I wrote this in August 2017 and didn’t post it. Today I went to an Anglican church in Vancouver, and I sat there with tears in my eyes nearly the whole time because I felt excited about God in a way I haven’t in years. I feel too raw to talk about today’s experience, but I loved it for many of the same reasons I loved what I wrote below.
To any other progressive old souls wondering if there’s a place for you in a spiritual community, TAKE HEART.
For about a year now, I’ve wanted to attend an Episcopalian church. A couple of my friends who have been on similar spiritual journeys as myself left Baptist for Episcopalian churches, and they spoke glowingly of the freedom to doubt and discuss. I wanted to see for myself, but I was scared that reality wouldn’t live up to the vision I’d built in my head. When I did a Google search of Episcopal churches in the area and went to the first website, the very first thing this church wanted me to see was this:
“We believe that God’s love is always expanding and calling us to love one another in new and deeper ways. The love of Christ welcomes us all to fully participate in the life and leadership of the Church, regardless of gender identity, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstances, family configuration, or difference of ability. Our community is made stronger by your unique presence.”
This was exactly the sort of openness that I was craving, but what if the website was a lie? Finally, last Sunday, I drew up my courage and went on my own to a new church.
Y’all. I found my people.
For starters, I’m apparently a medieval monk (no surprise), because the stone floors and wooden benches resonated with my soul. There were only a few dozen (all elderly) people in the service I attended, singing rich hymns I didn’t know with warbling voices, and my soul ached with joy. We said communal prayers and recited creeds, and the connection I felt toward Christians around the globe and throughout history was so comforting. The leaders read Scripture passages from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and the New Testament, and then the reverend (a woman!) stood and TALKED ABOUT CHARLOTTESVILLE. She spoke about the horror of seeing the continued racism of our nation. She spoke about how, in every generation from Jesus to today, sin urges us to create hierarchies and divisions. She preached a combination of Jesus and liberal politics and I WAS WITH MY PEOPLE.
I don’t know if I can explain how important this felt? It reminded me of how I went to seminary as both a Christian and a feminist, nervously determined to see if at the end of three years I could make them fit together. How, by the time I graduated, I had studied the topic so much that I could no longer remember how someone could be a Christian and NOT be a feminist, and I’d found a community that felt the same.
My beliefs have grown further away from my Baptist upbringing (three main differences that I see: I believe in the ordination of women, I’m fine with drinking alcohol, and I support gay marriage), but I’ve always stayed in conservative Christian circles. This only leads me to doubt whether I’m crazy to hold such seemingly disparate beliefs, even when my heart sings at their beauty. And then I walked into a different building in the same city and…there were a bunch of people saying, “Uh, yeah, we believe those things too. Where is the problem?” I felt FREE.
But back to how an Episcopal service resonates so deeply with me. The sermon isn’t the main point. The high point of the service is when the leaders consecrate bread and wine, and then everyone fell to their knees at the altar and waited for the reverend to place bread in our hands, to help us drink from the communal glass of wine. It was receiving Communion in such a childlike way that there was no possibility of believing I’d earned it.
The whole service was so rich and deep, like diving into the deep end of a pool. Maybe that’s a little pretentious. I don’t actually believe that there’s any inherent superiority to an Episcopalian or a Baptist service. Some people worship through praise music and three point sermons, and some people worship through liturgy and repetition. There’s nothing wrong with either, but wow does it feel good to be in a place that offers you your soul’s specific fast pass to God.