In the Chapel

After the bishop’s brief sermon, he tells us to stand in a circle. Eighty folks join hands in the chapel. A woman plays piano, a man plays guitar. People sing. The woman next to me is singing with eyes closed.

A pretty day. An Episcopalian chapel. I am seated beside my friend, Tonye. We are singing along with eighty other people who hold song books. Everyone is smiling. Big, cheesy smiles.

“Would y’all turn to page one forty-one?” the bishop says.

This is the first time I recall hearing the word “y’all” used from a pulpit. The Deepwater Baptists of my youth mostly used King James English. But then, this is not a Baptist church. The bishop, for instance, is barefoot, wearing shorts and T-shirt.

I was not raised anywhere near an Episcopalian church. In fact, I couldn’t even pronounce this word until I was twenty-four.

Still, I write about Episcopalians a lot. Not on purpose. I do it because I like them, I guess. And more importantly, I do it because I like their parties.

My people did not party. I was raised around foot-washers who knew all the lyrics to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and tuned into Lawrence Welk.

But there is no Lawrence Welk here at Camp Beckwith. This place is a primitive lodge in the woods of Baldwin County where Episcopalians commune, fish, camp, laugh, boil crawfish, and of course, throw shindigs.

The noseeums eat your flesh, the mosquitoes commit immoral acts upon your skin. There’s music, dancing, and a long line outside the women’s bathroom. It’s great.

Camp cabins are filled with couples and families from South Alabama and Northwest Florida. These are people who use the word “y’all” liberally. They all know each other. And they all actually LIKE each other.

What kind of church is this?

Last night, I was on a porch with thirty of them. We sat on rocking chairs and lit the woods on fire with laughter. They sipped longneck bottles and told stories.

Katie told a funny story about her senile granny. One woman talked about surviving cancer. One man leaned backward in his chair and began singing “Stayin’ Alive” at the top of his lungs, then paused to break wind.

And this morning, I rose early and met my friend Tonye for service.

The bishop asks us to sit. He preaches. I won’t retell his sermon because it’s not only what he says, it’s his heartfelt delivery. He makes me laugh. He makes me think. He uses the word “y’all” at least fourteen times.

After the bishop’s brief sermon, he tells us to stand in a circle. Eighty folks join hands in the chapel. A woman plays piano, a man plays guitar. People sing. The woman next to me is singing with eyes closed.

The bishop roams the room, whispering with members of the congregation. And even though this is probably supposed to be a reverent moment during the service, everyone seems so chipper. Everyone is still smiling and acting very un-Baptist.

It’s a little weird.

But this weirdness fades when the bishop gets to me.

He winks at me. I’ve never been winked at in church except when my cousin, Ed Lee, once placed a garter snake in the women’s restrooms. Ed Lee winked at me from across the sanctuary and gave me a thumbs-up. That was a very good Sunday.

But the bishop is doing more than winking. He is carrying a Styrofoam plate with globs of paint on it—a finger-painting palette. He dips his thumb into red acrylic color and traces something onto my forehead.

“Love you, brother,” he says. And he sounds like he means it.

He makes his way around the room, touching foreheads. And soon, I see what’s going on. Everyone has different colored crosses on their heads. All hues. All shapes. All people. All kinds. Everyone smiling.

We sing. We hold hands a few more times. We form a single-file line and sip wine from a cup. The man serving me wine tips the glass too far and spills merlot onto my white shirt inadvertently staining it with the Blood of the Lamb. I look like I’ve been stabbed with a pool cue.

People snicker at me. A few snort. So help me, snorting in church.

Then, we sing again. We hear more scripture. We say a few words of liturgy. And these people do something to me. They make me feel good inside. I don’t know what it is about them.

When service is over, the bishop recites what is called a “benediction” prayer. Not only, I am told, is a “benediction” a popular way to prepare eggs, but it is a formal blessing.

Here’s a small piece of it:

“Go out there, y’all,” he benedicts. “And love everyone you meet. And I mean everyone.”

And well, I wrote this because I love Episcopalians, and I’m just trying to do what he said.



  1. Judy Kate - October 24, 2018 6:02 am

    I feel guilty that my ‘takeaway’ from this well-spun story is the “Stayin’ Alive” guy’s bodily function, which made me snicker like an 11-year-old boy.

  2. Nancy Rogers - October 24, 2018 9:29 am

    And I will try to do the same, love Ya’ll.

  3. Camille - October 24, 2018 9:49 am


  4. Kelly - October 24, 2018 10:10 am

    Can we get that benediction on a bumper sticker, yard sign, scrolling across the news band on tv….ya’ll? Go forth and love everybody!

    • Janet Mary Lee - October 24, 2018 9:02 pm

      Amen, Kelly!!
      Amen Sean!!

  5. Tana Newman Branch - October 24, 2018 10:38 am

    If the Bishop you are talking about is Russell Kendrick, it’s not surprising he snows everyone! Not sure why we Southerners say that, snows, but you know what I mean. Russell graduated in Architecture from Auburn and was the youth director at my church when he was a student. He was that smart and loving even then as a 20 year old. So, go forth y’all and may peace be with you +

  6. Cindy McCrory - October 24, 2018 11:16 am

    Nailed it. We love you, too.

  7. Leslie in NC - October 24, 2018 12:13 pm

    Great piece, Sean. I was brought up, baptized and confirmed in a small Episcopal church in North Central Florida. My mother was married in the same little church 25 years before that. I loved my church and the people in it. Momma knew everyone there. After momma died when I was 20, we didn’t attend church anymore. I’ve attended some other Episcopal churches since, but it never felt the same. There’s a lovely Episcopal church not too far from me here in the NC High Country. At almost 65 years old now, perhaps I should try one more time.

    • Robert Chiles - October 25, 2018 10:44 am

      The Episcopal Church is alive and well in Western NC. Do give it a try. The folks at St. James, Hendersonville are wonderful, and our deacon is the best preacher I’ve ever heard.

  8. Jackye Thompson - October 24, 2018 12:21 pm

    The Lord Be With You,Sean,From a cradle Episcopalian .

  9. Gary Earl Jones - October 24, 2018 12:35 pm

    And we Episcopalians love you too Sean!!

    Like you I grew up in the Baptist church, but the first time i went with my future wife(a cradle Episcopalian) to her home church I realized I had been an Episcopalian all my life and just didn’t know it!!

    The Lord be with you!!

  10. Beth Wilder - October 24, 2018 12:43 pm

    As my son always says, we Episcopalians are just a bunch of hippies who love Jesus! There aren’t many of us in the South, but we are a mighty crew, and a happy one. I think that has something to do with the beer . . .
    Peace, Sean!

  11. Mary Sarge - October 24, 2018 12:51 pm

    You hit a grand slam today Sean! My day begins with your post.

  12. Naomi - October 24, 2018 1:03 pm

    Sean, are you sure that you heard “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in a church in the South? The song was to encourage men to kill southerners during the Civil War. It’s amazing that it is still sung anywhere in the United States. My husband’s cousin would walk out of church if it was sung.

    I’m a first-generation American, born and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.

    • John - October 24, 2018 2:27 pm

      We sing Battle Hymn of the Republic in our Southern church here in Florida on the Sunday closest to Independence Day every year.

  13. Jeanie Weekley Crutchfield - October 24, 2018 1:20 pm

    I enjoyed reading this and when I got to “Baldwin Co.” I sat up and took notice and then really enjoyed reading the rest as Baldwin Co. is my home, born and raised there and 50 years ago moved to the other side of state. I call it “God’s Country” No one knows what I mean but you have to be there, especially the south part of county to know. I close my eyes and try to imagine just how it smells. Clean and salty. I enjoy my daily dose of Sean of the South. Keep up great work.

  14. Ange - October 24, 2018 1:40 pm

    Excellent!! I think I’ll take my recovering Baptist self over to the Episcopalians.

  15. Phillip Saunders - October 24, 2018 1:58 pm

    …And let the whole congregation say, “Ay-Men!”

  16. John - October 24, 2018 1:59 pm

    I was there, (one of the guys playing guitar, the guy who told you two nights before, you play guitar well,) and there is something about those Episcopalians, isn’t there? I was happy to see you stayed for the whole weekend, and then someone told me you always stay for the whole weekend. Hope to see you next year!

  17. Jackie Darnell - October 24, 2018 2:23 pm

    Me ‘n Bubba didn’t get that church address, y’all.

  18. Lynn Fletcher Shurden - October 24, 2018 2:37 pm

    As a Baptist who chose to become an Episcopalian 53 years ago, thanks.

  19. Magoo Hamilton - October 24, 2018 2:48 pm

    Sean, it was such fun to share a weekend with you and Jamie at Beckwith. You always help make a special time even more special with your insightful, funny stories and willingness to hang around us Piskies!!!

  20. MermaidGrammy - October 24, 2018 3:54 pm

    Episcopalians love you into church while some others scare you into church. No matter what church I attend, I am an Episcopalian. So are you, dear

  21. Sandra Smith - October 24, 2018 4:20 pm

    Peace be with you.
    Response: and, also with you.

  22. Edna B. - October 24, 2018 4:56 pm

    I really enjoyed this story. Y’all have a blessed day now, hugs, Edna B.

  23. Shelton Armour - October 24, 2018 5:10 pm

    I was born into the Episcopal church. One of the best lines I ever heard from one of our bishops was, “We don’t ask you to check your brains at the front door.” We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, y’all.

  24. Ms. Palmer - October 24, 2018 10:40 pm

    I love this! I’m Episcopalian and teach at an Episcopal school. There’s a poster in the narthex when you enter that says, ‘Jesus didn’t come to steal your brain, he came to save your soul.’ If you ever come to SF, you must go to Grace Cathedral. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and we do yoga on the labyrinth inside the cathedral every Tuesday. Peace, Sean!

  25. Carol Stern - October 25, 2018 12:33 am

    Going to convert? ❤️

  26. Stuart - October 25, 2018 4:31 am

    Church members dancing, drinking and painting faces in a commune in the woods??? Really?
    Better be careful about going out and loving everybody. That’s a good way to get killed. Have y’all seen the news lately? BTW, Jesus doesn’t love everybody. Read about Esau. Or how about John 8:44. Do you think Jesus loved those whom he told their father is the devil? Come on.
    Been in church all my life. Don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon when the word “y’all” wasn’t used. And the preachers wear suits, not shorts and T-shirt’s. It’s church, not a frat party.
    I’m convinced that our country’s present woes are in part due to the corruption of the Lords church. People are playing church instead of living in the Kingdom. It’s not a pajama party brothers and sisters. It’s serious business. Jesus surely thinks it is.
    Lord help us to walk in the old paths.

  27. Mindi - December 15, 2018 8:15 am

    I may have to find me an Episcopal church!

  28. Terrye Aycock - December 15, 2018 1:12 pm

    Oh Sean, you nailed it! This is exactly why this stubborn person who never was comfortable in Baptist churches took the leap of faith and fell in love with the Episcopal Church.

  29. Nellie - December 15, 2018 3:32 pm

    you need the bumper sticker my friend makes ” And also with y’all”


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