Anyone who has grown up in the melting pot of immigrant religiosity of the industrial northeast has a very specific vision of Southern religiosity – evangelical, provincial, low-church, and rabidly anti-Catholic, among other things. Even growing up in a household sympathetic to the South, I had plenty of condescending ignorance about the way Southrons practiced their religion. Grab a Bible, flip on Billy Graham, and say “Amen”, and you’re more than half-way there.
Nuance to any ignorant view comes only with closer acquaintance – and that closer acquaintance for me took the form of spending more than three quarters of my adult life south of the Mason-Dixon, from Washington, DC to Memphis, TN, thence to Maryland and now in Georgia. I found the rich history of traditional Christianity throughout the South and met a large number of High Church Southern men and women, Anglicans and Catholics and – especially surprising to me – Orthodox Christians. It is this last group that played the greatest role in my religious life: I was received into the Orthodox Church by a Georgian; in Pennsylvania I heard liturgy at a parish Bishop George, abbot of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in West Virginia, and the pastor of my parish now is an Appalachian convert.