June 27, 2009— -- Ann Holmes Redding was a prominent priest in the Episcopal Church for 25 years -- until a radical test of faith shook her beliefs to the core.
A month after her mother passed away in 2006, Redding went to her mother's apartment to pack up her belongings. Distressed and emotional, she began practicing an Islamic meditation technique that she'd learned in an interfaith class.
"The church where I was working invited in a speaker on Islam," she said. "This particular class, the teacher introduced an Islamic prayer practice that I began that night when I went home, because it called to me as something that would be helpful in my spiritual practice."
And that's when it happened.
"I knew that Islam, the word itself, means surrender, self-surrender to God. So I surrendered to God and became a Muslim," she said. "It came with such clarity and such power that I could understand it as nothing else but an invitation from God."
Redding says she is now both a Christian and a Muslim. She prays daily and in church, but she also prays five times a day to Allah.
"I pray as a Christian every day," she said. "I'm one person and I actually am Christian and Muslim wherever I'm praying, whenever I'm praying."
"Jesus was the one who led me into Islam," she said. But she no longer believes that Jesus is the only path to heaven.
"When Christians use the language that Jesus is the only begotten son of God, I would argue that they are not using that language literally," she said. "It's figurative language; it's metaphorical language."
"I believe God's salvation is bigger than Jesus."
Not everyone has welcomed Redding's new identity. A year after she professed her Muslim faith, news articles brought her views into the public eye -- and while many in her congregation supported her, others did not.
The bishop of Rhode Island, where Redding was ordained, demanded she renounce her Muslim faith or lose her right to be a priest. Redding refused, and was defrocked in April.
It was an incredibly painful experience, said Redding.
"My priesthood has been so interwoven with my identity that to imagine not being able to exercise the privilege of being involved intimately in the lives of believing people -- helping them sort through and understand their relationship and calling ... It's a huge loss," she said.
Redding is now speaking out about her two faiths -- writing on the subject and preaching at churches that will have her.
She admits that she still struggles to explain her transformation, even to herself.
"I am the one who's going to have to answer for this," she said. "I'm the one who's going to have to stand before the power that is and answer for what I've done with my life." But, she said, "it's in the best of hands."