Published 6:04 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Sometimes it takes time to find God’s calling for your life.
That’s the case for Sam and Patty Godfrey of Vicksburg.
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The couple met during their first year of law school at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. They graduated, married and eventually moved to Natchez — Sam’s hometown — to set up Godfrey and Godfrey and begin their law practice together.
That may come as a surprise to many Vicksburg residents, who know Sam as the Rev. Sam Godfrey, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, and Patty as Mrs. Godfrey, English teacher at Warren Central High School and a pastor’s wife.
After about 10 years of practicing law, Sam came home from work one night and asked Patty to pray with him about something.
“He came home and said, ‘I have something I want you to pray about. I said, ‘OK.’ And he said, ‘I think I have maybe a call on my life to go into the ordained ministry,’ and I said, ‘What?’” Patty said.
After getting over the initial surprise, Sam and Patty made calls to their prayer partners — a group of family and friends, many from other denominations, who support each other in prayer.
“We told them, ‘We need y’all to pray about this for us. We need to know if this is a true calling on our lives,’ and it was our lives because we believe you have to both be called,” she said.
At that point, the Godfreys were new parents to 6-month-old Russell. After Russell’s birth, Patty decided to become a stay-at-home mom and Sam joined the Wilkerson and Crawford law firm in Woodville.
Those prayer partners and others in time told the Godfreys they believed the ministry was a true calling in their lives.
“People said, ‘We were wondering when you would figure that out,’” Sam said.
The Godfreys began the process of entering the priesthood with the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, which both said was rigorous. It involves psychological testing and counseling and study, under the direction of a committee at a home church and at the diocese level.
Sam attended seminary at The University of the South, an Episcopalian university in Sewanee, Tenn. He was ordained as a deacon on June 14, 1997, and into the priesthood on Dec. 20, 1997.
“It was a process,” Sam said. “I just felt like there was something else out there. I was very involved in our church in Natchez and felt I was being called into the ministry.”
The Godfreys were members of Trinity Episcopal in Natchez.
“Our joining Trinity was predestined,” Sam said, sporting his signature grin. Patty, an Episcopalian, nudged Sam toward Trinity after their move to Natchez.
Sam, a Natchez native, was raised in Westminster Presbyterian Church there.
“When we were in law school, I was already Episcopalian and we went to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford. That’s where we were married,” Patty said. “When we were in Natchez, we visited two Presbyterian churches and one Episcopal church. I told him, ‘Look, we really have to choose a church family. I followed you to Natchez because this is where you wanted to live. I really want to stay with my denomination. So I want us to join Trinity Episcopal.’”
And it was so.
The Godfreys have no regrets about their career changes.
“I love what I do,” Sam said.
“He’s fabulous at it,” Patty said. “I’m his biggest fan, but it’s true.”
“I do what I do because of my faith and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Sam said. “People have asked me if I regret practicing law for 11 years before I went to seminary and I tell them no, I was then doing what God wanted me to do and today I’m doing what God wanted me to do. I was doing a lot at the church, but I felt like there was something more out there.
“I tell people who are struggling with their faith or feel distant from God, to keep searching, because God is searching for you just as you are searching for him,” Sam said.
Patty said Sam’s legal education has come in handy at times as a priest.
“Because we did other jobs, you bring a real credibility to the priesthood. We’ve been in the business community. And a lot of things in the church have legal ramifications,” she said.
Patty, likewise, loves to teach, although she said she does miss the law.
“At my old school in Senatobia, I got to teach law as an elective. Down here, they have approached me with the idea of getting my law class started. It’s call Street Law and it involves all law that’s applicable. We study everything from international law, what’s going on in the world, to American politics to how the law effects the economy,” Patty said. “Hopefully I’m going to get to teach it this coming fall. Kids are signing up for it. We will see.”
Sam’s first church to lead as a priest was Holy Innocents in Como, where he pastored for his first 14 years. He has been at Christ Episcopal here for more than six years and had no plans to leave.
“We plan to stay as long as the church will have us here. We would prefer to retire here,” Sam said.