Sunday, April 24, 2011

Why I'm an Episcopalian (Almost)

Today, I was reading a friend's blog, which can be found here:

And I started to write a comment.  That comment became lengthy, and I decided instead to write a blog.  I have a blog, after all, and sometimes it might be nice to use it. 

I am trying very hard, at this point in my life, to have grace and understanding for my upbringing, that denomination and those with whom I associate those things.  So what I say about the "evangelical" church is not meant to sound contentious.  Rather, I am processing through my own beliefs and how they figure against the backdrop of a conservative childhood church experience.  Consider this a disclaimer, of sorts.

I was raised Southern Baptist.  In my late teens/early twenties, I became almost entirely disaffected from the church (like so many before me...oh the angst of blaming church for stuff).  In the last few years before I stopped attending church, I always felt out of step with my faith.  There were practices, beliefs, theologies, dogmatic issues, etc. that just never sat well with me.  I attempted to find some sense of understanding or latitude about how I was feeling, but it seemed I always met resistance.  For many, in the more "fundamental" churches, if you don't do it "this way," you are wrong.  Not just personally wrong, but wrong with God.  You should probably reevaluate your "walk" and how you feel, or possibly even reevaluate your salvation.  After a while, this sense of wrongness became all too much to take, and I ended up leaving church all together...for a while.  After Luke and I had been married for about six years, and had two kids, we both felt an undeniable compulsion to find church again.  It was one of those bizarre circumstances where we came to the decision almost simultaneously, and both felt embarrassed bringing it up. After all, cool kids don't go to church or like Jesus or have faith.  Being disaffected was sooooo much hipper.

But we got over it.  We went back to church.  God landed us at a UCC church, which is a great place to start if you have been outside the realm of faith and want a comfy place to ease back in.  The UCC loves everyone.  Our pastor called us "Universalists Considering Christ."  We loved him, loved the church, loved the practice.  "The practice?" you say.  Ahhh, yes.  The practice.  Our little UCC Church was the First Congregationalist Church, as well.  Thus I was introduced to liturgy.  Until we joined this church, I was unfamiliar with anything resembling liturgy.  We took Communion, not the Lord's Supper...and we did it every week.  We followed a calendar...a Liturgical Calendar!  I didn't even know such a thing existed, and I'm a PK.  And it was nice.  Then we moved to Texas.

Texas is a Mecca for Baptists and other evangelicals.  I live within minutes of Chuck Swindoll's Church, the ridiculousness that is Prestonwood, and many other mega-churches, pseudo-mega-churches, Bible Churches, Church of the Big Screen, Church of the Jugglers and Fire Breathers, Church of Smoke and Mirrors...  you get my drift... But the closest UCC church was about a 45 minute drive on a Sunday morning, and that just didn't work for us.  If you have small children, as I do, church must be convenient.  Don't worry, Jesus totally understands this.  Jesus knows and understands that if I want to, truly want to go to church, it needs to be conveniently located.  I need to be able to get my kiddos home and fed after services.  I can't afford to eat out every week!  And I can't afford (mentally) for the kids to sleep for 15 minutes in the car on the way home, and consider themselves rested for the day.  Five, ten minutes max is my allotted commute time for church.  So we needed to find something closer.  We looked around in Frisco, asked some learned friends and decided to go to our local Episcopal Church.  Episcopalians... they seem relatively unoffensive, right?

I knew nothing of the Episcopal faith when we began attending St. Philip's.  What I do know is that everything that had felt wrong ten years ago, suddenly felt right.  It was as if it was just plain meant to be. 

I wish, that back in the day, when I was feeling so lost at sea about my faith, someone had had the wherewithal to tell me to take my time, look around and find the church for me.  However, as my very clever priest at St. Philip's told me... It takes a very magnanimous person to do such a thing.  I have come to realize that not one of the people who made me feel discouraged did so because they wanted to cause me harm.  They did so because they genuinely believed they were right.  That's fine.  That's their faith, their conviction.  They don't have to answer to me for that...but they do gotta answer to Jesus.  And as my very clever priest also said, "You talk a lot about "them"... Jesus died for "them," too, you know."   Consider this another disclaimer. 

Anyway, we loved the Episcopal Church.  We loooooooovvvve the tradition and the liturgy.  This morning, I was standing in the hallway at church chatting with some ladies (who I also looooooovvve) about the "great cloud of witnesses."  We were talking about being connected to other Christians who have come before, and to all those who will come after us.  We are connected in our worship and in our prayer.  This is not just Episcopalians, but all Christians.  I said that this is what draws me to the Episcopal faith, though.  On Maundy Thursday, all over the world, Episcopalians sat through a service almost identical to mine.  We all watched in darkness as our altars were stripped bare, as the last candle was extinguished, as we prayed, just as Christ did in Gethsemane... There's something monstrously huge about knowing that not only were people all over the world doing that. very. thing., but people for centuries have been doing that. very. thing. to commemorate Maundy Thursday.  That's beautiful.  That's SOOOOOO much bigger than just me liking liturgy.  My church makes me feel connected to the great cloud of witnesses.  I am a part of the before and the after of this Christian Life I try to live.  I see and know that the Body of Christ is larger than the Episcopal Church, it is the catholic (small C) church.  The unified Church.  We pray for, and profess to believe in, that "unified church" every week in our services.  This Episcopal way of doing things, though, is how I find my best connection to that.  And I just love it.  We spend a WEEK celebrating Easter.  I heard someone this week call it our Super Bowl of Jesus.  I like that.  I know that we can celebrate the resurrection any old day, and that we should.  But I have found tremendous comfort and insight and peace and reverence and goodness in spending a whole week (not to mention the preceding Lenten season) just focusing on the last days of Christ's life, and his phenomenal resurrection.  Hallelujah, He is Risen, indeed.  My parents came and spent these last four days with us, their first Liturgical Easter experience.  My dad said, "That's a LOT of Easter." and then he thanked me for having them come and do it.  He loved it.  I loved that he loved it.  There's a lot to be said for tradition and liturgy and Lent and Holy Week and Easter. 

The friend whose blog I read that prompted me to write this, said the following:

Some people are “traditionalists,” for example--and these are the people who really LOVE getting up and fighting with their kids about putting on fancy dresses and clip-on ties so they can sit in the pews of a pretty building and sing the songs of their childhood during a service that revolves around words like “Eucharist” and “liturgy.” 

Okay... I'll take the hit.  She also mentioned the irony of Easter ham,which I secretly hope she stole from my Facebook status about my Jesus Ham and how Christians eat ham to exercise our non-Jewishness, but she is clever and probably came to that on her own.  This morning, my kids wore fancy dresses and clip-on ties.  Actually, my son loves a clip-on tie lots of days.  I don't fight with them about it.  My H would wear a fancy dress to school every day, but we own a limited number of fancy dresses.  Usually, we wear regular business casual to church...except me.  I work with the kiddos teaching Sunday School, so I typically wear jeans and a t-shirt that was provided by the church, and my sneakers.  We have pews, and I think our sanctuary is pretty in its own right, but we are far from ostentatious.  I'm not certain we even have stained glass.  What I do know, is that right above the altar is this HUGE window that opens to the sky behind it, and in the center of that window is a really simple cross.  So at every service, we have the grandeur of God's creation showing through with  a cross in the middle...and I think that symbolism is pretty perfect.  Here is a nice pic of it that I stole from FB:

As far as singing the songs of my childhood?  Well, I was raised on the traditional Baptist hymns, which very few churches sing at all anymore, having traded them for the chanted mantras that are praise and worship music.  By the time I hit high school, almost all churches had thrown Fanny Crosby by the wayside and opted for Chris Tomlin.  I appreciate some good old fashioned hymns, but we actually use a mix of both in my church.  And as far as "Eucharist" goes?  Well, Eucharist is also referred to as The Great Thanksgiving because it is from the Greek, eucharistia, which means thanksgiving...and well?  Maybe we could all do with a little more of that in our services.  We just use it to refer to the time when we take the sacrament of communion... For what could we as Christians be more thankful for than the body and blood of Jesus Christ?  It is just a little time where we can give it back.  Liturgy?  It's a composite of some Greek words meaning public duty/service.  And well...that's what it is.  It is a public service.  And I like the deeper idea of that, too.  That church is a public service.  I think Jesus would like that idea, as well. 

All that to say, I think I have found that I am a traditionalist.  God has moved us to a place where we fit.  It is where I hear God the loudest.  I like it.  I found that in the Episcopal Church.  But, I also love that the traditionalist nature of the Episcopal Church isn't exactly inflexible.  We go to a church that's in the middle...we aren't "high church," as there is no incense burning, and the only hat I've seen was on the Bishop, and we aren't low church, as our priests do wear vestments.  But my favorite thing about the Episcopal Church is found in small moments of openness and understanding.  I never feel "wrong" there, because we seem to be okay with it if you don't agree.  I happen to know of one issue in particular with which I am at pretty direct odds with my priest.  He knows it, we've talked about it...and yet, I still feel welcome and not once did I think he questioned my salvation over it!  Every week, we have a portion of our service known as Prayers of the People.  In our little "follow along" bulletin, just above the Prayers, it says, "You may kneel, stand or sit for the Prayers of the People."  Before we take communion, the presiding priest will say, "All baptized Christians are welcome... You can take the can dip the can guide the chalice to your lips...or if that doesn't describe where you are you can..."  I heart this attitude of, "Please feel free to worship as you feel led."  That's so nice and refreshing.  We are traditionalists who don't mind if you need to buck tradition to get your needs met.  We can roll with that. 

So, that's why I'm an Episcopalian... Almost.  In two weeks, I will have the honor of kneeling before our Bishop and becoming a fully confirmed Episcopalian.  And with God's help, I will continue to worship and serve and love him.  Every day, not just on Easter. Every week, not just during Holy Week.  Every season, not just during Lent.  All the time.  But I will continue to love those special times during the calendar year when I am especially reminded to stop and remember that Jesus was wholly human, and wholly God and lived a life worthy of emulating, and died a death that was with purpose, and was resurrected so that we might be also.