This week, we revisit conversations with four religious leaders from our community: Father Fred Ball, Rev. Amy Meaux, Rev. Dr. Chris Keller, and Rev. Susan Sims Smith! Each one explains their personal inspiration to choose lives of service and then addresses topics like church attendance, the evolution of feelings about LGBTQ members, and the relationships between various faiths in America.
Father Fred Ball, started San Damiano in early 2006 with his wife (yes, his wife — that’s a big difference between Roman Catholicism and ecumenical Catholicism). “This is where it gets crazy,” Ball said. “I grew up as a Southern Baptist here in Arkansas, and spent 20 years in Southern Baptist ministry, leading congregations.” Though he was at ground zero of the Baptist faith every Sunday morning, Ball said he’d always felt an attraction to the ritual and teachings of the Catholic Church, which offered “power, drama and depth” to faith. After graduating from the Baptist seminary, he joined a Franciscan order. When he signed on to lead Baptist congregations, he constantly folded elements of Catholic worship into the Protestant mix.
After leaving the Baptist church in 1999, Ball spent six years as an Episcopalian, but something was missing. He was still drawn to Catholicism and the ministry, but knew that it didn’t jibe with the reality of his own beliefs or his situation, given that he was married. He heard about the possibility of being an ecumenical Catholic priest from a Franciscan brother, and decided to form a congregation as a small group in his home. Since January 2007, San Damiano has held Mass every Saturday and Wednesday night at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church at 12415 Cantrell Road. The appeal of ecumenical Catholicism, Ball said, is different for everyone. There are some gays and lesbians in the church, Ball said. Others are former Roman Catholics who can’t reconcile their social beliefs with those of the Vatican. Some come from no faith background at all. The church is also very active in effecting hands-on change, including homeless outreach and environmental programs, which Ball said are an additional appeal.
Amy Meaux was born in Beaufort, SC. Her mother was a Hospice and Home Health nurse and her father a food scientist who worked in the packing industry. She graduated from Mandeville High School in Mandeville Louisiana and earned a BA in Liberal Arts from The Louisiana Scholars' College at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA. She received a Master of Divinity from Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, TX.
Prior to seminary, she served two Episcopal schools in Louisiana. After seminary, she has served Episcopal churches in New Orleans, Dallas, and Kentucky. She is presently serving as the Reverend of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock.
She enjoys knitting and reading, but her passion is food for the hungry, especially children.
The Rev. Dr. Christoph Keller, III, is an Episcopal priest and theologian who, through his ministry and life, has blended scholarly pursuits with innovative leadership. In early years, Dr. Keller was Student Body President of Little Rock Central High School. As president, Dr. Keller initiated organized soccer in central Arkansas. Following high school, Dr. Keller attended Amherst College. At Amherst, he was an American Studies major, with a focus on southern history, and an emphasis on ethnicity and race. His honors thesis titled, “Busing,” included a chapter on his experience at Central, when the era of true racial diversity in the Little Rock public schools began through court-ordered busing. Dr. Keller was awarded the top prize for an American Studies thesis.
Dr. Keller was a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University in a program called, “The History of American Civilization.” It was as a first-year student at Harvard that he began to discern a calling to become a priest. Acting on the call, Dr. Keller left Harvard and enrolled in the Episcopal Divinity School, located across Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard, where he earned a Masters of Divinity. In 1990, Dr. Keller and his family moved to Little Rock where, in 1991, he founded what became St. Margaret’s Church. From its first Sunday in a bargain movie theatre, Dr. Keller led St. Margaret’s through growth to more than 500 members, and the construction of the church campus on Chenal Parkway in west Little Rock.
In 1999, he moved with his family to New York to pursue advanced study in theology. Dr. Keller holds a Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) in Anglican Studies, focusing on theology and science. His dissertation, “Darwin’s Science in Chalcedonian Imagination: Barth, Double Agency and Theistic Evolution,” explores and affirms compatibility between Christian faith and evolution. He is presently standing Dean and Rector of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Church in Little Rock.
Dr. Keller met his wife, Julie Honeycutt, in the seventh grade in the Trinity Cathedral Sunday School. They were married in the sanctuary of the Cathedral on April 15, 1978. Julie and Chris Keller have two grown children. Mary Olive and son Christoph.
The Rev. Susan Sims Smith is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Center. Smith was a Jungian oriented psychotherapist for 25 years, and has been an Episcopal priest since 1999. She founded Seedwork, a project to teach people how to listen to wisdom from their dreams and from meditation. She spearheaded the foundation of the Arkansas House of Prayer, an interfaith center for prayer and meditation, and serves as a life-time board member. She started the Interfaith Center in 2011.
The mission of the Interfaith Center is to reduce the hatred and fear among the world religions. It is a part of the Institute for Theological Studies at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Arkansas. The first year was used to learn more about the current interfaith work in the community. They engaged in a series of one-on-one meetings with leaders in congregations, schools and organizations who were involved in or interested in being involved in interfaith work.
The Rt. Rev. Larry E. Maze, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas, said, “Seldom have I known another person as dedicated to her own self-understanding and more willing to let that understanding be distilled into teaching in order to benefit others. She has remained a dedicated priest of the church even while pushing limits of belief and understandings. I heartily endorse her work.”