Monday Q&A

The Sun asks Episcopal priest Melanie Mudge about life as a woman of the cloth

The Sun asks Episcopal priest Melanie Mudge about life as a woman of the cloth

May 19, 2008|Randall Patrick

Being a priest isn't something the Rev. Melanie Mudge felt called to at an early age. In fact, it is her third career.

After working in a department store in California, she returned to her home state of North Carolina, where she became a general contractor. There, she also was active in her parish before friends urged her to go into seminary and the priesthood.

Mudge was serving in Atlanta when she learned of the opening at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winchester, and once she interviewed here, she said, she didn't look anywhere else. She knew she had found her new home.

Last week, Randall Patrick, managing editor of the Sun, sat down with Mother Melanie at Expressions Coffee House for this interview.


Q. Most of the Episcopal priests and deacons I've known have been women. Is the Episcopal Church a leader in gender equality among clergy?

A. We were not exactly a leader in that. I think your Methodist Church was much earlier in ordaining women â?¦.

It feels that we move at a faster pace than actually we do. ... It may take decades before we're anywhere near 50-50 in the composition of the Episcopal clergy. But women have been elected bishop, and now we have a presiding bishop (The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori) who is female.

Q. How do you feel about having the first elected female Anglican primate in the world?

A. The history of the church is always evolving. â?¦ There are consequences, but I think we won't know the results of this, probably in our lifetime.

I am confident about what happened. My impression from my conversations with other bishops is that they feel Katharine is the right person at the right time - that she is thoughtful, that she is open â?¦ .

Q. Tell me about your journey into the priesthood. What was it like for you, as a woman from the South, to become a priest?

A. I fought my ordination in a lot of ways. I was so active as a layperson, and â?¦ I was really happy for a lot of years just doing missionary work and so forth. But finally it seemed that I belonged at the altar. So I went through the discernment process and received a lot of support. People said, "We wondered when you were going to get around to it."

I closed my business and went to the seminary. I wasn't a pioneer. But there have always been and will be for some time, different expectations for women in the clergy than there are for men. And I think that can be a real strength. I think the church is richer when there are men and women at the altar.

Q. How would you describe your new parish?

A. While it has components that love tradition, it also happens to be fairly receptive to newness, to change and variety in the style of worship. â?¦

They are a very caring group. I find them to be welcoming of new people, and they really enjoy community involvement. They have big hearts.

Q. If someone asks an Episcopalian, "Are you Catholic or Protestant?" the correct answer might be "Yes." Explain how you can be both.

A. (She laughs.) We call ourselves the Via Media (Latin for middle way) We're in the middle of all that. â?¦ Everybody who is part of the Body of Christ is, in our definition, catholic with a little "c".

Protestant is a bit of a challenge. We used to be called the Protestant Episcopal Church, and we have taken Protestant out of the title. â?¦ We were a reform movement, but maybe not a Protestant movement. I don't get too involved in those discussions.

Q. The Anglican Communion has been divided since 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated a noncelibate gay priest from Lexington, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire. Is it possible that the Episcopal Church could leave the Communion after the Lambeth Conference in London this summer, and can it still be Anglican if it is not part of the Communion?

A. We would not choose to leave the Anglican Communion, and I don't think we will be asked to disengage ourselves. I think there will be some turmoil and angst over Lambeth, but my hope is that we'll be at the table â?¦ and work through it. That's what we're called to do.

Q. (Archbishop of Canterbury) Rowan Williams' hope is that it will not mostly be about those kinds of divisive issues, and that's why he's beginning it with a retreat.

A. Yes, and I think that will be helpful. That's how the American bishops have resolved some of these issues.

Q. Was the Robinson situation divisive for Emmanuel, as it was for the Lexington Diocese?

A. It was divisive, but it was a very small impact, I think, for us.

Some of that division started before Gene Robinson. It started with the ordination of women, and maybe even with changes to the prayer book. We've gone through a lot (of change) in a couple of decades. But has that been a lightning rod? Yes.

Q. How is the local parish now?

A. There was a period when there was a brief sigh of relief that we're stable â?¦ but I don't think they're comfortable being stable - they want things to happen. I think there's a very strong future for us. We're looking at where we can impact the community and where we can make a difference in our mission and ministry.

Central Kentucky News Articles