Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why I am Episcopalian...

On the popular Episcopal blog Father Jake Stops The World
The question was asked: Why are You an Episcopalian?

Here is my response:

1. What drew me to the Episcopal Church?

I wasn't so much drawn to the Episcopal Church as I was drawn to a specific congregation. I firmly believe that God grants visions to those as his will dictates. I was raised from my youngest moments as a Baptist, mostly of the African-American(I hate that term, BTW) persuasion. Every church I was a member of, added its own little part to my total walk with God.

In 1993, I was a member of a Black Baptist congregation that had split off from my old home church due to a disagreement between the deacon board and the pastor. I thought I was happy in this new splinter congregation until God gave me a vision about this church close to my house. It looked like a church that belonged more in an English countryside than in a Pittsburgh ghetto. I had always wondered what was going on in that church, and had no clue that it was an Episcopal Church. I gave into the vision and attended an 8:00 low church service and it was totally different from what I was used to. I was used to a free form service where people acted out as the Spirit led, and the preacher was screaming and hollering about sin and "getting right" with God, and there were times where I thought that some of the more extravagant displays were more of emotion than a genuine experience with the Holy Spirit. This church was much more structured, with more symbolism, and pagentry than I was used to. I stuck around and attended the the 11:00 am service with the choir, the bells and smells and all the rest, and the whole experience just blew me away. It was something I had never experienced before. I had a hard time following the service initially being that I had to wrestle with the bulletin (What in the heck was an Agnus Dei, or a Sanctus for that matter?), two different hymnals, the 1982 and the Lift Every Voice, plus all the standing and sitting and kneeling and the prayer book and the communion with wine instead of grape juice, it was almost too much for me to get my head around.

But it was still totally intriguing, so I hung around until after the service and spoke to the lay minister, who answered a few of my questions, and introduced me to the rector and the choirmaster, who took one look at me and asked me if I had ever sung choir? I've been singing choir since I was thirteen and I was 31 at the time. This woman didn't know me from a can of paint, and she somehow deduced that I sang choir. I didn't tell anyone at that church that I was a choir singer. Was it the Lord who had put it her head that I sang choir? I don't know, but every church I had ever been a member of, I ended up in choir robes, and from that moment forth, God just told me right then and there, that this is where he wanted me, and I started attending what would be Holy Cross, Homewood from that moment on. I requested to drop my membership in the Baptist, promptly enrolled in Pre-Confirmation classes and was confirmed by the Bishop six months later and 15 years later, I have been with Holy Cross and have never been with a warmer, genuinely friendlier, harder working congregation in all my Christian life.

Holy Cross is a small struggling predominantly Black parish in the midst of one of Pittsburgh's toughest ghettos. We don't have a whole lot. Most of our members are up in years, and we have to compete for potential members with the local baptist and non-denominational churches that offer high energy preaching and emotional services. We're a small Anglo-Catholic parish that mixes traditional high church bells and smells with Negro spirituals and a strong sense of social justice.

The fact that this was an Episcopal Church had little to do with my decision. Whether Holy Cross was Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, or whatever, didn't make a difference to me. This church is where God wanted and still wants me and the denomination on the front sign makes no difference to me. It is the people that make the church, not the building , nor the denomination, or anything else.

Later I realized that there was a difference in doctrine, theology and ritual between the Episcopal Church and other sects. It was only after some independent study, and participating on Vestry and as Parish Treasurer that I became aware of the struggles that TEC was going through and the differences between the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the wider Church.

2. Why do I choose to stay in the Episcopal Church?

I'm choosing to stay in the Episcopal Church because it is a church that allows you to have doubts, to question whether what you've been taught as a child should be retained or discarded. A church that does not preach a punitive Christianity that harps only on what God does NOT want you to do, but what He WANTS you to do. Back in the '80's, I was pretty conservative in my thinking, but realized much later on, that I could not in conscience say that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to pursue the call to ordination if that is truly what God calls them to. As long as they are living a life that is pleasing to God, and they know they are accountable to God for what they do, who am I to say otherwise? We all have to face God all alone one day, and only Jesus will be my advocate. I believe that our life in Christ is a constant, continual work in progress. When I think I finally have it all figured out, that's when I realize that I'm further off base than ever.

3. I would recommend to others about TEC, that it's a church of people who are trying to figure out what God has planned for them. We do not see God with perfect clarity. We can only see Him through a dim lens and our sinfulness and imperfections hamper our ability to understand exactly where it is God wants us to be, but if we choose to see God in our fellow worshippers, and clergy persons, and let them add their experiences to ours and ours to their's, God will show all things by and by.