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Collars and a right of conscience

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My grandfather came to Raleigh in 1950 for an education in the furniture business at N.C. State. He spent a lot of time at the Players' Retreat when the PiKA house sat across the street, where BB&T now stands. After graduating, he returned to Virginia to work for the company his grandfather started, but he remained a loyal Wolfpack fan, sitting in the Carter-Finley Stadium seats his father bought when the stadium was built in 1966.

My father came to Raleigh in 1977 for an education in the furniture business at N.C. State. He spent a lot of time on the porch of Sadlack's Heroes; by association, I'm guessing my mother spent a lot of her time there, too. She arrived in Raleigh the same year as my father to attend Meredith. After graduating, he returned to Virginia to work for the company his great-grandfather started, and my mother eventually followed. They both remain loyal Wolfpack fans, sitting in the same Carter-Finley seats his grandfather bought nearly 50 years ago.

Finally, I came to Raleigh in 2003 for an education in engineering at N.C. State. I spent a lot of time in the Technician offices and made it to Mitch's Tavern on Thursday nights with the rest of the newspapers nerds. I traveled down the road for a bit to get a law degree in Chapel Hill, but I returned to the City of Oaks as soon as I could to serve for a time as an assistant district attorney. After a stint of representing our state's craft breweries during some of the industry's most prosperous times, I, too, am leaving my beloved Raleigh—no, not for the furniture industry of Virginia, but for a theology education in New England.

I stuck around much longer than my forebears, and the decision to leave my community has been one of the most difficult choices I've ever made. But seeing more clerical collars over the past 11 Moral Mondays than I've seen in my entire life has provided me with a deep confidence and hope for justice in the Old North State.

Many of us have never experienced leaders of faith outside of a sacred setting, especially at the forefront of a fight for social equality. Where previously "men have gone to war and cut each other's throats because they could not agree as to what was to become of them after their throats were cut," North Carolina's primary distress today concerns what is to become of them "over their visible walks on earth," wrote Walter P. Stacy, our state's longest-serving chief justice, in 1930. He continued, "[I]t was provided in the North Carolina Constitution of 1868 that 'no human authority should, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the right of conscience.'"

I hope to return to Raleigh after my time up north to continue the venerable and renewed legacy of religious leaders exercising this right of conscience, not to stand in front of or for the people but among and with the people. I'm not foolish enough to write what I wish to do or who I wish to be after a divinity school education, but I do want to increase the mercy and love among neighbors in our community.

I'll be an "outsider" for at least the next three years, but Raleigh and the people of North Carolina will remain on the inside of my heart and my mind, which I pray, wrote Flannery O'Connor, never thinks "that I was anything but the instrument of Your story."

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