Our First Year in the Episcopal Church

For someone like me who grew up in a non-denominational, charismatic church, the Episcopal church*, along with other denominations, were synonymous with secular culture. I wasn’t totally sure what they believed. Do they believe in grace? Are they spirit-filled? What do they really think of Jesus?

In 2015 I moved from a moderately sized, non-denominational community to a Sunday morning gathering with meditative music, scripture readings, prayers from a book, and a guy who wore a white collar. Drawn to this style of worship, I began appreciating the value of ancient liturgy, the church calendar, and the Book of Common Prayer. Although not an official Episcopal community, it offered a gentle introduction. 

Even though I loved the liturgy and studied some social justice in college, it took some time before I was ready to consider the Episcopal tradition home. At times it felt “too out there.”

In 2018, I came home one evening from a seminary class. The entire course discussed intersectionality and theology, and this particular session had presented a fork in the road, so to say. After plopping my backpack on the floor and taking a seat across from Aaron at the dining table I said something like “we need to make a few changes.” Luckily he was interested and we started talking. 

The very next Sunday we walked right through the front doors of our current parish, unsure of what we would find. We were completely surprised by how many faces we recognized as we sat down. It was a bit of a (calculated) risk but one we’d take again. We’ve settled in this past year, taking it all in, and getting to know new friends and old hymns. 

Flowers we brought home from our Easter service.

If you’re curious what we like about it, here’s a few things that have stood out to me this past year, in no specific order. (Obviously these elements are not exclusive to the Episcopal tradition, many other communities share similar practices or thoughts.)

Embracing Ancient Mystery & Modern Questions

This was what initially drew us to the Episcopal tradition. The more I studied theology and considered all the “answers” I had stored away, the more I realized I had harder and bigger questions. I craved a space that appreciated the ambiguity of scripture and allowed room for discussion and contemplation. My questions are welcomed and given no easy answers. Neither my intellectual instincts or my past mystical experiences are shamed. The Episcopal church is often called a “big tent” which means a variety of theological beliefs and convictions (progressive and conservative, republican and democrat, army and navy, etc.) are hosted in one tradition. 

We begin each service with a prayer to love God and love others. We hear scripture read aloud and taught by both women and men. Corporately, we confess sin and pray for others. We say the Nicene creed. We “pass the peace” to those around us and take communion. Simple, meaningful, holy.

“Anglicanism has long been known as the via media, the “middle way” between two traditions. The Episcopal Church has also helped me navigate the middle way between unbelief and dogmatism. Ours is a faith handed down from the apostles, but not one so fragile that it cannot cope with science, with new findings about the origins of the universe, ourselves, or whatever else we might discover.” 

— Ben Irwin, 11 Things I Love About the Episcopal Church

Worship as a Lifestyle

There is so much to say on this topic. I’ll keep it brief.

I had wrongly assumed the worship and community would be stale and outdated, not realizing how much I craved the depth and reverence of the liturgy. And how much I needed the weekly wisdom of those who have lived a little longer and differently than me! We sing songs or scripture throughout the entire service, sometimes standing up and other times sitting down. I really love this approach, even though I can appreciate the contemporary concert-style every once in a grand while, too. The hymns are rich and beautiful. (Aaron sings them way better than me.) There is a whole art form to sacred music that I’m beginning to learn about.

Yet, we know worship isn’t just singing. The Episcopal tradition especially, believes worship happens each day through acts of faith and love. The Gospel isn’t limited to evangelism or a sermon, it’s a lifestyle of generosity and hospitality. Often this results in efforts to pursue justice for those with their “backs against the wall” as Howard Thurman wrote. The “prophetic” is approached from a different angle. I appreciate how our community, locally and globally, advocate for social initiatives such as food pantries, homelessness, climate change, interfaith issues, racial justice, art and music, LGBTQ+ equality, international partnerships, academia, military chaplaincy (a ministry close to our hearts!) and so much more.

Eucharist Every Week

Communion is a double edged sword for me. I think it’s one of the most mysterious and generous practices given to universal church. We devote almost half of our weekly service to the eucharist. It’s a beautiful sacrament we share together. (This video is a good one.)

Whether or not the bread and wine are a symbol or whether you believe that they are the literal body and the blood are up to you. I believe they have enormous power to change hearts, attitudes, lives, tear down prejudices, bridge gaps, and bring peace. I believe that in most cases, the elements speak louder than any sermon or hymn or prayer. Something mysterious and unfathomably beautiful happens at the table. It’s a place where any person, no matter what belief system or background they come from can come and receive the God of peace.

— Lindsey Hart (Link to original post no longer exists, sorry!)

On the other hand, it can stir up a few hard feelings for me. At one point in my life I could not kneel at the altar to take the bread and wine. My body would not let my knees touch the altar; I preferred communion served standing up. The power dynamic between the male clergy and myself, in a position of vulnerability, was too much for me. I felt anger and fear bubble up inside me. (Read some research on this.) These feelings have faded (healed?) for me as women have served at the altar and as I’ve grown in self-understanding, among other things. Still, I cannot take communion from Aaron when he assists in serving the eucharist. I’m not sure if I can fully articulate why. I make sure to place myself on the opposite end of the altar or simply attend an adult formation hour instead.

At this point in our lives we love our church community. By no means is it perfect but it does offer us ample space to be nourished and challenged to grow. We’re about to step into a hefty discernment process in 2020 as Aaron discerns the priesthood. It’s about a year’s worth of meetings and prayer to confirm his desire to be ordained in the Episcopal tradition. And so the adventure continues.

These are just a few brief thoughts as we continue to explore the body of Christ via the Episcopal church. I’d love to hear what you love about your place of worship!

Curious? Confused? Here’s a few other experiences: 

*Christianity is very diverse and includes hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations (or flavors) of the Christian faith all over the world. The Episcopal tradition is one flavor in the larger Anglican Communion, which is another tradition. 

Woman

I’m writing this post mainly as a means to share this Dorothy Sayers quote. I’ve read it multiple times and it still moves me each time.

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.” ― Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society

I was in college before I realized what “minority” actually meant in today’s world. It’s often used with a foundation in technical, numerical data, but more often than not it’s used to describe voices that may be considered to be less meaningful than the authority of a white male “majority.” In America immigrants, refugees, LGBT+, non-white persons, and women historically and presently (!!) have found their place in the “minority.” As a white evangelical woman raised in the US I find myself at an intersection of privilege and silence. So here I am with a few biases I’m trying to shake and a few discoveries I’m still processing. Walk with me.

A quick google search of “women” in the news category highlights themes of sexual assault, motherhood, pushes for gender equality in sports, business leadership, and the military, among other health and social issues. A generic google search yields a few links to dictionary definitions, but noticeably third on the list is GQ’s shortcut to “Sexy Women: Photos and Videos of Hot Actresses.” A telling (and repulsive) result to land amongst the definition of the term. Yet, not surprising. Women and girls have been reduced to sexual objects for centuries.

I say all this to simply bring your attention to your very own friends, your momma and your sisters, your neighbors, the cranky woman in the check out line, or the lady at work that looks or speaks a little differently. One in three have experienced sexual violence. One in four girls have been sexually abused. (These are statistics based on those who have reported their experiences. This is significant. More information on sexual violence for both men and women can be found here.)

How many more have received unwanted comments about their clothes or bodies? How many more are paid less than male counterparts? How many more don’t have access to education, healthcare, or land ownership? Saudi Arabia just lifted it’s driving restrictions for women. The glass ceiling might have been shattered by a few courageous women over the years, but we still have work to do. Token representation won’t do. Double standards aren’t cutting it. Is it any wonder women are speaking up?

 “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” ― Arundhati Roy, Sydney Peace Prize Lecture

Perhaps you think the #metoo movement or the women’s march are too dramatic or overly political (and sometimes agendas DO overwhelm the message, but everyone has agendas…), maybe you’ve never witnessed the women in your life make choices to protect themselves (from pepper spray to modesty) or you’ve never been personally targeted on the street or in the workplace (comments made in “jest” and catcalls included) — I’d suggest you may not be looking hard enough and you might be perpetuating a system of inequality.

These hashtags and stories and the movements and headlines aren’t meant to be a threat to men as much as they are a threat to the systems of thought and behavior that have come to be accepted in that women have limited value and are to be controlled and directed by men, strangers, co-workers or husbands alike. Men need women who are strong and full of life and grace, boldness and truth. Likewise, women need men!

 “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde

The first few thoughts that come to mind when I think of women, specifically the women around me: incredibly strong, yet tender and kind, both intelligent and beautiful, bold, loyal, clever, and worthy of respect. Women have fed me physically and spiritually, they’ve gone before and pioneered a path for me, they’ve taught me to take seemingly desolate or plain spaces and turn them into a place of healing and hope, and to stand up in the city hall for justice, even when my knees shake.

It’s because of the tenacity and boldness of women before and around me that I naively entered the man’s world of an evangelical seminary thinking it wasn’t something to write home about. Come to find out, I am one of the few exceptions to the rule. (Sometimes if you walk in like you know what you’re doing no one says anything…) Courage, endurance, leadership, joy — these are characteristics of women (humans) worldwide.

If you notice similar attributes in your family or community don’t be shy! Speak up and recognize women (and most certainly men!) who are making equality the norm. Donate and/or volunteer to non-profits/organizations that advocate for women’s rights, health, or education. Give your kiddos lots of examples for healthy friendships/intimate relationships. Talk about consent for Pete’s sake!

As it’s been said before, inequality hurts both sides.

“Women hold up half the sky.” — Chinese Proverb

If you’re up for adding something to your reading list, I liked these:

  • Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Forgive Us by Lisa Harper, Mae Elise Cannon, Soong-Chan Rah, and Troy Jackson
  • Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

You know me, always open to read your favorites too!