I sometimes use my blog to discuss the things I get frustrated with in the Episcopal Church – yet it is a Church I deeply love. I think of the discussion generated by my friends and I in the Episcopal blogs as family discussions about where things are – yet when someone outside of that family is dismissive or outright cruel about the Episcopal Church, I get protective.
Some of my friends have been posting “elevator speeches” about the Episcopal Church. These are short reflections on what it is about the Episcopal Church that drew them in and inspires them. I would have to push the stop button to get this one in during an elevator ride! Today, I had a great discussion about the history and vision of the Anglican Church and the Episcopal Church with a dozen of those to be received into the Church at our Easter Vigil.
We have 50 candidates for reception, baptism, and confirmation this year. Of the group today, many are coming out of the tradition I came out of, the Roman Catholic Church. We had a great conversation about what is bringing them into this Church and I shared things I love about being here. When I came to the Episcopal Church, I was looking for a place that blended the Catholic tradition with a respect for the individual’s conscience and a comprehensive view of tradition and scripture.
The Anglican Church, with its three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason gave me a place to call home. We look to remain open to the historic understanding of the Sacraments while also offering a place for the believer to wrestle with the meaning and import of the Sacraments for their own faith journey. We offer a middle way not as a way of blunting or diminishing the contributions of the Reformed or Catholic strains but as a place that blends those contributions into a way of being together that is rooted in the long tradition of the Church even as it welcomes the ongoing movement of the Spirit in our conversation and deliberation.
We treat the individual believer with dignity and ask that they not only receive Communion but that they live in Communion. Of course, we fail at this, time and again, but we hold as essential that we are called to fidelity not only to the long honored traditions of the Church but are to wrestle with it in each successive generation of believers. That wrestling is reflected in our polity and our theology. We hold as essential the orders of ministry, apostolic succession, and more even as we balance our reliance on those elements with a certain democratic process that includes the voices and contributions of our lay leaders.
My priesthood is carried out in the context of the whole gathered community and the authority I have is not only that of the priesthood of centuries but the priesthood of the Body that gathers around font and Altar. Our ultimate focus is not on right thought or even right action but on right being. By being – dwelling in the Presence of God – we are led to right thought and right action. We gather a Body of faithful men and women together who carry on Christ’s ministry with faithfulness and a sense of shared sacrifice and joy. We are joined together in our collective yearning to be drawn into the mystery of Christ.
We do this not because we think alike or because we are of one mind – but because we are of one Body. I love that the Episcopal Church, at its best, offers a place for those from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints to work out their salvation in fear and trembling, together. There are times when I long for the certainties of my former tradition. Those certainties though were too often a mask for deep and profound dissatisfaction. I knew so many who were unhappy and even completely disaffected and yet could not bring themselves to set out on a course that was frightening and uncertain.
I am in a place that is less certain but, in so many ways, more honest in its struggles. A Roman Catholic friend of mine once said that the problem is not that we have dirty laundry but that we air that laundry so publicly. I am happy to be part of a Church that is not content to operate with the false notion that we all hold either the same Scriptural interpretation or the same understanding of the Tradition of the Church. It gets messy and it gets real all too fast – yet I am glad to be in a place of authentic struggle and striving.
I have found a home where we are called to serve as witnesses that the Holy Spirit continues to move. Whether it is in our work for justice, our interpretation of Scripture, our fidelity to our tradition, and so much more, we are given an opportunity to gather as the Body and share in the mystery of a God made flesh who continues his work among us and through us. Our deliberations and arguments reflect not the pettiness of human conflict (though we can often descend into unfortunate patterns of behavior) but the holy struggling of a people trying to follow God rightly and faithfully in challenging times (as all times must surely have been). We are concerned with the implications of our faith for the world and society around us.
We are not content to believe that our faith has only implications for the life to come and not for the lives of those all around us whom Jesus so adored – the marginalized and the outcast. We are a Body that knows that the Resurrection has implications for how we live this life and how we treat one another – it is not a concern of the coming world alone but for this one in which Christ carried out his ministry. We meet sealed by the tremendous promise of God in Christ and given hope that a people that pray together can make their way to deeper understanding of God’s call to us. This is not a vocation unique to the Episcopal Church but it is a call that we heed and follow in unique ways.
We honor and live into our tradition with the holy awareness that the Spirit has moved not only over us but over our forebears as well – our tradition is not the honoring of something past but the recognition that we are knit together with those who have come before in a way that is undeniable and unbreakable. We are responsible not only to those who will come after us but to those who came before.
There are those who would say that the Episcopal Church is “Catholic-Lite.” Virtually all of those being received into the Episcopal Church at the Cathedral this year had heard this dismissive phrase. Yet, for me, the Episcopal Church, at its best, is a full and vibrant expression of what it means to live with the fullest implications of the faith.
We are called not only to be people who receive Sacraments but people who walk with their marks born clearly in our lives. We are called not only to read Scripture but to wrestle and engage its meaning for our lives. We are called not only to be a people of tradition but to apply that tradition to a changing world. I arrived in the Episcopal Church as someone of uncertain faith and vague belief – it was the breadth of the Episcopal tradition that enabled me to explore and find a home.
I had been a fairly aggressive atheist after years of wrestling with losses from my childhood and I needed a place to be angry, to question, and to hear the constant, loving voice of God calling me home. All my discomforts and hopes in the Episcopal Church now are rooted in my fervent hope that we can hold onto its essential character so it can continue to be a place for so many others to call home.
I came to the Episcopal Church not because I wanted something easy or something light but because I found something heavy – something dense with promise and potential. I love the Episcopal Church because it offers a place to be a disciple. It is a place to be grounded yet given the freedom to hope for more. It is a place to be whole and a place to gather the broken. It is a place to be fed and a place to feed. It is a place to be faithful and to wrestle with doubt. It is a place for those who long for a home and those who yearn to search and seek. It is a place that is home and a place that I hope to welcome many more to in the coming years and decades.