Episcopal

BIRMINGHAM—I am doing a one-man show for an auditorium of Episcopalians. They are a fun crowd, not too rowdy, and gracious enough not to plug their ears when I play guitar.

A few people even call me “brother.” This must be an Episcopal thing because several others refer to me as brother. And as far as I know we are not kin.

Episcopalians are not people I grew up with. I wish I would have been that fortunate, but you can’t win them all. These are fun people. Happy people. Kind people. And above all—I truly mean this from the heart—they are filthy stinking rich.

No. I am only kidding. Episcopalians aren’t ALL rich. But let’s just say that I don’t see many Nissans in the parking lot.

Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Cahaba Heights is a beautiful board-and-batten bungalow-style building surrounded by towering oaks. It is an oasis within the bustle of Birmingham.

“We used to be a trailer church,” says Kathryn. “In the woods, that’s part of what makes this parish so special.”

One thing about the Piskies, they have different names for everything. For example, when Kathryn says “parish” she means “church.”

From here on out, I will provide official Southern Baptist translations inside parentheses for my friends.

My wife once worked as a church administrator (receptionist) in an Episcopal church. After her first day of work she brought home a book entitled, “Episcopal Dictionary” so she could learn the clerical terminology (lingo).

I learned a lot from this book. I learned all about naves (sanctuaries), and narthexes (lobbies). Also, the person who sweeps the floors and picks gum from the undersides of pews is not the janitor. This person is called the “sexton.” I am not kidding. They are actually a sexton.

The jokes practically write themselves.

Some more lingo for you: Episcopalians use holy water (tap) from a font (bowl) when they baptize (flick water at) each other.

This is extremely different from the Southern Baptists I was raised around. Our preacher did not believe in sprinkling baptisms, he believed in wrapping you in a straight jacket and drowning you in a nearby creek.

I have been baptized three times. Once, in the creek when I was a boy. The second time, the church had just bought a brand new baptismal, but nobody needed baptizing. So my mother strongly suggested that I take another dunk.

The third baptism was in my mid-twenties. It happened after a white-tailed deer wandered into our sanctuary one Tuesday afternoon.

The deer would not leave. Our janitor tried everything to get the deer out of the chapel, but nothing worked. So the pastor called Deacon Jacobs.

Jacobs did what any God-fearing Baptist deacon would do, he showed up wearing camouflage and neon orange, holding a rifle.

Jacobs shot at the deer, but missed. Instead, he hit the baptismal, shattered a waterline, and flooded the sanctuary within seconds. And I’ll bet the deer was probably standing in the corner wondering if this was how all Baptists did evangelism.

So it took a few weeks to get the church repaired. There was water damage on the piano, but it was no big deal. The preacher used the insurance money to buy a state-of-the-art baptismal with a heater and sauna jets.

One Sunday, he asked if anyone needed to be baptized. Nobody raised their hand. So my mother elbowed me.

I said, “Mama, I’ve already been baptized twice.”

“Maybe this time it’ll stick,” she said.

Third time’s a charm.

But like I said, the Episcopalians are great. And by this I mean, of course, that they are heavy drinkers. Once I was at an Episcopal camp and the presiding bishop (big cheese) was marching across the lawn (grass) with two sacraments (IPA beers) in his hands, waving one in the air.

He shouted, “I got you a beer, Sean!”

But it gets better. The beer bottle had a picture of a nude animal on the front. And—I am still not kidding—the name of this beer was “Naked Pig” beer.

We Baptist’s don’t believe in nudity, especially among livestock. In fact, the only time I ever heard the word naked used in a Baptist church was when talking about Adam and Eve. And Adam, everyone knows, was raised Southern Baptist because only a Baptist man could stand next to a naked woman and be tempted by a piece of fruit.

But tonight is a lot of fun. Any time you get three hundred Episcopalians (alcohol enthusiasts) in one place it’s a good thing.

They treat me like I actually matter, they are considerate, and I can’t remember when I’ve felt more at home.

In the parish hall (fellowship hall) they serve pork, casseroles, and pound cake. These people are huggers, cheek-kissers, and there are lots of back-slappers. No handshakes.

By the end of the night, after everyone has gone home, Kathryn hugs me and says, “Do you know what I love about us? It’s the fun we have.” Then she smiles at me. “Are you sure you’re not Episcopalian?”

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I am. Either way, the Episcopalians don’t seem to care what I am. They call me brother and I believe they mean it. And this is my favorite Episcopal word of all.

Because it’s a lot better than being called sexton.

38 comments

  1. Sandi. - September 27, 2019 6:58 am

    This post is wonderful, Sean. I was raised in the Presbyterian church, but joined the Baptist church as an adult and like it a thousand times better. Episcopalians were always quite formal where I grew up in Georgia, so were not at all like those you described here in your column.. I’m just glad that there are no denominatons in Heaven!

    Reply
  2. Cathi Russell - September 27, 2019 8:12 am

    I am doubled over with laughter about “we Baptists don’t believe in nudity, especially among livestock.” My maternal grandparents were Baptists & I got a mental picture of them in their tiny chuch, sitting side by side with other members clad in only the suits the Good Lord gave them. Heavens only knows what would happen if a cow, horse or pig wandered through!!!

    Reply
  3. Glenda - September 27, 2019 9:36 am

    OMG, I read you every day and love you so much but rarely comment on your reply page. “Why you might ask, feedback is important to someone who gets up early to post?” The answer is this; you have so many more eloquent readers and they’ve already written what I’d want to say so what the heck ~ I’ll just enjoy you from the cheap seats. This morning I woke up early and got here in time to be original. I LOVE you so much that I’ve been known to
    re-post your column to my Facebook page!!! My darling niece ordered me an Amazon surprise gift of
    “SMALL TOWNS
    LABRADORS
    BARBECUE
    BISCUITS
    BEER and
    BIBLES”
    written by humorist, wonderful writer and one source of my smiles and giggles through what are challenging days. Yesterday I was diagnosed with depression and I picked up a prescription. You see, I’m a “holistic weirdo”, At age 70 there was not a scipt in my medicine cabinet. But there’s alfalfa tabs, and vitamins etc. I drink an occasional beer or a couple of glasses of modestly priced wine,; eat healthy organic Greek yogurt and so on. But, after many years as a financial advisor for Edward Jones Investments, owning businesses (some of which flopped) I’ve spent the bulk of my savings on an old property. It’s another saga, the solid block structure was butt ugly, had been a commercial warehouse. When I looking to find a new home, this abandoned property was rezoned single family and the old man who had this warehouse died; his daughter who had a beauty shop in one side was called the “pickle lady” because she loved to make what I’m told were wonderful pickles to sell. However, several decades ago she developed dementia and the building boarded up. Crackheads and homeless found their way in and decimated copper wiring left needles on the nasty flooring. I recycled at least a hundred broken gallon pickle jars, made many a trip to the landfill with all the crap that was in here. Subsequently I started rehabbing the beauty shop side and six months of work later I’d made the 850 square foot area habitable. The first year I found termites crawling in my bed, OMG, freaky. Two treatments cleared them out, NOPE. They came back this year. Retreat time, maybe? But hopefully they are gone forever and I do love the fact it’s on an acre of beautiful palms. So, I’ve earned the God-given right to be insane or depressed.
    YES, your work means just that much — until I read another blogger, Jack Darnell”, author of the Shipslog who is a family friend and hero. From the age of twelve through this recent Happy Birthday when I rolled over 70,000 miles on my old bod last month, Jack and Sherry have been my cheerleaders. They were pastors of our Pentecostal Church of God in Missouri and reading his blog makes my day! After fifteen years of “retirement” I ran out of money, sucked it up and got a job in a detention center for young ladies. Oh wow, have never been exposed to the prison environment and there have been many bumps in the road. However, I reached out and have a job interview today as it’s become intolerable. I don’t care if you say a Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist or whatever, would you say a prayer for me today? I love you, Glenda
    p.s. I love your “wife and dog” stories, too.

    Reply
    • Glenda - September 27, 2019 11:08 am

      Just picked up your book to return it to the cabinet and realized the BIBLES caption of the title was covered and I omitted that very important part, my bad. Also, I have all of Jack Darnell’s books, many of his self published (all of which are autographed except for the ones on my Kindle). Do I have to drive to South Alabama to get your autograph? I lived in Pensacola near the Navy base and worked a Jone’s office stint in Cullman, AL December, the month Montgomery was blanketed with snow. Your words speak to me of happy times. My trips to Missouri to visit our 95 years old Mother of ten cut right through that area, and I’m going to visit her next spring if I can spring it. I’d love to meet you, ijs Perhaps a book signing event; is your calendar public? I hope to go for Easter to see Mom.

      Reply
      • Glenda - September 27, 2019 11:14 am

        OOPS, just re-read my original post and had scrolled too far, it WAS in there properly….oh well. It’s early, I’m nervous but enjoyed so much your other commenters today and agreed with them!!! Hugs, Glenda

        Reply
    • Karen Irby - September 27, 2019 2:26 pm

      Saying a prayer for you, Glenda! I also love Sean-he’s my wake up joy every morning. I met him in Grove Hill, Alabama, and he is precious! I hope you get to meet him soon. When you do, give him a big kiss from Karen from Jackson, Alabama!

      Reply
  4. Elizabeth - September 27, 2019 10:33 am

    A laugh-out-loud, cry in my coffee laughing one!!!

    Reply
  5. Debbie - September 27, 2019 11:34 am

    Thank you for providing the SB translations. 😉

    Reply
  6. Ann Inge - September 27, 2019 11:35 am

    That is my church! So glad you joined us!

    Reply
  7. Jackye Thompson - September 27, 2019 12:05 pm

    Good morning .Enjoy Camp. Beckwith .The Lord Be With You.An Episcoplian from St.Judes , I
    Niceville

    Reply
  8. Dee - September 27, 2019 12:22 pm

    Lifelong Episcopalian here. Your observations are pretty accurate, except I’ve never heard Episcopalians call one another “Brother” or “Sister.” Must be an Alabama thing. When my parents were young newlyweds and left the Baptist church my grandparents predicted eternal damnation but that’s not a funny story… Most Episcopal churches love to have parties and there’s usually a bar, but people just drink wine and beer. My best friend growing up was Baptist and my grandparents were Baptist so I know both traditions. I went to the Baptist church when I was about 5, for the first time, and when they passed around the shot glasses of grape juice I downed several before I got caught. I figured it’s just grape juice, what’s the big deal?! My grandparents were not amused. I tried to explain the difference to them between Welch’s grape juice and sacramental wine blessed by a priest but they were still mad. My childhood friend who was raised Baptist grew up and recently became an Episcopalian. She said we throw better parties. Ha! Peace be with you, Sean.

    Reply
  9. Nan Jacobs - September 27, 2019 12:39 pm

    that’s my home parish and a group of wonderful folks! we are now at Christ the King; I was your cue girl (old lady) in the choir loft one Sunday. you just keep
    getting better!

    Reply
  10. Kathryn Dorlon - September 27, 2019 12:49 pm

    Sean you are our brother and I think you found your church!!! Have fun, laugh, and drink that beer Russell hands you tonight. What a pleasure to laugh and share stories with you and Jamie this week. I would share a casserole and a beer with y’all anytime given the chance! You both are beautiful examples of being good people. You care about each story you hear!
    -Kathryn

    Reply
  11. Mary - September 27, 2019 12:51 pm

    That’s my church, my Honda In the parking lot, and we loved having you so much, Sean!

    Reply
  12. Kathy Vadeboncoeur - September 27, 2019 12:51 pm

    As a good old Tennessee Baptist, I sure did enjoy this!!!
    My morning didn’t start off to go but this article sure did make it better!
    Thank you

    Reply
  13. Anise Morris - September 27, 2019 1:09 pm

    We loved having you with us at St. Stephens. I wasn’t expecting you to sing – what a great voice, and you can really hold out those notes! We have a spot for you in the choir, and we’ll give you a beer too. If you come to Evensong Sunday night we’ll even give you wine!

    Reply
  14. Connie Havard Ryland - September 27, 2019 1:16 pm

    Laugh out loud column this morning. Thank you. The Adam and Eve bit was fabulous.

    Reply
  15. Bea Green - September 27, 2019 1:58 pm

    love love love it You may be a closet whiskeypalian

    Reply
  16. Dottie D. - September 27, 2019 2:29 pm

    Love this! I am a lifelong “piskie “in Selma and invite you to attend St. Paul’s if you ever return to our area. Sorry to have missed you at Tale Tellin so please visit again soon!

    Reply
  17. Anna Kat Napier - September 27, 2019 2:32 pm

    As a “Piskie” who is married to a Baptist, I absolutely love this. It’s hysterical and oh so true!

    Reply
  18. Leslie in NC - September 27, 2019 3:05 pm

    Love this morning’s story, Sean! Made me laugh and brought back good memories growing up Episcopalian, baptized & confirmed (confirmation is at age 12 after taking confirmation classes so we could receive the bread and wine of the blessed sacrament). My family lived in a small (at the time) North Central Florida town and we attended the same beautiful little church my parents were married in. It had many mesmerizing beautiful stained glass windows that the sun shine through. I was a member of the children’s choir for a year or two and I can’t even carry a tune. It was just a right of passage for most of us to be able to “sing” in the choir and wear the vestaments every Sunday. I still keep in touch via FB with kids I went to church & school with and we’re all in our mid-60s now. I’m sure we all have fond memories of the grownup Piskies having a big time at get togethers and yes, I guess they probably did consume more adult beverages than your average Baptist or Pentecostal. (Grin) They were a happy and welcoming bunch and didn’t need an excuse to have a party or cookout, most of the time with the Reverend (we referred to him as Father Ben) in attendance. I never heard any Episcopalians refer to each other as brother or sister though. Might be a regional thing? I remember everyone lighting up cigarettes with their coffee in the parish hall after the service, even Father Ben, while we kids socialized and had our orange juice & cookies. Maybe I should go back to church one day and see what the Piskie grown ups are up to these days!

    Reply
  19. DiAnn A Grimes - September 27, 2019 3:24 pm

    You are so right about the Episcopalians!!! I taught in an Episcopal school and it was the best teaching job I ever had.

    Reply
  20. Linda Moon - September 27, 2019 3:43 pm

    I know many people who have had cancer or are still fighting it. The best Episcopalian I know has a world-wide network of people who pray for us. My friend is not stinking rich, and since the actual Bible says it’s hard for a rich man to enter Heaven, it’s Ok to be a poor Episcopalian. The last time I visited one of their churches was for a Sacred Harp singing. Now, that was a combination of Holy Rollers, Primitives, and Sophisticated Piskies….and a good time was had by all, Brother Sean!!

    Reply
  21. Judy - September 27, 2019 3:51 pm

    I am a born and raised Whiskeypalian. Many years ago we had a very over zealous priest. He thought total immersion was the answer. So we had a very large trash can and my 2 oldest children were immersed, 3 times Father,Son and Holy Ghost. There were loud ohs and one lady fainted. We went back to flicking water after that ordeal. Love you Brother

    Reply
  22. agracefilledhome77 - September 27, 2019 3:51 pm

    So, so funny Sean! I grew up Episcopalian…so did the kids for most of their lives. I sang at St. Stephen’s church for my brother’s weddings years ago and remember how beautiful it was.

    Reply
  23. Carol - September 27, 2019 4:42 pm

    I love your church stories , you make me laugh each time!
    I’ve changed from Catholic, to Baptist, back to Catholic,
    I’m thinking maybe I need to go visit a Episcopalians ??
    I probably could use another baptism too ! Just in case!!!
    Love ya!!

    Reply
  24. Donna Hart - September 27, 2019 7:24 pm

    I have been reading your posts for a long while now, and this is my FAVORITE! And I am a southern Missionary Baptist!

    Reply
  25. Tom Luckett - September 27, 2019 8:37 pm

    We Episcopalians believe in anything in moderation. 😊 Also for your lingo we have “Vergers”. Really enjoyed your writings also there are 8 sacraments in our church, number 8 is “Potluck”. Thanks again.

    Reply
  26. Chris Potter - September 27, 2019 11:04 pm

    I wonder who the bishop was that brought him the beer.

    Reply
  27. Pat Price - September 27, 2019 11:28 pm

    You left out Jr. and Sr. Wardens. Nobody understands those!

    Reply
  28. Teri Freeman Butler - September 28, 2019 1:14 pm

    I seriously love each of your posts but the ones about Episcopalians are always extra funny and special to me. Both my parents were raised Southern Baptist but became piskies when I was in high school. I didn’t make the switch with them but loved visiting their church. You are spot on about the people. They are loving and welcoming and throw a great party! I became a Methodist after I married so I guess I fall somewhere inbetween the two extremes. Thanks so much for all you share with your devoted followers…you very often make my day.

    Reply
  29. Pat - September 28, 2019 3:33 pm

    This is just too funny.. I am Methodist and can just imagine the Methodist ministers cringing about the second and third baptisms. Seems like we believe once is enough even if it was done while we were infants and never made that choice…don’t know if I really go along with that, actually I don’t believe that, but, it’s not a deal breaker for me!
    But thanks for a good belly laugh Sean!

    Reply
  30. Ann - September 28, 2019 4:20 pm

    We attend a NC Episcopal Church in the political capitol city. Twenty years ago a prominent communicant(member) died. The line for visitation wound around the parish hall (big room) and out the covered portico. In the corner of the hall are several locked storage rooms. One of the rooms is marked “Sexton’s Closet”. Well meaning high school students decorated this door and other administrators offices with paper flowers. A large flower covered “ton’s” to reveal “Sex Closet” in big black letters.
    The Governor (Presbyterian), and his entourage, stood next to me in line. I heard the Gov say, “These Episcopalians got it going on.”

    Reply
  31. Resha o - September 28, 2019 5:43 pm

    Married an episcopal & grew up Presbyterian. These people kiss everybody on the lips. I drew the line there! #notgonnahappen He left the Piskies & went to my church & never looked back. They can party tho! Sad thing is my sister in law never forgave him for the leaving the E church. Quite a stubborn bunch if I must say so.

    Reply
  32. Susan - September 28, 2019 6:11 pm

    A friend just pointed me in your direction and I find this a charming bit of writing. I think I’ll have to follow you for a while! I do have to say that you must be more Episcopalian than you know, since you have glommed onto the fact that we members of the church are Episcopalians and our ‘denomination’ is The Episcopal Church. Nouns and Adjectives matter! I look forward to more of your blog.

    Reply
    • Susan - September 28, 2019 6:19 pm

      And even on the West Coast we use “brother,” Brother!!!

      Reply
  33. Cathy Moss - September 28, 2019 7:04 pm

    Sean, I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd at St Stephens Wed. Night. I saw you in the parking lot and jumped out of my car to meet you . What a treat. I grew up in the Episcopal church but could not win my husband so I became a Methodist. Over 5 decades later, I still miss the beautiful service and music. Funny that two of my children became Episcopalians and attend St Stephens. I love that church. The Holy Spirit is always present there and the service that takes place the night before Easter Sunday will bring you to your knees. You were wonderful and Jamie is beautiful. It was just a great evening. Thank you. Cathy

    Reply
  34. Cathy Moss - September 28, 2019 7:20 pm

    I forgot to say that you have a beautiful voice . It’s as wonderful as your writing. V Take that voice on the road, wherever you go. I mean it. Just beautiful❤️

    Reply

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