(Subhead) The Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu enjoys new role at All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills
Surprising herself is one way to describe the Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu’s approach to ministry. After years of ignoring God’s call, she finally became ordained in 2016, and has been astounded by her deep love of pastoral care.
While admitting that she has always enjoying speaking and preaching in public, Tutu believed she was an introvert and was never inclined to get close to people. But, since joining the staff of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills and being assigned as the minister of pastoral care, she realized that God had blessed her to spiritually bond with hurting people.
“It felt like a gift to me that people were allowing me into their lives in times of real difficulty and darkness that I could sit with people at hospital beds, when they were dying, or even celebrating the birth of a child” recalled Tutu.
“That is such an honor to be able to be with people at those times and I had not realized that until I was actually doing the work. Since then I have come to truly love pastoral care and the opportunity it gives for a truly meaningful connection with people.”
Interesting enough, Tutu was always drawn to preaching and accepted invitations to speak in pulpits throughout her adult life. However, being the daughter of the renowned Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, South Africa as well as physically resembling him led her to resist the tug of her heart to enter the ministry.
“From the time I was born, I always heard how much I looked like my father,” she said. “So the last thing I ever wanted to be was a priest because I’ve got my father’s nose, I definitely don’t want his job. I want to have my own way in the world. I don’t want people to say that I’m following in my father’s footsteps.”
Tutu first felt God’s call as a young adult, but refused to acknowledge it. Her belief at the time was, “No, that cannot be right. This is not at all what I want.” Yet, she admitted that she possessed the gift of preaching. “So I continued to do visiting preaching, but very clearly my position was, ‘I’m just visiting. This is not who I am,’” she remembered with a laugh.
Eventually, she accepted the call of God, especially after she removed her feelings of giving up her individuality from the equation. Also, Tutu was enlightened by a conversation with the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr., then-pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.
Following a speaking engagement at his church, the esteemed theologian told Tutu that her struggle was similar to his son’s, a young man who was reluctant to accept the call to ministry because of who his father was. “Rev. Moss gave me a number of books and one of them was, ‘God’s Yes is Louder Than My No.’ He was also instrumental in my being able to accept the gift of preaching because he was really insistent about ‘have faith in the [Holy] Spirit’ and told me that while I was thinking about what I want to preach, make sure to leave space for the Spirit to change the message that I thought I was standing up to give,” explained Tutu.
“That scared me initially, but it also gave me such a sense of freedom to say, ‘Let me trust that if God wants me to be speaking, then God will be present and let me be open to that.’ So I love preaching. Preaching has always been a place for me where I truly feel I am being blessed,” she said.
Tutu came to All Saints in September 2020 after serving at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, North Carolina. Getting acquainted with the membership during a pandemic has been challenging, still she said, “I have been very warmly welcomed by the congregation, even in the limited ways that we are able to meet because of COVID-19.”
In addition, Tutu said she and the parishioners have been rewarded with the recognition that the church is not the building, but the people. “Remember, we come out of a tradition that didn’t have buildings and people worshipped in the catacombs, in each other homes and in the wilderness,” expressed Tutu.
“Not being in the building is not a limitation of our faith. In fact, it’s a new way of showing our faith and affection for one another. I think it’s a gift of this pandemic to make us stop focusing on the church as a building, but the church, which is really the people of God!”
Looking towards the future, Tutu said that she aims to grow in the field of pastoral care, so that people will feel assured that they can consult with her concerning any situation they are facing. “I will be there in times of joy, in times of struggle and in times of pain. That is one of the things that I pray to God that He will give me the gift of being a good pastor,” she declared.
Another prospect on her mind is spreading the message to institutional church leaders that they must work harder to address the needs of Black women and young people. “I belong to a predominately White denomination in the United States. I’d like to remind Episcopalians that we are part of the Anglican Communion and the vast majority of the members are Black women,” Tutu stressed.
“We cannot be a part of this Communion and continue to shut down the voices of Black women. I would like to be a part of the ‘shaking up’ of the institutional church!”