By Clint Confehr
SOUTHAVEN, MS — In this Memphis suburb, the Rev. Bartholomew Orr, senior pastor of Brown Missionary Baptist Church, appears to be this season’s proof that “the medium is the message.”
Rev. Orr spoke of Jesus’ return during his Nov. 25 sermon while suspended from cables carrying him to the pulpit. His serious message about the second coming was recorded and went viral, substantiating the famous phrase.
Media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote “The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects” with graphic designer Quentin Fiore to explain a mutually beneficial relationship between what’s said and how it’s conveyed. When their book was published in 1967, neither could have imagined social media. Now, Rev. Orr’s aerial entrance to the pulpit — by way of a rigging system used for Christmas programs — is on YouTube and the rest is 15 minutes of fame.
In a church video at brownbaptist.org, Orr quotes St. Paul in Philippines, “Much has happened to me, yet it is all in furtherance of the Gospel.”
Orr recognized criticism — church money shouldn’t be spent on stunts — only amplified his message; Jesus will return to earth with heavenly armies to defeat evil and establish His reign of justice and peace. “Are you ready?” Orr asks.
The rented lift is used in Brown Baptist’s annual Christmas program funded by production sponsors. For those who can’t attend the presentation, “A Soulful Christmas: The Gift of Jesus” may be seen on-line at brownbaptist.org starting Monday, Dec. 10. The last live presentation is 7-9 p.m. Friday at 7200 Swinnea Road.
During previous Christmas programs, theatrical angels appeared to fly because of the lift, and Rev. Orr’s son portrayed a drummer for a Christmas program, entering while suspended from cables. The pastor decided to use the lift to attract attention to the second coming during a visit with Christmas programmers and his own test ride.
“Just as Christ’s return will be unexpected, my flying in … was unexpected,” Orr says about spreading the Word of God.
Orr starts his sermon in a harness for what some reports erroneously call a zip-line. The pastor is delivered gently and slowly to the pulpit, but as he arrives above where a lectern is to be placed, the lift operator turns him 180 degrees to face the congregation which is amused as he stops asking, “Are you ready?” and starts saying “amen” slowly as his harness turns, raising a question about whether he’s ready for such a public fall from his graceful, floating passage.
In another video, Rev. Orr is seen and heard walking among the congregation singing, “I’ll fly away.”
Dec. 2, Orr left for a mission trip to Africa, “preaching to and teaching 500 pastors from around the world,” a church spokeswoman said.
An Internet search for the flying preacher will produce links to YouTube and other media reports which include Rev. Orr’s flight to and from the pulpit.
Orr has been senior pastor of Brown Baptist since Jan. 25, 1989.
DeSoto Times-Tribune reports the church has 7,000 members. Average weekend attendance is 4,500. Orr began preaching at age 11 in 1981. Licensed to preach two years later, he was ordained in 1986. Founded in 1885, Brown Baptist partners with nearby churches for fellowship across race and religion. A fifth of DeSoto County’s population is African American. Four years ago, Brown Baptist bought Trinity Baptist Church’s Swinnea Road campus. The predominantly African-American congregation shared its facilities with predominantly white Trinity Baptist during the churches’ transition, the Hernando, Miss. newspaper reports.