The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Abts Wright is determined that there will be no fuss. After a teaching career at Sewanee spanning over thirty years, Becky Wright will be transitioning away from full-time faculty responsibilities at the end of the academic year in order to focus on her passion: teaching the Hebrew language as a tool for interpreting the Bible in service to the Church. We are delighted and relieved to share that Dr. Wright will remain at the School of Theology teaching Hebrew on a part-time basis.

The daughter of a Methodist minister, Becky Wright was ordained deacon in 1974 in Baltimore, and ordained priest in the National Cathedral in D.C. since, she says, the Methodist conference was too large to fit anywhere else. It was a fitting beginning to a vocation which has always existed squarely in the middle ground between teaching and ordained ministry, and indeed, between the Methodist and Episcopal Churches. “I’m a very high-church Methodist, which makes me a very middle-of-the-road Episcopalian,” Wright wryly confesses. But she has more than a streak of the Methodist independence of mind and conscience. “I was thrown out of a parish, my father was thrown out of a Methodist conference, and my brother was thrown out of the denomination, so I’m the slacker in the family,” chuckles Wright.

It will be no surprise to anyone who knows her that Becky Wright has always followed her own path in vocation. Already a priest with five years of parish experience when she applied to graduate school, no one was more surprised than she when she was accepted into Yale University Graduate School, where she was the only woman graduate student in her department at the time. Already fiercely committed to the work of parish and community, she seems to have had little desire ever to be a pure academic, and indeed, was often bothered by the dismissal of her ministry and of parish experience broadly speaking.

Beginning in the fall of 1990, Becky Wright has taught Hebrew and Old Testament at the School of Theology to class after class of Sewanee graduates. Hebrew for Wright has always remained a tool to open scripture to people in the church in a deeper way. Teaching biblical languages may seem an “academic” luxury to some, but Wright is insistent on its necessity as an integral part of seminary formation, not least amidst the present tragedies in Israel and Gaza, which are very close to her heart. She will continue teaching to ensure that no seminary student will go without the opportunity of learning Hebrew. When asked what we lose by only reading scripture in translation, she doesn’t hesitate a moment. “You lose Jesus’ bible. You lose ‘the God of our fathers.’”

“The problem is, translations are all on the flat,” she continues. The compressed nature of Hebrew allows for complex wordplay and multiple registers of meaning conveyed simultaneously in the original text, all of which is lost to the reader when a translator, however sensitive, chooses one primary meaning in English. “For example, Hebrew verbs in the 7th stem,” she explains, “simultaneously indicate reciprocity, iteration, or ironic ‘feigning.’ When Elijah taunts the prophets of Baal [I Kings 18:27], he’s using a verb in the 7th stem that means all of these things.” The prophetic books in particular often use pun-like juxtapositions of ideas which sound similar in Hebrew, almost a kind of sight-rhyme, all of which vanishes in English. “In the end, we have a very domesticated sense of what a prophet is supposed to be like,” she concludes. 

Wright remains a passionate and committed teacher beyond the Sewanee classroom, leaving the Mountain each Thursday to lead five—yes, five—small groups in churches in Chattanooga. She also celebrates the United Methodist Eucharist each month at Grace Fellowship Church which serves a small rural congregation on the outskirts of Sewanee. As the Rev. Dr. Becky Wright enters this next phase of her vocation, it is difficult to see anything particularly retired or retiring about it.

Published November, 2023