Meet our rector - The Reverend Shirley Porter
The Rev. Shirley Porter spent about 45 minutes fielding questions from parishioners after the Sunday service September 15th. Here’s what she had to tell us.
Rev. Shirley is a third-generation Episcopalian on her mother’s side. She was born in Hartford, Connecticut, was raised in Seattle Washington, and considers herself a city girl. She has lived in the south since 1991. She is no stranger to grits, and loves fried chicken and greens of all kinds.
Shirley got her undergrad degree from Washington State University, and spent the next nine years working in East Asia where she taught English as a second language and did some missionary work. She related some interesting stories from that time.
One event occurred after two years in China when she took a trip to British Hong Kong. Shirley had missed attending church services (China was closed to the Christian religion) and was visiting a Christian book store shopping for books on Bible study when she was approached by a very persistent Asian woman who asked if she’d like to take some Bibles back to China. Shirley ended up with twenty-five Bibles in the bottom of her backpack - a load so heavy that it knocked her to the ground when she later slung the pack over her shoulder.
She feared she would get caught on her way back to the school where she worked, but she boarded the boat to the mainland without incident. She was assigned a bunk in a cabin with two Asian men, but was soon asked by the crew if she would spend the night with a female passenger, a French girl who was frightened and alone. As they disembarked, Shirley took her backpack toward the X-ray machine as instructed. Meanwhile, the French girl was joyfully united with the party meeting her and rushed off with her luggage without it being inspected. Shirley grabbed her backpack and ran to stop her, and before she knew it she was through customs without ever having had her pack searched.
A year later every Bible was spoken for.
Shirley conducted Bible study in her room. She knew at times that communist officials were among the study group. The committee chairman knew what she was up to, but told her to be careful, and looked the other way.
At one point while Shirley was in China an earthquake was predicted. Members of her class asked for a prayer, which Shirley wrote on the blackboard. She was told to hide under her bed during the quake. Interestingly, the locals didn’t hide under their beds.
Most of them ran out of the building with a bag of rice and a tea kettle!
The quake occurred, but did not damage the school. Shirley was later questioned about the prayer by officials, but when she explained that her students had asked for it, and that she had not read it aloud, she was allowed to simply erase it, and nothing more was said.
On the occasion of her farewell from the school, the committee chairman said of her “I am no longer afraid of Christians…. She was always available when she was needed. I will never be able to support her work, but I support her as a person.”
Shirley returned to the U.S., and spent a year in New York City before relocating to the Atlanta area in 1991. She was involved in children’s education at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and later spent time at Epiphany Episcopal Church.
Shirley is a graduate of the Virginia Theological Seminary where she learned that seminarians should do whatever they are asked wherever they are needed. One opportunity to serve took place at the National Cathedral at Easter. Shirley was impressed by the way the church managed large crowds, including visitors who had never had communion and in some cases were not even Christian. It was an opportunity to engage in evangelism.
In 2013 Rev. Shirley was ordained by Bishop Wright in Atlanta, and started her appointment at St. James in Macon the very next day. St. James had been in existence over 100 years, and was where Shirley first worked with our deacon, Arthur Villarreal. Over the years St. James had lost its “oomph,” as Shirley put it, and unfortunately was never able to regain it. The church was later closed by the Diocese, and since then Shirley has been working for the Georgia Academy for the Blind, and also as a supply priest in middle Georgia.
Shirley hopes to move to Perry by the end of October, and is house hunting with the help of parishioners. She hopes to rent a house with three to four bedrooms, two baths, and a garage. Joining her when she moves are three cats: Jackson, Jessie Jazz, and Boomer. (Sometimes Jimmy tags along when they need a fourth for bridge.)
Rev. Shirley was asked a few questions about the direction she feels St. Christopher’s is headed.
She likes that we are “at the Crossroads.” She can’t predict the future, but hopes to bring some excitement to the church. If we have energy and are willing to work, we’ll have an impact in the community. At least she wants the community to know that we’re here.
One member asked about church growth, and mentioned that the larger churches in the area have more to offer young families (sports teams, contemporary music, etc.) Rev. Shirley said she doesn’t intend to compete with them, but she asked what we were offering young people and young families, and how we welcome them into the church. We need to be ready before they walk in the door. “I hope to help our church look like a place that welcomes young people and young families,” she said.
“I encourage you all to look at what our gifts and talents are and how we want to use them. You will be surprised at what God will bring through the door.”
Concerning our Path to Shine program, she said it’s also important to meet the people we are hoping to serve and ask them “What do you need” or “Where do you want your kids to be after school?”
Over the next few months Shirley hopes to work with the parish to define St. Christopher’s purpose, mission, and vision. Around December we’ll have another conversation where everyone, and not just Rev. Shirley, will be in the hot seat.