Rev. Canon Sally Bingham

Breaking the Mold

Recorded: June 28, 2013

A force of nature, a force of God? Absolutely! Reverend Canon Sally Bingham tells the story about her personal journey to enlightenment as an Episcopal minister. Sally is a force, no doubt, as she fights to educate her parishioners about climate change from the pulpit.  Her inspiration gave rise to the Interfaith Power and Light campaign now active in 40 states. The campaign is a mission that brings together all denominations to educate religious communities with the intent to share strategies for the wise and caring stewardship of "God's Creation".

Sally Bingham has always revered nature in a spiritual way. She grew up in an Episcopal family in the town of Woodside in Northern California not far from Stanford University.  Her traditional upbringing in the 1940s and ‘50s prepared her for her life as a mother and a wife, which she embraced. As time passed and the children grew, Sally felt a tug that inspired her to lead a more spiritual life, one that required she somehow address issues related to the environment. That a woman in her 50’s would decide to go to seminary to satisfy her spiritual yearning was uncommon, but that did not deter Sally. This was only exploration at the time, but she followed her heart and her path led to her ordination.

What led Sally to her choice of being an Episcopal minister was her love of nature and the fact that environmental issues were being overlooked by most of the religious denominations. Reverend Sally’s messages shine the light on how we can all live more sustainably and learn to be better stewards of our earth. This path has been profoundly meaningful to both Sally and her parishioners. The question she asks is: “Why are we not caring for God’s beautiful creation?”

Reverend Sally developed the idea of the Regeneration Project. The Regeneration Project’s Interfaith Power and Light campaign is mobilizing a religious response to global warming in 39 states, representing over 14,000 congregations. The project focuses on tangible results in congregations, putting faith into action through the promotion of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation.

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Huey Johnson:  In our interview, something that’s very impressive to me is the women leaders we meet often have had a previous career, which is being a mother and raising a family. Can you reflect on the challenge of becoming a professional?

Sally Bingham: Well, the interesting thing about my generation is growing up in the late ’40s, ’50s, I was trained that women’s only job –a woman’s only job –was to be a wife and mother. There was no push in my family to be educated or be a professional.  My mother taught me how to get married, and I’ve done it  — more than once. I know how to get married, but it didn’t really work all that well for me. I actually think that I was a very good mother, I’ve got 3 terrific children and I learned how to run a house and learned how to iron clothes and go to the grocery store and be efficient with a very small budget. But I had no idea about the – what it’s like to work in the world. Some of this I could maybe blame on not having gone to college when I was 18 years old –I was married right out of college.  My whole belief in myself was get married, have a family; that’s your role as a woman. So I didn’t even think about going to college.

But when I had 2 children who were in college and one in second grade, I decided to go back to school and find out all that I had missed in my 20s, picked it up in my 40s. I discovered that I actually was a reasonable thinking person with a fairly high IQ. That was a revelation and my self-esteem was, you know, raised substantially. I think that all of us who are raised to just be wives and mothers have other things in us, and we’ll see more and more of that as time goes on.

But Huey, I really believe that I was called by God to do this ministry. I don’t – and I don’t want that to sound… I don’t want it to sound ridiculous. I really believe– because of the sleepless nights I had, not wanting to be an ordained person because I lived a pretty nice life. I mean I had wonderful friends, I had a great social life. I could run around the swimming pool in my bikini and play tennis in the afternoon. I knew that the minute I was ordained, things were going to change and indeed they did, drastically.  And I didn’t want to take this step. Then I started thinking about Mary. Now what if Mary had said, “I don’t want to have this child, God, I’m going to say no rather than yes to you.” I felt after this process that I’d gone through and people saying, “You need to do this, you need to do this,” that this was real and that somebody had to get into a pulpit in a religious community and start preaching about environmental stewardship. And if nobody else was going to do it, it had to be me. In fact, if I have anything that I regret, it’s that I didn’t do this sooner, because when I think of the impact we’ve had over the last ten years, what if I had started when I was 25 instead of 55?

Huey Johnson: Right.

Sally Bingham:  So often our children are raised to think that they’re supposed to do what their father did or they’re geared or schooled to do something that they’re really not cut out to do.  I cannot imagine getting up every day and having to do something that I didn’t believe in. I think that is a curse. But I get up everyday and I go, “Whoa, what’s going to happen today?” I’m very excited about life right now.

Huey Johnson: Pursue your passion.

Sally Bingham: That’s right!