The Challenges and Joys of a StoryCorps Interviewer
by the Reverend William M. King
One day last fall, my wife, Pat, and I drove from Birmingham, Alabama, to Sewanee in southern Tennessee to interview two retired clerics from the Diocese of Alabama. We were on our way to conduct our first interviews for StoryCorps, a nonprofit that uses the human experience to build connections between people from all walks of life by soliciting recordings of, and then preserving, their stories.
Many people know about StoryCorps from listening to National Public Radio. Pat and I were introduced to StoryCorps at the Diocese of Alabama’s national meeting of Chaplains for Retired Clergy, Spouses, and Widows last May. We were given the opportunity to gather stories from several retired Episcopal clerics associated with the diocese. The trip to Sewanee was taking us to our first assignments.
The first cleric we interviewed had been deeply involved in the civil rights movement in Alabama in the 1960s. That historic experience was the focus of our interview in his modest log cabin in the woods several miles from the University of the South campus in Sewanee.
We next interviewed a retired librarian from the University of the South. Our meeting took place in a more-urban setting, as he continues to live in Sewanee. When he mentioned during our interview that he had taken up the cello, I paused my recorder and asked him to play for us. That’s how my interview gained the title “The Cello Priest.”
What a gift StoryCorps is for our chaplains! The interviews always reveal something unexpected. One retired priest has written a book of poetry. Another is an Irish tenor, who serenaded us with “Danny Boy” with all of the power of his voice.
So far, Pat and I have successfully completed four interviews. The most recent took place at the Diocese of Alabama’s annual convention. Another interview is scheduled with a homebound retired cleric.
The challenges of conducting interviews for StoryCorp are mostly technical, but our interviewing skills are getting better. Pat and I are a good team. At the same time, we have discovered that every successful interview takes at least four people—two people to do the interviewing, one person to share their story, and one person to listen.
Hear other clergies’ stories and learn more about contributing your story to StoryCorps here.
The Rev. William M. King was received as an Episcopal priest in 1987, and has served since in the Diocese of Alabama. He has served as priest and rector of both large and small parishes, as well as for 10 years as Assistant to the Bishop. During his time in the Diocese of Alabama, he helped to establish five new parishes and wrote two short books—Places of Secret Prayer and Letters to the Bishop. In retirement, Father King continues to serve part-time in a Birmingham parish. With his wife, Patricia, he has served for the past five years as Diocese of Alabama Bishop’s Chaplains for Retired Clergy, Spouses, and Widows.