(disclaimer: This is a long one. I ramble. You may want a cup of coffee…)
So, I think I’m going to be visiting my friends over at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
I’ve long held a curiosity for the Episcopal Church.
My early background was a mixture of Catholicism and Agnosticism, with a healthy dose of neighborhood Vacation Bible School, but in my first year of high school I voluntarily converted to Christianity under the umbrella of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I didn’t know the term “evangelical,” but I was a good one. I wasn’t big on the persuasive nature of “witnessing,” but I was a quick learner and I could have a good religious discussion with the best of ‘em. I even knew which practices were biblical, and which Bible was biblical, too.
I remember my senior home room/physics teacher, aptly named Mr. Picard, giving me a good natured ribbing about the Bible I kept in my backpack. Something about the translation…? I mean, come on – it was NEW King James. What did he want me to use, The Living Bible? That wasn’t even the real words. There was a junior in an upper-level math class across the hall who would come over and hang around me (we assumed a crush) during home period, while I was busy sitting on the desktop, eating breakfast and lusting after a young Anderson Cooper on Channel One. I repeatedly asked Mr. Picard if he would make the guy leave (sure I thought he was adorable, but come on – he was a JUNIOR), but his answer was always the same: “Nah, you need a good Episcopalian boy…”
I didn’t really know what that meant, except that perhaps he thought this boy would turn me on to a liberal translation of scripture, and that was somehow a good thing in his eyes. But I knew the right path, and I would not be swayed.
As a sociology and philosophy major at a Southern Baptist University (this is that “right path” I was talking about), I was subjected to a scandalous viewing of the PBS documentary adaptation of Randall Balmer’s book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. This is probably around the time I first began to pay attention to, and develop an understanding of, the term “evangelical.” It was also around the time I began to look at my own spiritual practices and beliefs through an external lense.
A lot of what Balmer examined and/or questioned resonated with me. What confused me, however, was his personal conversion. Balmer had left the evangelical subculture for the Episcopal Church. What the what? Why on earth would you want to pick a denomination with MORE rules? I mean, no one tells Baptist when to sit or stand… well, except the music minister, but that doesn’t really count… and no one makes us kneel. Raising our hands in worship is controversial enough, could you imagine if someone crossed themselves during prayer?! And they recite the same stuff – evangelicals pray their own words from the heart, as they feel led by the Spirit. Episcopalians just say stuff someone else has already written for them.
Sometime post-college, post-failed-grad-school-attempt (I never got around to writing that whole thesis thing) and while helping with a non-denominational church plant, I stumbled upon a book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble that seemed to call to me: Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. I had actually left my SBC Church and signed on the church plant after several frustrating years of experiencing “singles ministry.” Apparently, single Southern Baptists are only interested in two things: sex and marriage. Singles Sunday School classes are thus obligated to teach about two things: how to avoid sex and how to pursue marriage. I had become really interested in folks like Richard Foster and stuff like spiritual disciplines, and I voiced this repeatedly in leadership meetings, clearly not understanding what was best for me and my life. In the end, I grew weary, so when an opportunity to serve a new and growing congregation presented itself, I cautiously climbed aboard.
So I’m staring at the cover of this book, and I’m reading about a single girl and her spiritual practices and her intellectual pursuits and her love of God – it was a no-brainer purchase. I devoured Girl Meets God. I may have even had to replace my pen midway through from all the underlining and margin notes. Her journey may have had a different starting point, but I was really intrigued with where she ended up. For once the Episcopal Church took on a glimmer of beauty, awe and reverence I had not been exposed to in my other meager encounters. I began to appreciate the rhythm of the liturgy, the rootedness of the history, the sacredness of the ritual.
Slowly, as I matured, I began to recognize the increasing influence of Episcopalians in my life. I actually held an office, when I was in social work, on the third floor of a large, downtown Episcopal church. Two of the authors who both challenge and comfort me, practice the Episcopal faith, Phyllis Tickle (who has been an influence both in spiritual practices and, in more recent years, understanding my place in an emerging perspective of Christianity) and the late Madeleine L’Engle (whose writing, both fiction and non-fiction, has had such an impact on my life that I refer to her as my patron saint). I have also been blessed by Episcopalian friends and mentors, and spent more time in liturgical settings.
As I’ve found myself recently at a crossroads of congregational life, I’ve begun to take a more serious look at the Episcopal Church. Several years ago I left the church plant I had been a part of after some negative experiences with leadership there. I actually went through a period of being shell-shocked and found it difficult to attend anywhere, and was completely outside of church for about six months. I found a beautiful community, R Street Community Church (formerly Vineyard) that welcomed me, and my hesitations, and rooted myself there (though there seemed to be constant change around me as the community went through layers of transitions). It is R Street that prayed with me as I stepped into a roll of co-pastoring at Eikon Church, a community I had been connected with for some time. I knew going in that Eikon was in a stage of transition, and transition eventually led toward dissolution. As painful as walking through that process with a community was, I would not trade it for the world – there was a lot of learning, a lot of beauty, a lot of growth in that experience.
I placed no timeline on myself to plug in to another community, to make any decisions about my faith practice. Honestly, I figured it would be late March before I even began to think about what I might do. Though I love the R Street Community, I was feeling I might need to be somewhere where I can just kind of blend in for a bit… IF I ended up anywhere. But, as Advent has inched closer, I felt like I wanted to participate in the rhythm of the liturgy for the first season of the church year. And as I began to think about settling into one community for that season, I felt the pull to participate in the rhythm of the liturgy for a whole church year.
What if I let myself rest somewhere for a full cycle of the liturgical year, just listen and be for a bit, rather than lead and do?
Wouldn’t it make sense to do this somewhere steeped in the rhythm and the history? Wouldn’t it make sense to do this somewhere with familiar faces, with people who have already extended a welcome to come join them? Wouldn’t it make sense to do this with people who’ve already heard most of my questions and wacky ideas yet aren’t phased in the least by them? St. Michael’s is home to people who already speak into my life, who inspire me, who encourage me. I don’t have to make any decisions about becoming permanently rooted in this place, though the opportunity is certainly there. I could just "stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is.” I could try and walk in it. I could find rest for my soul. At least for one cycle of seasons...