Local history book to be unveiled at book signing

Published 8:54 am Friday, July 7, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/Senior Staff Writer

It’s a story of persistence and tenacity.

“Letters to the Bishop” by local resident Betty Collins and William “Bill” King, retired rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, chronicles the impact Carlotta Perle Mitchell had on the re-establishment of an Episcopal Church in Clanton.

A book signing and reception will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church on July 16 at 1p.m. Books will be available for purchase for $10. All proceeds will go toward the Beans and Rice Ministry, the monthly food ministry, at the church.

During research for “A history of the Episcopal Church in Clanton and Chilton County, Alabama,” King found a group of letters from Mitchell, who was the Chilton County High School librarian from 1945-1950, to Bishop Charles Carpenter in the Birmingham Library Archives. Collins and King decided Carlotta Mitchell’s story could be a book by itself.

“What I’ve enjoyed most is sharing the story of a tenacious woman, who would simply not say no because of her deep faith and her deep spirituality and wanting the opportunity to pray and worship in the tradition that she loved,” King said.

Collins has enjoyed researching Mitchell. She connected with family members to get copies of Mitchell’s memoirs and more information.

Mitchell came to Chilton County to teach at the age of 65. She lived in Chilton County during the school year, and she returned to Montgomery in the summer.   When Mitchell found out Chilton County did not have an Episcopal church, she sent a letter to the bishop of the Alabama Diocese for a list of Episcopalians in Chilton County.

The Clanton Episcopal church had dissolved years before.

“The bishop says in 1941, ‘We will never need an Episcopal Church in Chilton County,'” King said.

Mitchell became persistent in her letters expressing the need for a church. Local Episcopalians began meeting in borrowed space in other churches with a priest coming once a month. King said they eventually started having Sunday services in the Seventh-day Adventist Church “because Seventh-day Adventists had church on Saturday.”

The group officially became Resurrection Episcopal Church in 1946, later renamed Trinity Episcopal.

The letters reveal that Mitchell even led a morning prayer service once when no men were present. At that time, in the Episcopal Church women were not permitted to lead services. She wrote the bishop and asked if that was all right.

“He writes back to her and says, ‘Well, of course, it was the right thing for you to lead that service,'” King said. “That is a remarkable statement for a male chauvinist bishop, and he was very much a chauvinist. He is one of the clergy that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the (Birmingham) City Jail to … so it’s remarkable that he says back to her ‘Of course, it was right for you to lead that service.'”

King said that is the only statement of affirmation for a woman leading a service in Alabama from that time period that he knows of.

In 1954, the Seventh-day Adventists sold the building to the Episcopal Church when they moved to another area of town.

“There is no question in the late 1940’s there would not have been an Episcopal church established without her (Carlotta),” King said.

The church would dissolve again in the 1970s, but the land would be preserved waiting for the next group of Chilton County Episcopalians looking for a place to worship.

Today, a congregation of about 80 meets at the same location as their predecessors — 503 Second Avenue South in Clanton.