My primary place of religious belonging is Monkfish Abbey, a tiny group consisting primarily of recovering Christians who are trying to move in a generally God-ward direction. But over the past several years Iâ€™ve also found a home at the big blocky cathedral that beacons to me from the hill when I stand on my bedroom balcony. St Markâ€™s Cathedral is a monolithic building full of contradictions. It is unfinished, yet perfect; austere yet welcoming; vast yet womblike. It is fitting then that from this place of dichotomy should come forth perhaps the only Episcopalian priestess who is both a Christian, and a Muslim.
For many years the public face of St. Markâ€™s was Ann Redding. I came to think of Ann, who always seemed to be officiating whenever I came to the cathedral, as my priestess, although I never met her personally in the cathedrals large crowds. I fell in love with her sheer otherness â€“ her blackness, her femaleness â€“ as she held space before the altar for all of us who did not otherwise have a place in the power structures of the mainstream. There she stood, week after week, in this patriarchal monolith of building; her simple presence singing out a song for all of us who were not sure we could be here. When I felt isolated as a female minister in a male-controlled denominational setting, I would return to the the reality of Ann, with her salt-and-pepper dreadlocks and her womanly curves, standing as hostess over the sacraments. This actually seen image, unlike a mere imagined ideal, gave me great solace and assured me that I could somehoe carve out a space to be a minister of Jesus.
Ann was recently laid-off at Saint Markâ€™s, and â€˜though the priest who spoke of her absence on Easter Sunday chalked it all up to amiable budget cuts, it was not hard to read between the lines. This break of the priestess from her parish could not have been easy, and I for one am deeply feeling her loss. Now when I attend St Mark’s, I am struck by the predominate whiteness of the staff; and I am more aware of how the women serve as sacramental assistants, but only men take the preaching pulpit. I still love the building for the sheer holiness of the space; and the retiring bishop makes me laugh and cry at his sweet rendering of Jonny Cash and John Lennon. Still, the community as a whole seems less like home.
It is only since she left St. Markâ€™s the Ann has been speaking publicly about her Christian-Muslim faith hybrid. Thereâ€™s a lengthy and interesting article about her dual conversion here, and so far the bishop has been able to roll along nicely with this interfaith reality made flesh. As the abbess of several hybrid monks(Christian/Athesist-curious, Zen Buddhist/Christian, etc.) I read the article eagerly, scanning the words of theologians from both faiths for advice and insight. My main emotional response was, â€œwell, but of course!â€ Being a Muslim and Christian seems like a natural, path for Ann, the deeply spiritual-mystic-woman-American of African descent-priestess. It is my hope, that after all the disruption of the past year, Ann feels as though she has come home.