Hillary Clinton wants to be a preacher, and a Duke Divinity School alum who served as her spiritual adviser during the 2016 presidential campaign says Clinton would be powerful in the pulpit.
“I think she would be a terrific preacher,” said the Rev. Bill Shillady, who has been a friend and a pastor to the Clinton family for 15 years. “She knows her Bible, and she loves people and she loves God.”
Shillady met Clinton in 2002 at a memorial service for 9/11 victims in New York. She was a New York senator at the time and Shillady was pastor of Park Avenue United Methodist Church on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Shillady is a native of Reading, Pa., who studied religion and business administration at Lebanon Valley College. He earned a master’s in divinity from Duke in 1981 and a doctor of ministry degree from Drew Theological School in 1993.
Since 2008, Shillady has been executive director of the New York-based United Methodist City Society, which supports United Methodist churches and their programs.
After the memorial service, Shillady said Hillary Clinton brought her daughter, Chelsea, to Sunday services at his church. He became friends with the family and served in a pastoral role for the Clintons. He co-officiated Chelsea Clinton’s wedding to Marc Mesvinsky in July 2010 and led the memorial service for Hillary Clinton’s mother, Dorothy Rodham, in 2011. He would have meals with the family from time to time, he said, usually around holidays.
In 2015, he celebrated Easter with the Clintons. Shortly after, he said, Clinton announced she would make a second run for the presidency, and Shillady wanted to do something to support her. Shillady knew that Joshua DuBois, Barack Obama’s “pastor-in-chief,” had provided Obama with a daily devotional during his presidency, weaving together scripture, song, prayer and reflection.
They were written specifically for her. Sometimes they were about strength and perseverance, qualities the campaign demanded endlessly.
Rev. Bill Shillady, Hillary Clinton’s spiritual adviser during presidential campaign
Shillady decided to do something similar for Clinton for the duration of the campaign.
“It was really just a movement of the spirit,” Shillady said. “I didn’t know how difficult the campaign was going to be, or how contentious. I just thought it would help her to have a scripture and a meditation on that scripture and a prayer each day.”
Beginning April 6, 2015, Shillady would start each day by looking at news headlines and finding a Bible verse appropriate to what was happening in the world or in Clinton’s life. He would write a short meditation on the verse, offer a prayer and email the devotional to Clinton by 5 a.m.
“She has said it was the first thing she read every day, and it helped to center her that day,” Shillady said.
About three months into the project, Shillady said, he enlisted the help of some church laity and other clergy members, including Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians.
“They were written specifically for her,” Shillady said. “Sometimes they were about strength and perseverance, qualities the campaign demanded endlessly. Sometimes I would write about joy, with a reminder to seek and savor the exciting and exhilarating moment, like the birth of her grandson.”
Some devotionals were about gratitude, or celebration, Shillady said. “And when there was a difficult day – when there was a shooting, or a terrorist attack – I would write about grief and hope.
“It helped her to stay focused on the values that were important to her, and have been since she grew up, in her Methodist faith: justice and dignity, compassion and love.”
Shillady said Clinton would respond to the messages if she especially liked a scripture passage or a devotional.
When Clinton lost to Donald J. Trump, she quoted a verse from Galatians that Shillady said he had sent her a few weeks before. “Let us not grow weary in doing good,” she said in her concession speech, “for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Shillady continued sending the devotionals until Dec. 31, 2016, a total of 635 in all.
Earlier this year, Clinton suggested to Shillady that he make a book of the daily devotionals. He did, culling them to 365 and trimming them to fit on one page. His publisher, Abingdon Press, included email exchanges between Shillady and Clinton, news clippings from the long campaign, and photographs.
The book, “Strong for a Moment Like This,” takes its title from the fourth chapter of the Book of Esther, about the Jewish queen who feared speaking out on behalf of her people when some members of her husband’s court planned to exterminate them.
The book is to be released Aug. 15.
Shillady said he and Clinton were together for a photo shoot for the book’s release when she said, almost offhandedly, “‘Bill, I think I’d like to do some preaching.’
“I said, ‘Oh, really? Are you serious?’ ” Shillady said he asked. He said she answered, “I am.”
Clinton did not immediately respond to a request for an interview made through The Clinton Foundation.
Clinton grew up in the Methodist church, attending First United Methodist in Park Ridge, Ill., as a child. After moving to Little Rock, Ark., with her husband, Bill Clinton, she joined First United Methodist Church there, and taught Sunday school and worked with the youth. When Bill Clinton was elected president and the family moved to Washington, Hillary Clinton attended Foundry United Methodist Church in D.C.
In an address to the general conference of the United Methodist Church in Denver, Colo., in 1996, Clinton said the church, with its emphasis on personal holiness leading to social holiness, had had a formative influence on her life.
“The church was a critical part of my growing up, and in preparing for this event, I almost couldn’t even list all the ways it influenced me and helped me develop as a person, not only on my own faith journey, but with a sense of obligations to others,” Clinton told the gathering, which included 150 Methodist bishops.
“It taught me practical lessons as well: for example, how to recover from the embarrassment of passing out in an over-heated sanctuary when I was playing an angel during the Christmas pageant,” she said. “That particular lesson has stood me in good stead on many occasions in my adult life. But most importantly, I learned from the ministers there and the lay leaders there, the men and women such as yourselves who ran the church life, about the connection between my personal faith and the obligations I faced as a Christian, both to other individuals and to society.”
At 69, Clinton is not interested in attending seminary or becoming an ordained minister, Shillady said. But in the Methodist tradition, “The laity have been known to take the pulpit,” he said.
“She knows her Methodist history. She would be a good expositor of the Bible. The way she has advocated for the disenfranchised and the poor in our nation stems from her Methodist upbringing and her understanding of the Methodist heritage of being a member of society and caring for others. And talk about life experience. She could write her own book about that.”