Why the Bishops Went to Valdosta

In deepest Georgia, a Pentecostal congregation goes high church.
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In deepest Georgia, a Pentecostal congregation goes high church.

In Valdosta, Georgia, a large billboard looms over North Valdosta Road, a winding highway on the outskirts of town. On a white background next to a bejeweled crown, tall, bold letters spell out: Church of the King. Beneath that, a smaller sign reads: Sunday 10:30 AM & 7:00 PM/Thursday 7:00 PM—Stan J. White, Pastor.

The sign is tasteful and artistic, but it is also conspicuous, even from a distance—part of the Mail Pouch Tobacco genre of American roadside advertising that grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention.

Less than 100 feet away, in front of a parking lot and gray cinder-block warehouse, the same people responsible for the billboard have planted a much smaller sign. You have to walk close to see the fine print at the bottom, but it also reads Church of the King. Above that is a familiar shield set against a light blue-and-white background: The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.

Therein lies a story. The name emblazoned on the billboard belongs to a man in his late twenties with chiseled features and a slight frame. Stan White has dark hair and deep, brooding eyes, but they are not unfriendly. He carries a gentle and unprepossessing mien of seriousness about him; he is the fellow who asked too many questions in your high-school algebra class. He comes to the office during the week dressed casually; on Good Friday, for instance, he wore a meticulously starched, button-down shirt, designer denims, and boat shoes with white sweatsocks.

The prep-school attire, however, is misleading. Stan White has impeccable Pentecostal credentials and boasts that he is a fourth-generation Pentecostal preacher. “I’m very proud of my Pentecostal heritage,” he insists. White’s ...

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