Rev. Eric Liles, Rector,
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Smiths Station, Ala.
Where'd you grow up?
In Bakersfield, Calif. I grew up in the Episcopal Church there -- St. Paul's, in the Diocese of San Joaquin. The diocese is no longer in the Episcopal Church but affiliated with the Southern Cone. My grandmother died on the flight out for my ordination. She died Dec. 6 and I was ordained a priest Dec. 11, in Birmingham. The day after my ordination, I flew back to California with my mom and grandfather and I officiated at her funeral. Someone made the comment that I was the only Episcopal priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin that day. It was one of those "You can never go home again" moments.I'm glad The Episcopal Church with the help of our Presiding Bishop is re-establishing itself in Bakersfield.My family and I moved to Texas on my 14th birthday and I went to high school and college there.
Where'd you go to college?
Texas A&M. I was a biology major and thought I'd be a doctor. I graduated in May of ’99 and worked on the summer staff of Camp Allen and felt led to work with young people. I became a full-time youth minister for almost five years -- first at a church outside Houston, and then in Austin. I discerned a call to the priesthood while at St. Matthew's in Austin.
When you thought about working with young people, did you think about ordained ministry?Sort of, but I wasn't forcing the idea at the time. It became more apparent during the course of working with youth. It became apparent that's where God was calling me.
When and where did you go to seminary?
I went to Virginia Theological Seminary (in suburban Washington, D.C.), in the fall of 2004. I met my wife, Allison, there. I first met her on a prospective visit. She was a year ahead of me. She's from Decatur, Ala. We started dating that fall. The next summer, she went to Tanzania and I knew when she went that I wanted to marry her. We were married in May 2006.
What did she do until you graduated?
She worked at St. Patrick's in D.C. as a chaplain at the church school. Now she's the assistant rector at Holy Trinity in Auburn.
When did you first visit St. Stephen's?
February of last year. I had met the delegates at diocesan convention in Tuscaloosa and they had me lead a service of Evening Prayer and I preached.
Not being from the South, it was refreshing how friendly everyone was. They are very welcoming. The church is beautiful. It's a mistake to describe it as a rural, country church because it's right off 280 but at the same time it's surrounded by nature. It was also clear at first how close everybody was, which can be intimidating at first.
With this your first congregation in ordained ministry, were you surprised by anything?
The parochial reports, and letters of transfer. I didn't have training in how to do the paperwork. In fact I didn't know what the paperwork looked like. So the administrative stuff was difficult at first. And in my first few months I had four deaths in the parish and three funerals.
What do you and your wife do in your spare time?
We have a puppy named Scout, who's a girl -- from "To Kill a Mockingbird." We also like gardening, and I play golf.
What are you reading?
I picked up "Don Quixote" again. I still read theology, currently about the Christian writings between the first and third centuries, not included in the canon.
What are the demographics of St. Stephen's?
We have all flavors, all walks of life and education levels. The great thing is the diversity, which is who we're supposed to be as Christians.
Does the national news and politics of the Episcopal Church trickle down much to St. Stephen's?
It did in 2003, and again in 2006 when the new Presiding Bishop got elected but overall the general sentiment is what matters more is becoming followers of Christ. People know about the issues and have a level of concern but it's more important to be in communion with each other. Ultimately I think the Episcopal Church will come through and after the 2009 General Convention, issues of sexuality and the Anglican Communion will not be the focus.