The Rev. Amy Dafler Meaux couldn’t quite qualify the feeling the first time she had it. At 8 years old, she watched Lutheran clergy in sweeping sanguine and alabaster vestments celebrate the ordination of a new minister and felt … something, something prophetic hovering in the music and stained-glass light.
“I don’t’ remember telling anyone, but I remember being a witness to that ordination and thinking there was something happening here that had to do with what I would become,” she said.
That initially intangible feeling eventually revealed itself to Meaux, 37, as a call to ministry. She followed her passion for Christian service through confident high school days, inquisitive college years, enlightening seminary experiences, marriage and motherhood. Meaux also let it lead her to Trinity Episcopal Church in Danville for the first time nearly a year ago.
Now, after a journey that began decades ago during that fateful ordination, she is preparing to celebrate Christmas as a priest at the church.
“It took me realizing that not everyone sits in church thinking about being behind the altar, that that was me envisioning this vocation that God called me to,” she said.
That truth held strong with Meaux, a South Carolina native, while she attended high school in New Orleans. She joined national Episcopalian organizations and committees, while finding peace in her home parish and reinforcing her dreams of becoming a priest.
“Church became that one place where I felt safe, and I could be myself, and I felt at home,” Meaux said. “I thought, if this is where I felt safest, this is where I should be all the time.”
After graduating, her tunnel vision focused solely on seminary, but the Episcopalian church requires a bachelor’s degree before aspiring priests can begin their studies. So, somewhat begrudgingly, she set out for Louisiana Scholar’s College at Northwestern State University, Natchitoches. While digging into her courses, Meaux discovered her interests expanded beyond theology in ways she had never considered.
“I sort of went into college boldly saying, ‘I’m going to be a priest.’” she said. “And then eventually I was like, ‘Well, maybe I could be a lawyer.’”
Proclaiming law as her future profession certainly would have prevented strange looks and “physical steps backward” from male students at parties and in restaurants. But, no matter how shocked the company, Meaux continued to express her desire for the priesthood. That ambition seemed the only one constant with the elusive feeling from her childhood.
So when a young man who worked for her father showed true interest in her chosen profession, she realized he could be her partner for life. She married Jared Meaux in July 1999 before beginning study at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas.
“In seminary, there’s this open invitation to study the Bible and theology all the time,” she said. “What a privilege, right? So many people have to make time to study the Bible, and that was my job for three years.”
Learning and preaching God’s word continued to be her priorities after she became an ordained priest in 2002.
Though, Meaux encountered no prejudice from the Episcopalian administration during her ordination process, her first job landed her back in predominately Catholic New Orleans, where a female in a priest collar looked ready for Halloween.
“One person who was serving me at a restaurant stood in front of me for two or three minutes speechless,” Meaux said, smiling. “He pointed to his neck, so I said, ‘I’m a priest,’ and out of his month came, ‘But you’re a woman.’”
Still, the Cajun culture of acceptance rarely led to confrontation with those upset by her gender-vocation combination.
When Meaux returned to Texas to take a job in Dallas, though, she had frank conversations with anyone concerned about a priest with pearl earrings.
“I never see that as personal. I’ve always experienced that as coming from their own understanding of scripture and their own theology,” she said. “God has called me to ordained ministry, and if they want to take that up with God, that’s fine. It’s not like something I made up or dreamt.”
Meaux and her husband also felt a very real call to leave their parish of thousands in Dallas to raise their children Jacob, 5, and Elise, 7, in a smaller town.
So when a bishop alerted Meaux to the position in Danville, she quickly applied and visited the town last January.
“We could walk everywhere, and everyone was so nice,” she remembered. “We had dinner at the pizza pub, and we could just image raising our family here because it felt so warm.”
The couple’s visions became reality in May when Meaux took the reins at Trinity.
With a congregation of about 150, Meaux said she feels as if she can celebrate a more intimate Mass and build personal relationships with a greater portion of the parish. She describes her services as “joyful, enthusiastic, energetic and fun,” with sermons that challenge people to deepen and mature their faith.
These are two goals Meaux keeps in mind for herself every time she steps behind the altar and into the role she’s always seen as her natural place.
“It’s like living a dream,” she said.