Ben Alford has come full circle as he takes over as interim pastor at Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville.
Alford is a 1966 graduate of Albertville High School. After earning his degree in forestry from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, Alford joined the Peace Corps and taught at a national forestry school in the Dominican Republic. Although that wasn’t necessarily his country of choice, he now believes providence led him there. Not only did he become fluent in Spanish, which is a skill he expects to come in handy while serving in Albertville, but it also opened his mind to different people and opinions.
“I learned what it’s like to be the minority and see yourself and your country through someone else’s eyes,” he said. “It really changed how I looked at the world.”
Halfway through his service overseas, he married his wife, Lynn, in America and brought her back to the Dominican with him.
“I joke that we’re almost solely responsible for the fact that now you can’t marry somebody and bring them back with you,” he said.
Alford, who is an Eagle Scout, later went on to work with the Boy Scouts of America for 10 years and “loved it,” he said. But it was during this time he felt his calling to lead a church.
At the age of 36, Alford attended Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. He was ordained four years later and served at Saint George’s Episcopal Church on Saint Charles Avenue in New Orleans for 16 years.
While Alford said New Orleans was a fun and exciting city full of history and different cultures, it was sometimes a “scary” place to raise his children.
In 2003, he was transferred to lead a mega church with more than 1,000 members in Beaumont, Texas. However, just two and a half years later, he said he and the congregation had a “mutual agreement that it was time for me to go.”
Alford took off for six months and his family stayed with a lady in Seattle, Washington. He was then called back to his home state to lead Trinity Episcopal Church in Wetumka, where he served until he officially retired. During this time, he helped the Trinity congregation raise $750,000 to go toward a new $1 million church building.
Although he does not wish to pastor full time again, Alford is particularly excited to serve as interim in his hometown, where his mother still lives in Merrill Gardens assisted living facility. Alford keeps a standing appointment to play BINGO with her every Monday at 3:15 p.m.
Alford helped the churches he served in New Orleans and Texas grow the congregation large enough to justify a full staff. He has a similar goal for Christ Episcopal. The church’s last full-time pastor was David Kendrick, who was reassigned to another church in 2013. Membership has decreased slightly in recent years to around 50 members. Alford hopes to build it back up to around 200, which will allow the church to afford a full-time minister.
“I think it’s a challenge, but it’s possible,” he said. “Our goal is to be a big part of this community and bring back in some younger couples.”
Besides continuing its established programs, like the beans and rice ministry, the church plans to reach out in other ways, such as installing a community playground adjacent to the building. Additionally, young member Alan Battle intends to build a prayer labyrinth next to the church as his Eagle Scout project.
Alford said the Episcopal Church is a denomination that attracts “a lot of people who are Christians, but don’t fit in anywhere else.”
Such was the case in his own life. Albertville didn’t have an Episcopal church when Alford was a child. His family attended a Baptist church until he was about 6 years old. He spent the rest of his childhood and teenage years in a United Methodist church. It wasn’t until college that he was exposed to and fell in love with the Episcopal Church.
“The school was owned by the Episcopal Church,” he said. “I think I’m one of these that just didn’t know it existed.
“We want to educate people and feed people and help them live the way God intended them to live.”
Alford especially liked the fact that Episcopal services include communion every week because that’s “where I made my connection with God,” he said.
“(The Episcopal Church) allowed me to ask questions and trust God to help us figure out where we are,” he said. “It didn’t make me feel like I was going to Hell if I asked questions or had doubts. I found an exciting faith that sometimes has more questions than answers, and that’s OK.”