‘TENDING ANGELS’ – SHERRY COTHRAN
‘Tending Angels’- Sherry Cothran
Musical Minister Pursuing Her ‘True Calling’
By Lisa Denton – 2-17-18
Don’t look for recent Chattanooga transplant Sherry Cothran to introduce herself as a rock star. Even if she has the credentials.
Next Saturday, Feb. 24, a coffeehouse-style concert and book release will give her new neighbors a glimpse of the life she once led, though Cothran insists the dual roles of rock star and Methodist minister have been within her for as long as she can remember.
“I’m not sure you have to leave one to find the other … ” says a blog post on her website.
“Sure, I found plenty of things to run from in the rock star life,” she writes. “Drugs, alcohol, manipulation and greed rank among the top issues that I encountered. I also found human frailty, vulnerability, love and compassion. I soon learned in the pastorate that one does not escape these issues in churches; there are just human issues and human struggles. … One does not become a part of a church to escape; one comes to be a part of a faith community to truly live.”
THE ROCK STAR
Cothran enjoyed a fair amount of success as lead singer of the Nashville-based Evinrudes back in the late 1990s. The band had a label, Mercury Records; a hit song, “Drive Me Home”; and opening slots for the Spin Doctors and Goo Goo Dolls. Then the label changed hands and 200 bands were dropped, including The Evinrudes, just as their star was rising.
“We were touring all over the United States, parts of Europe. We played with a lot of famous bands at the time,” Cothran recalls.
But what she remembers most was her personal turmoil as the band moved on to a London-based label and new fans overseas. The music business was taking its toll on Cothran. She wanted out before things got too big and too many people were depending on her for their own success.
“We were starting to climb the charts over there, and I kind of realized if I kept going I would be in a situation I wouldn’t be able to get out of,” she says.
And so she left, and the band dissolved, along with her marriage to writer/guitarist Brian Reed.
What came next might seem like an improbable journey to some, but Cothran describes it as her true calling. She entered seminary and became an ordained minister.
Until Dec. 31, her pastorate was an urban parish in Nashville, where she spent the past decade working with the city’s hidden population — the homeless, refugees, immigrants and the poor.
Her new book, “Tending Angels: Stories From the Frontlines of Heaven and Earth,” is filled with essays on her experiences ministering to what she describes as some of the most abandoned, traumatized and rejected members of Nashville’s population.
In it, she relates encounters with the homeless population that often led her to feel as if she might be, as the Apostle Paul said, “Tending angels, unaware.”
In her book, she hopes to show “the sacred face of homelessness,” she says, and inspire people to realize that “we are all connected, that when we reach out and help ‘the least of these,’ mysteriously, our lives change for the better.”
“That urban church was kind of like a mission field for me,” she explains. “There’s a growing homeless population in Nashville, a really big refugee population, a really big immigrant population. I created programs for all those demographics of people at the church I pastored. It became a backyard missions field, which is what I’d felt really called to do.
“It’s been hard work, and work that’s broken my heart many times, but the last decade of my life has been really precious.”
Cothran grew up in West Tennessee, in a little town called Greenfield, where much of her family still lives.
“When I was a girl, I really felt that there was some kind of pull on me to be involved in some kind of ministry,” she says. “But I was also a musician growing up, and I went around with a little girls quartet. We sang everywhere. I’ve always done that too.”
Cothran grew up in a Baptist church, “and they don’t really have an ordination path for women,” she says. So music appeared to be her best option.
“I didn’t know [pastoring a church] was a possibility,” she says.
So she focused on music, earning a music business degree in college. “I took the path into music because it was just what I was doing,” she explains.
But singing in that indie rock band “was a really hard life, kind of a destructive life,” she says. “Even though we were a successful band and we did really well, I felt a deeper calling, a deeper meaning in my life.
“I wrestled with that decision a long time. There were people invested in my band. It was an economic nightmare to leave it, but I finally did and found my way.”
These days, Cothran is getting to know Chattanooga. After commuting between Nashville and Chattanooga from August to December, she is now a full-time Chattanoogan. Both she and her husband, Patrick Woolsey, are ministers, though he has left the pastorate to teach Bible history at Soddy-Daisy High School with Bible in the Schools. She hopes to be assigned a church here when United Methodist appointments are announced later this year.
It was Woolsey who pointed Cothran to the seminary. She met him while waiting tables in Nashville, where she had returned when she left the band.
“He was very encouraging to me,” she recalls. “He said, ‘If what you want to do is go into the seminary, you should go to seminary.’ That was the first time it had occurred to me that was a possibility.”
She enrolled in Vanderbilt Divinity School. She and Woolsey began dating. They were married two years later.
Cothran says moving to Chattanooga for Woolsey’s new job has given her a chance to more fully explore her musical ministry.
Next Saturday’s show will give her an opportunity to talk about her books, her blog, a new CD, “Kiss the Ground.”
“I just kind of tell stories from the context of my ministry and tell stories about the songs themselves. It’s a very inspirational type of event. I try to inspire people with my performances.”
Proceeds will go to Family Promise, a local agency that helps homeless families.
“When I’ve gotten the opportunity to invest in people’s lives, it’s not glamorous work, but it has healed up some of my own brokenness,” she says. “That’s another beautiful truth that I want to express to everyone. When we sit with broken people and hear their stories and reach out to love, our lives get better because we are investing in other people and their well-being.”
Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress. com or 423-757-6281.
LINKS FOR SHERRY:
Watch video here:
Sherry Cothran talks about Tending Angels book
Sherry Cothran – Pastor’s Songs Salute Biblical Women
The BIBLICAL Role Of A Woman – The BIBLE Truth – PART I
The BIBLICAL Role Of A Woman – The BIBLE Truth – PART II
The right rockin’ Rev. Sherry Cothran