When I was asked to be the summer multimedia intern at a Methodist church in my hometown in Alabama, I got to admit that I was both excited and scared at the same time. I was excited to be home for the summer, spending time with my little brother and parents, but I honestly was scared to go back to my home state for such a long period of time. I thought I had said good bye for good last summer before I began my seminary career.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love Alabama! I love the SEC football fanatics, the southern hospitality, the central air conditioning in every building, the drawls and twangs, the sweet iced tea, and don’t forget that old time religion. And on my trek back from school, it’s always so comforting to drive over the state line in the foothills of the Smokys, looking for the valley that I call home and listening to “Dixieland Delight.” There is a part of me that craves being back home with every fiber of my being. When I first arrive, I feel completely at peace and that everything is right in the world.
However, I soon begin to realize that although Alabama hasn’t changed much, I have changed a great deal. I have turned into some crazy liberal, semi–socialist, “wicked” saying, feminst ranting, New Englander! The only mark still identifying me as a southerner is that accent that comes out when I am too tired to notice it, too intoxicated to control it, or too competitive to keep a lid on it. Then, when I finally realize how different I have become from my surroundings, the comfort I felt at arriving home a few days earlier slowly warps into discomfort. I don’t “fit in” here anymore.
Due to these feelings and numerous experiences I have had in Alabama since going away to undergrad in Massachusetts six years ago, I came to accept that I would never be called back to the ministry in my home state. I absolutely love my sponsoring parish in South Hadley and my diocese of Western Massachusetts, and hope that I will be able to return there upon graduation from seminary. Yet even though I have been so adamant that I could not possibly end up back in this state, God found a way of opening my heart. When I arrived in Alabama, I thought I would never be called to a permanent form of ministry here. This summer was suppose to be a get in and get out kind of internship. But throughout my time at home, I have felt nudges from God that perhaps I am suppose to reconsider my stubborn stance not to return to Alabama.
During the past few months, I have found so much support from the women clergy in the area, and I have heard of their struggles. It is still an old boy’s club here in many regards, and it kind of makes me sick to my stomach. For example, it took until 2003 for a female priest in the Diocese of Alabama to be named a delegate to the Episcopal Church’s general convention, even though women have been ordained in the church since the 1970s. And after doing some research, I found that Province IV, in which the Diocese of Alabama resides as well as the majority of the Southeastern United States, has the largest gap between the number of recently ordained men v. recently ordained women of anywhere else in the Episcopal Church — 100 to 64 to be exact. When I look at numbers such as these, yes I am disheartened, but more than anything I feel that I must do something about it. If someone who knows and loves Alabama isn’t willing to instigate change, then who will?
I don’t know where my time as an ordained minister will take me, but I am now more open to wherever in the world the call may be.