Interviewee: Felicia Thomas
Interviewer: Suzanne Degnats
Date of Interview: December 12, 2012
Format: WAV file, transcript
Length of Interview: 84 minutes
Length of Transcription: 36 pages
Ms. Felicia Thomas was born on September 22, 1979, in Manning, South Carolina to a family of African American heritage. As a child, Ms. Thomas attended the African Methodist Episcopal church (AME). In her teens, she began independently exploring her faith and did not claim any religious affiliation. After attending Howard University and into her twenties, Ms. Thomas moved to Savannah. She actively attended and participated in a Pentecostal church and later a non-denominational church, but controversies in both communities eventually led her to abandon church attendance altogether. These negative experiences caused a major shift in Ms. Thomas’s religious orientation and spurred her personal religious reflection and exploration. At the time of the interview, Ms. Thomas considered herself spiritual, although she continues not to attend church services or claim affiliation with any specific tradition. She is the Administrative Coordinator at GSU in the Religious Studies and Philosophy Departments and single without children.
Ms. Thomas considered her childhood participation in the African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina as cultural rather than spiritual or religious. She remembers the services as focusing on a single line of scripture for hours and she was taught not to question the church authority or the traditions. Although different sides of family attended different churches in town, Ms Thomas’s grandfather was Jehovah’s Witness. He was the first influential person in Ms. Thomas’s spiritual life and he supported Ms. Thomas’s exploration of her faith. In her teenage years, Ms. Thomas did not claim a religious affiliation. Instead, she learned to individually explore the Bible and scripture in context. While home during her summer break from Howard University, Ms. Thomas attended a Pentecostal church Savanna. She was drawn there both for moral and emotional support during the difficult death of her grandmother, but also due to the strong female minister and the church’s focus on spirituality and breaking the barrier of gender and race. Although Ms. Thomas was engaged in the church community and the spiritual experiences of speaking in tongues, the announcement of the marriage of the Pentecostal female minister to her first cousin, and the personal falling out with Ms. Thomas, led Ms. Thomas to attend a nondenominational church. Unfortunately, further controversies of moral transgressions and adultery within the church leadership led Ms. Thomas to completely abandon church attendance. Ultimately, Ms. Thomas experienced a significant spiritual shift and identifies her immediate, personal connection to a Universal God. Working in the Religious Studies Department at GSU has deepened Ms. Thomas’s respect and understanding of world religions. Although she has little interaction with religious people as an administrative coordinator, Ms. Thomas enjoys being surrounded by people with open minds and comprehensive understandings of religious and spirituality.
African Methodist Episcopal, Jehovah’s Witness, African American, Pentecostal, Nondenominational, Controversy, Spiritual, Speaking in Tongues, Gender, Universal, AME, Transgressions, Glossolalia