Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An Old Letter to My Grandmother

Recently I agreed to put my hat in the ring (what does that even mean?) to be on the Vestry at my church (meaning I've agreed to be nominated - the vote is in January or February). My rector asked me to write a little blurb about my Episcopal journey and what I might have to offer as a Vestry member.

That request reminded me of the letter I wrote to my grandmother back in 1998 when I decided to join the Episcopal church. My grandmother was a pillar of the Southern Baptist church I grew up in. She pretty much did everything but preach there, and I was really concerned about her reaction to my decision. Why, Episcopals were one step removed from those odd Catholics! So I very nervously put in words what I was feeling...

November 7, 1998

Dear Mamaw:

I am writing this letter to you the day before I’m to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church. I suppose Mom & Dad have told you of my decision. I just wanted you to know that you have only yourself to blame! All of my life you have shown me how to be a woman of faith (and I must say you are a hard act to follow!). I have watched you work in the church, you and all the other strong women I grew up with--Lil Stepp, Lillian Holsclaw, Brenda Fox, my mother, just to name a few. And I have watched that same wonderful welcoming church slam its doors in the face of my generation, just because we wanted to follow God all the way to the altar and beyond. At the time I thought, “Fine, I don’t think I can ever be other than Baptist, so I’ll just put church on the back burner of my life. I don’t really feel welcome there with all I have to offer.” And I did put church on the back burner.

For a while I attended and even joined the First Baptist Church of Asheville, a nice middle-of-the-road Baptist church. But then the minister let me down (ala Bill Clinton). So I stopped going there. And a precious part of my life was missing.

When we moved up here I visited the Church of Our Saviour because I knew one of the members (the sister of one of my seminary friends). I went sporadically last year, enjoying the warm, friendly atmosphere, enjoying the new type of service, finding peace in the words of the ancient church. Then I started going more regularly, thirsty for what I had missed during those years away from the church. Then I was asked to supervise Sunday afternoon coffee hour goodies and cleanup. Then I was asked to be the treasurer on the vestry. All the time I was never asked to become an Episcopalian or join the church, just that I be there!

And so I asked myself why it was that I was there so often, when never before have I willingly gone to church “eight days a week & twice on Sundays.” I realized that our priest, Mother Paula, while being thoroughly traditional in many ways, had a broad interpretation of Christ’s welcome table. Everyone is welcome. Everyone. White, black, man, woman, gay, straight, alcoholic, tee-totaler, everyone. We are all affirmed and prayed for, by the congregation as a whole. And it’s not just welcoming words from the priest--everyone at church welcomes everyone else. During the service we “pass the peace of Christ” and we all go and hug or touch everyone in the sanctuary as if we mean it. And we do! I feel Christ’s love in that sanctuary, in a way I never have since I was a teenager in a church that hadn’t told me yet that I wasn’t welcome behind the altar.

Because of that I have decided to join the church. I know it isn’t necessary. I know that I am giving up my heritage, a heritage that, while it rejected me, also brought me to Christ. But I would rather start a new heritage in church, than contemplate my old heritage sitting in my living room on Sunday mornings. I am so glad to have found my way again. The least I can do is join the people who held the light before me.

I love you Mamaw, and I hope that you are happy for me. I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow, and of all those strong women (and men!) on both sides of my family. I’m doing this because of you all.

Love, Dana

Mamaw outside church in 1986

My grandmother never really said anything to me about my letter to her. In the end I think the fact that I felt passionate about church was good enough for her. 


  1. Excellent post!! You're and amazing woman. I hope you prevail on the Vestry vote. :)


  2. I can't imagine she would have been anything but pleased by such a forthright, sincere letter about your faith. It seems funny now to think that switching from Baptist to Episcopalian would be seen as a big deal -- they're not THAT far apart. (It's not like you were becoming Hare Krishna, not that there's anything wrong with that either!) Perhaps she even sympathized with your desire to do more in church than the Baptists would allow.

  3. according to the web: To "throw your hat in the ring" is an Americanism dating back to the early 19th century meaning to enter a contest, especially to declare your candidacy for political office. The "ring" in question was originally a boxing ring or other venue set up for fighting. Evidently it was the custom on the American frontier for a pugilist to literally throw his hat into the ring as a way of announcing that he was prepared to take on anyone in the crowd. The first use of the phrase in a political context was probably in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt announced his intention to challenge William Howard Taft for the U.S. presidency: "My hat's in the ring."

  4. On the subject of your faith i think its admirable to be able to stand up for what you believe in and i'm sure she felt the same

  5. Oh Bug, that's a big one! Marvellous letter describing how you came to your decision.
    As Steve said, it always astonishes me how Christian churches so focus on their differences rather than their similarities.
    I'm definitely High Anglican, got married in an Episcopal church because they're much closer to Anglican than the Church of Scotland, but worship every week at the Church of Scotland because that's the only Church in the village! A very nice Church too.

    Wonderful story, thanks for sharing that one and your grandmother must, surely, have been very proud of you as a woman and a Christian.

    Good Luck with the vote!

  6. What a passionate, heartfelt explanation. I, too, had a staunch Southern Baptist grandmother and heritage. I'm Catholic, and if my husband would be, I'd be Episcopalian, for the very reasons you enumerate. You have taken a firm foundation and given it wings. How beautiful are the feet of those...!

  7. I applaud your sentiments and your strength and desire to follow where your heart led. I was raised Episcopalian but my personal journey has led me to a completely different concept of 'god'. And I don't do religion of any kind. But for those for whom it brings a measure of peace, I am happy that you have that.

  8. Evidently you've always been an excellent writer, quite able to express your thoughts in a well-organized way. Good luck with that vote.

  9. I can relate to your journey of following your heart. My Aunt told me converting to the Catholic faith was the worse thing I could have done. Not for me! I love my faith. You express yourself very well in writing. Love the photos also!

  10. I'm sure it was an intimidating thing to do on both counts: confront your grandmother as well as what you interpreted to be almost a denial of your original faith. It's an affirmation of your writer's heart that you did it with words.

  11. I think your Mamaw decided that even if you weren't doing it her way, she loved you enough to accept your choices. These things are not easy, but we have to lead our own lives. If we don't, who's life is it anyway? That's a brave and honest letter. It's a good thing that you wrote it and sent it. Thank you for sharing it.


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