Episcopal priest given ultimatum
Six months away from what is almost certain to be her defrocking, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, the Episcopal priest who announced she was both Christian and Muslim, remains steadfast in her belief that she was called to both faiths but acknowledges her decision to follow that call has been exceedingly painful at times.
Seattle Times religion reporter
There are moments these days when the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding sits outside a church or a Muslim gathering, wondering if she will be welcome at either.
It didn't use to be this way. But now, six months away from what is almost certain to be her defrocking, the Episcopal priest who announced last year that she had also become a Muslim remains steadfast in her belief that she was called to both faiths but says her decision to follow that call has been exceedingly painful at times.
In a letter mailed last week to national and local church leaders, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over the Seattle priest, said a church committee had determined that Redding "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church."
Wolf has affirmed that determination, barring Redding from functioning as a priest for the next six months.
According to church law, unless Redding resigns her priesthood or denies being a Muslim during those six months, the bishop has a duty to defrock — or depose — her, as the process is formally known.
Redding, who served as director of faith formation at Seattle's St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, said she has no plans to resign or to renounce Islam, any more than she would renounce Christianity. She does not believe she has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.
"I'm saddened and disappointed that this could not be an opportunity" for the church to broaden its perspective and talk about what it means to adhere to more than one faith, Redding said.
"The automatic assumption is that if I'm one of 'them,' I can't be one of 'us' anymore." But "I'm still following Jesus in being a Muslim. I have not abandoned that."
Redding has been a priest for nearly 25 years.
While she does not regret going public about her embrace of Islam, she does acknowledge being naive about the controversy her announcement would stir up.
"I can definitely be a Pollyanna," she said. "It never occurred to me it was something to be in the closet about. I just thought it was great."
Getting to know Islam was "like falling in love," she said. "You want to share it, you want to get on a rooftop and start shouting."
In June 2007, Redding announced publicly that, for more than a year, she had also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Muslim prayers moved her profoundly. She said she didn't feel a need to reconcile all the differences between the two faiths, believing that at the most basic level they are compatible.
Many were perplexed by her announcement, saying it wasn't possible to be both Christian and Muslim. A month after Redding's disclosure, Wolf told her to take a year — later extended to 15 months — to reflect and not to function as a priest during that time.
The defrocking process essentially began with Wolf's decision last week.
Redding says she understands why people might be upset that a priest would also profess another faith, given that a priest represents the church. But she firmly believes she did not break her ordination vows.
Following both faiths "is a gift," she said. "I feel privileged to see God in more places, rather than fewer places."
Practicing two faiths has enabled her to answer people's questions from the perspective of someone inside each faith, she said. People who say they're Christian and Buddhist or a mix of other faiths are relieved to be able to talk to her because "they feel illegitimate sometimes themselves, that what they believe is not proper."
But her path has been costly on several levels.
Redding, who was laid off from St. Mark's in March 2007 due to budget issues, was forbidden by Wolf last year from teaching, preaching or working at any Episcopal Church or institution. She was allowed to teach part time in a temporary position as a visiting assistant professor at Jesuit-run Seattle University, but that job ended four months ago.
And some are wary of her. At gatherings of Christians or Muslims, "some people will be very frank about how they don't get what I'm trying to do," she said. "People on both sides are waiting for me to 'come see the light.' ... There are people who will tell me that other people are upset by my being there."
If things proceed as expected, Redding will be defrocked a week after the 25th anniversary of her ordination. She said she will miss standing as a priest with people "as they try to make sense of and live out their relationship with God."
Her one regret, she said, is not realizing that some parishioners at St. Mark's would feel betrayed that they were forming their Christian faith with someone who also professed to be Muslim. She said she has since tried to talk with as many of them as she could.
She will miss the collegiality of her fellow priests, though Bishop Gregory Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia, which covers Western Washington, said Wolf's decision "does not mean the end of our personal relationships. Pastorally, we in the Diocese of Olympia are very much here for Ann."
And there is this: As one of the first African-American women the denomination ordained, Redding was sometimes the first female or African-American priest some parishioners had ever seen. "My symbolic role has been an incredible honor." Now she fears that some "will think I've somehow let them down."
Redding is currently finishing a book with two other local authors called "Out of Darkness into Light: Spiritual Guidance in the Quran with Reflections from Jewish and Christian Sources." She'd like to do more writing and academic work while pushing forward her desire to build an institute to study the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
She acknowledges that letting go of her identity as a priest and facing an uncertain future are painful. "Every now and then I get very scared because there is a lot of nasty things out there [on the Internet] about me," she said. "It can shake me."
At the same time, "this is not a tragedy and I am not a victim."
"I was called to it and I said yes," she said. "I don't believe God will leave me alone in this process."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.