Bishop Phoebe Roaf is an LGBTQIA advocate who loves Memphis. In fact, she was raised not too far from here in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Since becoming Bishop in mid 2019, she has focused her efforts on our faith communities being safe spaces for all. Whether from the pulpit or on her weekly WYXR radio show Faithfully Memphis, Bishop Phoebe Roaf is all in on Memphis and the diverse people and organizations that make up our wonderful city. Her co-authored book, This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church is another way folks can learn more about how Bishop Phoebe is one of five black female diocesan bishops in the Episcopal denomination and the first Black female bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee. It should also be noted that Bishop Michael Curry who preached at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, is the current leader (Presiding Bishop) of the Episcopal Church.
How long have you been in Memphis? What brought you here?
I’ve been in Memphis for two and a half years. I moved here in March 2019 before my consecration so I could overlap with Bishop Don Johnson, my predecessor. My first day was May 4 th 2019. The job brought me here because I think there is so much potential in West Tennessee. Memphis is small enough so that I feel I cn have an impact and make a difference. And I’m no stranger to Memphis as I grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
Many faith communities aren’t LGBTQIA-friendly. What makes your church, the Episcopal denomination, different?
The Episcopal Church acknowledges the obvious in ways others do not. Many churches have LGBTQIA members in the pews. Writ large, the Christian community can put its head in the sand. The Episcopal Church says come as you are and everyone is welcome. We want to welcome them like we would welcome anyone else. We also allow ordination and marriage for members of the LGBTQIA community in the Episcopal Church.
What can someone expect if they visited one of your churches?
They should expect to be welcomed when they arrive. They should expect a liturgy that is very old and very meaningful. Our liturgy is one of the most beautiful things about our tradition. In our church we are less focused on the answers and more focused on living into the questions.
Why is it spirituality important to be so welcoming to all?
That comes from our Hebrew ancestors. They probably welcomed strangers out of necessity and because of God’s commandment to welcome the stranger in their midst. Jesus then summarized all of the laws into one simple statement: Love the Lord and love your neighbor as yourself. As followers of Christ we have been welcomed and loved and so we are invited to do the same for others.
What is your favorite thing about Memphis?
I have enjoyed getting to know the people, both native Memphians and folk like me who have relocated here for work or school. Southern hospitality is a real thing in Shelby County.
And I can’t get enough of Dinstuhl’s Fine Candies and Big River Crossing which connects Arkansas and Tennessee.