Rock god’s lyrics blare from a Stoughton pulpit

Lessons familiar to congregation

The Rev. Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz sometimes preaches entire sermons on Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics. He played excerpts from the ‘‘Wrecking Ball’’ album Sunday.
Elise Amendola/Associated Press/file
The Rev. Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz sometimes preaches entire sermons on Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics. He played excerpts from the ‘‘Wrecking Ball’’ album Sunday.

STOUGHTON - Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics are more often heard blaring from barroom jukeboxes on a Saturday night than from behind a church pulpit on Sunday mornings.

Unless one attends First Parish Universalist Church in Stoughton, where the Rev. Jeffrey B. Symynkywicz sometimes preaches entire sermons on the legendary rocker.

Lest one think the sermons are a gimmick to fill the pews, Symynkywicz appears to have a real passion for the singer and his lyrics.


“He always gives us a reason to go on,’’ he said before Sunday’s service. “A resilience, a hopefulness that won’t give up, that won’t die, and I just think that that’s the message that our particular times really need to hear more than anything.’’

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Symynkywicz, a Harvard Divinity School graduate and author of “The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen,’’ a book that delves into the spiritual and political overtones of Springsteen’s music, preached Sunday on the Boss’s latest album, “Wrecking Ball.’’

He played excerpts from “Wrecking Ball’’ during the service and told the roughly 30 congregants in attendance that Springsteen is often angry on the album, railing against “30 years of greed, speculation, globalization, and unfettered, robber baron monopoly capitalism.’’

Quoting from the song “Death to My Hometown,’’ Symynkywicz cited the artist’s call to “get yourself a song to sing . . . Sing it hard and sing it well/ Send the robber barons straight to Hell.’’

But, he added, the lyrics also suggest that righteous anger can lead to positive change, noting that Springsteen tells listeners on the song “Rocky Ground’’ that a new day is coming.


“That requires leaders who are willing to lead,’’ Symynkywicz said. “Leaders who understand that the [essence] of leadership lies . . . in decisive action.’’

Symynkywicz explained that art and culture can help people understand God in the world, which is one reason he uses Springsteen when preaching to his congregation, which numbers about 70.

“Another is Springsteen’s emphasis on social justice, which can, I believe, help us to grasp more clearly how to apply our religious and ethical values to our lives as citizens and compassionate beings,’’ Symynkywicz said.

Members of his congregation, some of whom bobbed their heads to the Springsteen tracks as the music wafted over the pews, said they enjoy their pastor’s occasional sermons on the rock icon.

“I didn’t realize how angry Bruce Springsteen was,’’ said Tricia Whiffen, 48, of Avon, adding that Sunday’s sermon was “awesome, as always.’’ She said she has heard Symynkywicz discuss the Boss a few times from the pulpit and in other settings.


Brad Russell, 70, of Stoughton, said he also enjoys hearing Symynkywicz preach on Springsteen.

“Bruce is a very fun person for Jeff, to put it mildly,’’ Russell said.

Symynkywicz’s book on the rocker appeared in 2008 and was hailed that year by Publishers Weekly as a work exploring theological and political questions raised in the music “with the deftness of a Harvard-trained minister and a great Springsteen fan.’’

Symynkywicz told his congregation Sunday that Springsteen alludes to a connection between the living and the dead on his album, and he colored his closing remarks with a reference to the song “Land of Hope and Dreams.’’

“If we keep faith with those who have come before - that blessed communion of saints and sinners, losers and winners - then they will rest in peace, indeed,’’ Symynkywicz said. “But they will not simply rest - rather, they will abide with us still, though they may be long gone.’’

Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.