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Originally published July 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 5, 2007 at 9:27 PM

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Episcopal priest or Muslim? Redding will have a year to think about it

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a local Episcopal priest who announced she is both Muslim and Christian, will not be able to serve as a priest...

Seattle Times religion reporter

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a local Episcopal priest who announced she is both Muslim and Christian, will not be able to serve as a priest for a year, according to her bishop.

During that year, Redding is expected to "reflect on the doctrines of the Christian faith, her vocation as a priest, and what I see as the conflicts inherent in professing both Christianity and Islam," the Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, wrote in an e-mail to Episcopal Church leaders.

Redding was ordained more than 20 years ago by the then-bishop of Rhode Island, and it is that diocese that has disciplinary authority over her.

During the next year, Redding "is not to exercise any of the responsibilities and privileges of an Episcopal priest or deacon," Wolf wrote in her e-mail. Wolf could not be reached for immediate comment.

"I'm deeply saddened, but I've always said I would abide by the rulings of my bishop," said Redding, who met with Wolf last week. Redding, who characterized their conversation as amicable, said the two would continue to communicate throughout the year.

During the meeting, Redding said she took off her priest's collar and accepted Wolf's invitation to hold it for the year.

"I understand she's holding it as an indication that we're both in this together," Redding said.

At the end of the year, the two will revisit the issue.

"I understand that one of my options would be to voluntarily leave the priesthood," Redding said.

At this moment, though, she is not willing to do that. "The church is going to have to divorce me if it comes to that," she said. "I'm not going to go willingly."

But she also doesn't completely rule it out, saying: "God will guide me over this year."

Redding's bishop in Seattle, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner of the Diocese of Olympia, who accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, said Wolf's decision is a good compromise.

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"It's a good way to have a timeout and provide an opportunity for Ann to continue to teach ... and at the same time take a look at her relationship both with the Episcopal Church and the Christian faith and Islam," Warner said.

Redding is scheduled to start teaching part time as a visiting assistant professor at Jesuit-run Seattle University this fall. But she will not be able to teach, preach or work at any Episcopal church or institution during the next year, she said.

Redding, who until March was director of faith formation at Seattle's St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for 23 years.

In June, she announced publicly that, for the past 15 months, she's also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Muslim prayers left her profoundly moved.

While her announcement perplexed many, some supported her personal spiritual journey and her larger efforts to find common ground between Christianity and Islam.

But others were critical, saying it wasn't possible to be both Christian and Muslim. And some took issue with her being a leader within the Episcopal Church while also professing another faith.

Some also saw Redding's announcement as another sign that the Episcopal Church was veering too far away from Scripture, doctrine and tradition. The Episcopal Church, which is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is already embroiled in deep conflict with the Communion over scriptural interpretation on issues such as homosexuality and the ordination of women.

Redding says she understands that "the last thing the church needs to deal with at this time is this type of doctrinal dispute. I wish it could've been at a more convenient time. But as far as I know, I am responding to God's will and God's timing."

For her part, Redding said she didn't feel a need to reconcile all the differences between the two faiths but felt that at the most basic level, they are compatible.

She believes she has not violated any of her baptismal or ordination vows. And "since entering Islam," she said, "I have been, by my own estimation, a better teacher, a better preacher and a better Christian."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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