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.