Finding My People
My Journey to and in the Episcopal Church
Once upon a time, I screamed at an Episcopal priest to fuck off and mind his own damn business. I guess I was displaying the fact that I’m not a good Christian woman. This is certainly not how I recommend meeting someone. I should have apologized immediately, or at least called the church the next day to do so, but I was embarrassed and I hoped that the priest would just forget about it. Cursing this priest out, however, was the beginning of my journey to finding my people among the Episcopalians. This was the first time I had really noticed what I considered to the that weird church with the weird name. I wondered what the hell an Episcopal Church was anyway.
At this time, I was still pursing my undergraduate degree and I was taking an elective communications course that was a special project that I designed with the approval of the professor. I had decided that I wanted to evaluate Christian worship styles to see what kinds of people were attracted to what kinds of worship. My theory at the beginning of the project was that people’s learning style dictated their worship styles, but that did not end up being an accurate hypothesis, because worship is much more complex than that. During my academic investigation into the world of Christian worship and digging beyond everything I was taught about God and worship growing up, I realized that I myself was looking for a deeper, more meaningful approach worship.
While it is true that worship is not about us, I recognized that deep in my soul, I longed for something deeper. Taking communion once a quarter with Welch’s grape juice served in individual disposable shot glasses was not what communion was. My whole life I had been told that communion, which we weren’t supposed to call it that because it was “too Catholic” and Catholics were the whore of Babylon in the book of Revelation (to my Catholic brothers and sisters, please forgive me), was merely symbolic. It was something tacked on to the end of the service like nobody quite knew what to do with it and it only happened because the pastor said that we were commanded in Scripture to observe it, but we weren’t told how often. The sermon being the main focus of evangelical and fundamentalist church services, the Lord’s Supper, as we called it, was an afterthought. It was something that we endured even though it extended the service an extra twenty minutes that normal. It’s why they warned us weeks in advance that we would be celebrating the Lord’s Supper on a particular date.
I also realized that baptism was so much more than just a picture, as the pastor described it, of what happened to us at salvation. Salvation was a church word for saying some magical words in a prayer usually lead by somebody else, and bam, you were in. When I realized that baptism was the point at which one became a Christian instead of “getting saved,” it was a huge deal. I suddenly realized that my own children needed baptizing, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it because the church I was attending was a large Southern Baptist church and they certainly did not believe in infant baptism. They did, however, offer a baby dedication service about as often as they offered communion: once a quarter, with the special days being Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Personally, I began to see baby dedications as a cheap imitation of baptism, and there was no water. Many will disagree with me, and that’s ok, I’m merely writing about my own journey.
I used my large Southern Baptist church as a case study of sorts for my research. I began to ask questions about why we did not pray corporately but rather one man would get up and say a prayer that was supposed to be on behalf of everyone. I asked why we did not recited ancient creeds such as the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, why we did not have a baptismal covenant. The answer I got was short. They told me they were a modern church not an old-fashioned church.
This was the year that I secretly observed the season of Lent on my own because the church year was drawing me in also but I knew that I could not speak of Lent amongst evangelicals unless I wanted to be ridiculed. Every Ash Wednesday the evangelicals would make fun of the Catholics and other liturgical churches for the ash on their foreheads. That year, I craved the ashes on Ash Wednesday but I wasn’t a member of a liturgical tradition and I thought of showing up at a local Catholic Church but was not only worried that they would not only not give me the ashes, but they would know I did not belong because I had no idea what to do when I got there. So, I passed on ashes that year even though I craved them.
This project changed my spiritual life forever. God tends to do things like that, take seemingly insignificant things and make them a big deal. As I began to look around for a liturgical church, all I really knew was the Catholic Church which I was willing to try but felt that as a divorced lesbian who had four kids and a hysterectomy, that it might not be the best fit for me. So, I began to look around but was not really sure where to look.
In the evenings, before they went to bed, I was singing the doxology with my small children and praying. But I still wanted something deeper to do with them at home, which is how I came to order a copy of The Book of Common Prayer on Amazon. I was excited, and thought that it was a book full of prayers that I could pray every night with my children. When it arrived in the mail and I saw that it was a service manual for the Episcopal Church, I was disappointed and set it aside to return. I did not return it immediately, and one day, while the children were at school and I was bored, I picked it up and flipped through it. What I saw when I flipped through was beautiful liturgy, an amazing and meaningful baptismal covenant, two options for “reconciliation of a penitent,” otherwise called confession, and beautiful prayers.
That liturgy in The Book of Common Prayer spoke to that deep longing in my soul, and I knew I had found what I had been looking for in the past few months. I began to research the Episcopal Church and I saw that they were a progressive denomination who not only accepted lesbians but they also ordained women, two things that were extremely important to me. And so I decided to give the Episcopal Church a try. But there was just one problem with that. I had cursed out their priest six months ago.
This was a dilemma. I did not want it to be awkward for the priest if I showed up and he recognized me, because it was not the priest that had done anything wrong. I sent the priest an email in which I confessed to being the angry young woman that had cursed him out six months ago. I asked for some information about the church. The priest was extremely gracious, telling me that I was forgiven and that I was welcome at church. I was not used to being treated with such grace and it had a huge impact on me.
The next Sunday, I visited the church. When I came to the altar to kneel with everyone else to receive the Eucharist, I was scared that the priest would not serve me because of what I had done to him. But, when he got to me, I looked him in the eyes, and he looked directly at me too, and he placed a piece of bread in my hand, and said: “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” It was a huge God moment for me. I was humbled and penitent as I put the bread into my mouth, and consumed the body of Christ.
This was just the beginning of the grace, mercy, love and acceptance I found among the Episcopalians, who quickly became my people.