The priest of this church was one of the first to EVER ask me to speak publicly. I’ll never forget it.

Dothan, Alabama—I am watching an Episcopalian choir sing. The music is good enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. One soprano has a voice so robust it makes the stained glass vibrate and the rafters shake.

The choir is singing in Latin. At least I think it’s Latin.

The Baptist churches of my childhood had choirs, but not like this. We did not sing in Latin. We sang in polyester and khakis.

Episcopalians are interesting birds. The “Piskies” do everything differently than the Evangelicals who raised me. They even have different terminology. I have trouble remembering all the definitions.

For example: a priest’s robe is a “cassock.” This comes from the ancient word, “cass,” which is literally translated: the American lead female singer from the Mamas and the Papas.

Some other explanations:

Those in the congregation are not “people,” but “laity.”

The area where the the laity sit is called the “nave.”

The short prayers between the priest and the laity are called “suffrages.”

And the official title for the man who reads the scriptures aloud to the laity is: “Randy.”

After the singing, a woman takes the pulpit. She is middle-aged, wearing a cassock and surplice. She is not the priest of this parish, but a “curate.”

This curate’s name is Alice.

Like many Episcopalians, Alice was called into the ministry later in life. And this means she is, by default, a person with real life experience.

Lots of Episcopalian clergy enter the ministry later in life.

This is unlike the Evangelical ministers from my childhood. My friend Anderson, for instance, received a call into ministry around age three. He became church treasurer by age nine, associate pastor by age twelve, and he finally got his own Freewill Baptist church three weeks before he sprouted armpit hair.

Alice delivers a very brief sermon. It lasts ten minutes, tops. She talks about first coming to this church. She speaks about how she was afraid of not being accepted, and being worried she wouldn’t fit in. She is honest, and it’s refreshing.

While she speaks, I am looking at stained glass, remembering a time when I had these same feelings. In fact, I had these feelings in this exact sanctuary, not long ago.

The priest of this church was one of the first to EVER ask me to speak publicly. I’ll never forget it.

“No thanks,” I first told him. “I don’t think anyone wants to hear me attempt public speaking.”

“I think you’ll be surprised,” Father Peter said. “If I put the word out, it could be fun.”

Fun. I doubted it, but I thought about it for a few days. I don’t know why, but I agreed. I’m not Episcopalian, I wasn’t a public speaker, and I didn’t have a thing to wear.

I felt the way Alice did. What if nobody showed up? What if they didn’t like me? Or worse, what if I made a complete knucklehead McSpazatron out of myself?

My wife and I drove to Dothan on a Wednesday afternoon.

Father Peter met us at the church doors. He gave me the dime tour of the antique sanctuary. I wore my only sportcoat—a black jacket with a bleach stain on the back.

He showed me to a quiet room where I could gather my thoughts. I was already having trouble breathing.

“Nobody’s gonna come tonight,” I told my wife. “Nobody wants to hear a knucklehead McSpazatron speak publicly.”

“You’re not a knucklehead McSpazatron,” she said. “Well, not very often.”

The priest knocked on the door. “I think they’re ready for you,” he said, handing me a microphone.

My hands were trembling. I almost puked on his cassock and Pythagorean theorem.

I stepped onto the altar. I almost fainted. The chapel was completely full. People clapped for me. Some of them already had my books in their hands. Some stood to their feet.

Niagara Falls.

I spoke for an hour, telling my stories. And I have to admit, I was god-awful. But the people in the audience pretended I wasn’t.

Immediately afterward, they didn’t file out of the building to go home. They actually waited for the knucklehead McSpazatron out front.

And on that evening, in front of the Church of the Nativity, I received more hugs in one hour than I’d received in six years.

It was one of the most profound nights of my life.

I was a dropout, an uneducated man with a stained sportcoat. Until that evening, I’d felt mostly like an outsider and a fool. But these people made me into something else.

They made me an author. A speaker. A storyteller. They did that to me. This place did that to me.

So I don’t mean to get all mushy, but a big piece of me started in this chapel, sort of like with Alice.

When the curate’s sermon is over, the choir sings again. And the music is fit for angels. My wife is beside me, holding my hand. I am looking upward at vaulted ceilings, adorned by the glow of candlelight.

The season is here again. And I am the luckiest knucklehead McSpazatron who ever lived.

Let’s make it a happy New Year.

35 comments

  1. Ms. Palmer - December 27, 2018 7:56 am

    Episcopalians for the win! Happy 2019, Sean!

    Reply
  2. FrancesC - December 27, 2018 8:10 am

    “I was a dropout, an uneducated man with a stained sportcoat. Until that evening, I’d felt mostly like an outsider and a fool. But these people made me into something else.

    They made me an author. A speaker. A storyteller. They did that to me. This place did that to me.’

    Sean, you were all these things before you stepped in front of that church filled with people, clearly. They just opened your eyes to this version of you.

    Thank you for sharing with the world.

    Reply
  3. Keith - December 27, 2018 9:13 am

    Baptized and confirmed Episcopal… even have it on my used Dog tags… ( after 20yrs they become sorta used)

    Reply
  4. Mary Burns - December 27, 2018 9:16 am

    Like!

    Reply
  5. Norma Norton - December 27, 2018 11:12 am

    As usual- I loved it- you take me to places I have never been. Thanks

    Reply
  6. Karen - December 27, 2018 11:46 am

    I love this story. Imagine if you had declined his invitation for you to speak. When we move out of our comfort zone, we grow. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Kimberly Montgomery - December 27, 2018 12:39 pm

    Way to go, Peter Wong!!

    Reply
  8. Grace - December 27, 2018 12:54 pm

    Good for you and the congregants. 😉

    Reply
  9. Sherry - December 27, 2018 1:09 pm

    😃

    Reply
  10. Alice - December 27, 2018 1:15 pm

    I wish I had known you were coming to Dothan I would have loved to go hear your stories and meet you ❤️❤️

    Reply
  11. Cathy - December 27, 2018 1:42 pm

    I’ve actually been to Dothan but not this church! I too was raised Baptist but found my home with the Espiscopal Church. You’re right, they sure do love to hug.

    Reply
  12. Connie Havard Ryland - December 27, 2018 1:45 pm

    I am very happy to have read one of your stories somebody shared on FB. Since then, I’ve seen you in person twice and own 5 of your books. You are a great storyteller and I look forward to reading your column every morning. Big hugs from Alabama.

    Reply
  13. Jackye thompson - December 27, 2018 2:04 pm

    From a cradle “Piskie”thank you for your wonderful story of Navity .The Lord Be With You.jackye

    Reply
  14. Harriet - December 27, 2018 2:21 pm

    Thanks to an Episcopal priest who read two of your stories at my cousin’s funeral in Greenville, SC….I was introduced to you as a writer. I will be forever grateful!!

    Reply
  15. Edna B. - December 27, 2018 2:27 pm

    It’s amazing how others see us as much more than we see ourselves. I would loved to have been there to hear you speak. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  16. Pat - December 27, 2018 3:08 pm

    “Good enough to bring a tear to a glass eye”…absolutely love it. It can go with my “miss you like a front tooth”, adopted from a friend!

    Reply
  17. Jeff Corkran - December 27, 2018 3:27 pm

    Sean, I particularly enjoyed this blog because my wife and I were married in the Episcopal Church in Dothan in 1972!

    Reply
  18. CB - December 27, 2018 3:39 pm

    Some of the finest, most tolerant Christian folks I have met are my “Whiskeypalian” friends.

    Reply
  19. Bev deJarnette - December 27, 2018 3:43 pm

    Sean, again thank you for sharing your life and real stories with us. We are all enriched when you share with such honesty! May you all have your socks blessed off your feet this new year😘😘

    Reply
  20. Dru - December 27, 2018 3:54 pm

    Wish I’d known you were in town. Good for the Piskies!

    Reply
  21. Shelton A. - December 27, 2018 4:10 pm

    Happy New Year!

    Reply
  22. Karen Irby - December 27, 2018 4:33 pm

    Love you, Sean! Thanks for once again making my morning bright! Here’s a few hugs from this Episcopalian 😊

    Reply
  23. Peggy Savage - December 27, 2018 5:46 pm

    Ain’t it great to be loved…..Happy New Year. …

    Reply
  24. Melanie - December 27, 2018 6:05 pm

    Proud daughter of a Dothan native here. Five generations (and rapidly growing!) of my family are in Dothan. So proud that you have such a wonderful memory. I miss Sweet Home Alabama <3

    Reply
  25. Charmion - December 27, 2018 6:31 pm

    My mother and daddy were married in the old sanctuary of the Church of Nativity in Dothan June 5, 1955.
    They were married 61 years.
    Mother passed away 2 years ago.
    My niece and her family are members of Nativity in Dothan and that makes me so happy.
    As always you made my day!

    Reply
  26. Lynn - December 27, 2018 6:43 pm

    Loved this one about Dothan playing a key role in your speaking engagements. I lived there almost 20 years and the people of the Wiregrass are amazing. I now reside in Santa Rosa Beach. Met you one day in Publix last fall-check one off of my bucket list!

    Reply
  27. Patricia Gibson - December 27, 2018 10:35 pm

    Happy New Year!!

    Reply
  28. Mary Calhoun - December 27, 2018 10:59 pm

    Wanted to hear you in person for so long. Now you speak at a church that was just around the corner from where I lived.

    Reply
  29. Jack Darnell - December 27, 2018 11:14 pm

    I’m still on the Glass eye thing! LOL I like your history and religion lessons. I might turn this blog reading into a degree. 😉

    Reply
  30. Bunny Rittenour - December 28, 2018 2:38 am

    So glad those Episcopalians made you feel the love and that you’ve continued to share it with so many.
    To a wonderful 2019! ❤️

    Reply
  31. Michael Hawke - December 28, 2018 2:39 am

    The first time I heard you speak was in that sanctuary. It may have been that night. You were great! Keep it going.

    Reply
  32. Stuart - December 28, 2018 6:15 am

    I have to speak publicly a good deal. Still don’t like it much. Would love to conquer it as you have.
    As for sister Alice….if she has taken a notion to preach, that’s all she has done, taken a notion. The Lord never has called a woman to preach.

    The words of brother Paul KJV:
    1 Timothy 2:11-12
    1 Timothy 3:2

    And according to Matthew 23:9…..
    Any man that has you call him father in a holy sense has taken the Lord’s name.
    The same goes for Reverend. It is found once in the Bible, Ps 111:9, and it is God’s name.

    Brothers and Sisters, I say this in love. Let’s have what God’s holy word says and not what the world says. I know that some Orders fill their pulpits with women and homosexuals and others unqualified.
    God is not pleased with this.
    1 Timothy gives the qualifications for a preacher.

    Reply
  33. Robert Chiles - December 29, 2018 6:48 pm

    Dear Stuart: Try Galatians 3:28 Bless your heart

    Reply
  34. Betty - December 30, 2018 10:29 pm

    Does anyone know how to pull up past blogs?

    Reply

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