“Abi and I picked this up from them,” Brubaker said. “We always imagined ourselves in the last days of our lives, living in a retirement community, laughing and saying everything is ‘sick’ and ‘hAlarious.’” Abi’s grandmother passed away recently, so “It is with loving gratitude that we honor her in the name of our podcast: Sick & hAlarious: A Podcast Where We Encounter God In It All.

As podcast co-hosts, the pastors reflect on where they have been and where they are — and how God shows up in the midst of it all, particularly in the unexpected, mundane parts of life that can cause tears, laughter and tears while laughing.

Brubaker and Velázquez both grew up in the Church of God, a Pentecostal movement. Then they attended Lee University, a Church of God institution in their hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee. They also both earned Master of Divinity degrees at Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.

Now they live 2,800 miles apart.

Brubaker is pastor of Hagar’s Community Church, a 1001 New Worshiping Community planted by the Presbytery of Olympia inside the Washington Corrections Center for Women. It’s the largest women’s prison in Washington, and the first Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation in the network of Prison Congregations of America. Layne and her husband, the Rev. Crawford Brubaker, previously planted another 1001 New Worshiping Community, Okra Abbey, in New Orleans, where Layne also served as the Young Adult Volunteer program site coordinator.

Velázquez is an ordained minister in the Church of God of Prophecy, a Pentecostal movement with roots in the Church of God. She and her husband, Omar, co-pastor a church in Mexico City, where they live with their three young children.

Layne, left, and Abi in college (Contributed photo)

These close friends since eighth grade would never have imagined the moments of tension and joy they shared during their growing-up years, and in college, seminary and post-seminary, would — once upon a time in a pandemic — help them and others encounter God through a weekly podcast.

So far, Velázquez said, Episode 15 — “Is This the End of the World?” — is one of her favorites. “Layne and I were able to confront and even poke a little fun at the end-times/doomsday theology we were raised with,” she said, “and offer our listeners a more hopeful outlook regarding the present and future we have in Christ.”

Feedback on the podcast thus far has been encouraging. Most people say they love the Scripture passage segment, especially their light-hearted, yet meaningful, approach to Scripture.

“We want people to know that Scripture can be interacted with and consulted, and often there are funny details in the text that get missed,” Brubaker said. In Episode 11, “God Did What?” she and Velázquez interviewed Dr. Todd Hibbard, one of their Lee University professors. “Dr. Hibbard was instrumental in how I approach Scripture and, ultimately, the kind of pastor I became,” Brubaker said. “This episode was personally satisfying because he joined us in our Scripture reading and also ‘taught’ our audience a bit more about reading the biblical text.”

In Episode 5, “How Do We Begin the Work of Anti-Racism?” Brubaker and Velázquez reflect on past experiences through the lens of white privilege and consider the ways in which structural racism has shaped them and the church. They issue an invitation to begin the hard work of anti-racism that takes shape first through awareness, repentance and social action.

Episode 4, “Is God in the hAlarious?” is another personal favorite, Brubaker said. “In this episode Abi and I spend a lot of time discussing the text where Jesus turns water into wine,” Brubaker said. “This is the first episode where we really allow the text to be funny and to use our imaginations to interact with the text from multiple points of view. Even though we laugh a lot, there is still a poignant message about God, Jesus and living a life of faith.”

Both say recording a podcast is not super high-tech. But what was difficult to figure out was how to record a podcast with good audio. They first tried podcast apps, which didn’t work for them. Once they figured out how to record themselves separately, they were good to go. They even discovered that their closets work perfectly for sound absorption with no echo.

“So, all episodes come to you straight from our closets,” Brubaker said. Each episode requires time to prepare an outline of the conversation, about two and a half hours to record an episode and another two hours to edit. “At first it took a lot longer, but we have figured out a good rhythm to our recording sessions, which also makes editing much quicker,” Brubaker said. “We generally record episodes on Tuesday mornings, and most episodes are recorded about three weeks ahead of when they are available online.”

Brubaker and Velázquez launched their podcast in June. Each episode focuses on one specific question, which they explore through stories from their past, along with insight from Scripture and their current ministerial context.

“The questions Layne and I ask are questions that we are still working through ourselves and questions that we think many of our audience might have but may not know how to ask, who to ask or if they can even ask,” Velázquez said. “We hope to provide a place where no questions about God, the Bible or life are off limits.”

To access all episodes, visit the podcast’s website at sickhapodcast.com. Subscribe on Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow the podcast on social media at sickhapodcast. If you have questions, stories to share or topics to suggest for future episodes, email sick.ha.podcast@gmail.com. A new episode of the Sick & hAlarious podcast is available every Wednesday.


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