It’s not a popular thing to go to church these days. In fact, I don’t know that many people my age (certainly not more than one of my friends in the DC metro area that I know of) go with any consistency. It’s hard. There seem to be, when involved with some churches, so many inconsistencies or hypocrisies with a more liberal perspective on life and social mores. I am glad to say, though, that I have felt good being part of the Episcopal Church, lately.
I came by church the way most people do. My parents made me go–for many years. It’s a family church. I was baptized in the same church where I was confirmed, where I was married, where my now 73-year-old father was an acolyte as a boy. It is the church where my grandmother, my great-aunt, and my aunt have their ashes buried. Their names and life dates adorn a wall in the small garden sanctuary wherein their undisclosed burial place could be under, below, beside any number of spiky Florida flowers or shrubs. I imagine this same sanctuary is where my grandfather, mother, and father will also rest the remains of their corporeal experience. And, we, my brother and sisters and 8 nephews and nieces, will likely attend services there with the minister who married me and my husband, who is baptizing my sister’s son next week, and who visits my grandfather at home once a month, because after his stroke five years ago, my grandfather has been too debillitated to attend on Sundays. I know most of the liturgy by heart after so many years of attendance, and because my father would recite the Lord’s Prayer with us every night before we fell asleep.
Don’t get me wrong. I went many years without attending church. Just because you are born into something doesn’t mean you believe it, doesn’t mean that you don’t question it, doesn’t mean that you don’t sometimes feel there’s no point, no time, and no way you’re going to get out of bed. But, a few years back, I was teaching high school for Teach for America in an “underresourced” school in Los Angeles. I was 24 or 25 at the time and completely freaked out by the responsibility–the age of the students (9th graders the frist year), class size (30-40 kids depending on erratic attendance), and the subject matter (the history and literature of the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa–I studied US hist and lit in college). And, I made a friend who introduced me to the most wonderful Episcopal church, and she and I would attend, and I felt peaceful there, attached to community, supported, and loved. I also felt challenged.
This church, All Saints in Pasadena, CA, is a political church. The rector officiated ceremonies of same-sex unions, invited world leaders like Rigoberta Menchu and Nelson Mandela to speak, and often discussed the U.S.’s relations with the world in a pre 9/11 setting in which most people were lulled into a false sense of security. This experience, at this church, renewed my sense of the church’s place in my life (private though it usually is before I decided to write about it on my blog).
So and, in DC, I’ve been maybe not equally pleased, but pleased certainly and with an equivalent degree for two reasons. My cousin lives here and she (whose father is an Episcopal minister in New Orleans) attends with me, so again, my experience there is combined with an intimate sense of lover and family. Second, I attended a short meeting the other week administered by the rector Rev. Frank Wade. He was explaining some of the basic tenets of the church in light of the recent controversies over homosexual bishops. His view was that the debates did not represent a “different” Episcopal Chruch, that the Episcopal Church has always been based on a trinity of tradition, liturgy, and reason–all parts of equal importance, that the head bishops do not dictate to the individual dioceses or the individual churches a way to think or to act in any given situation, that individual churches decide for themselves what is the path to follow in light of the tradition (which is the church’s precedent), the liturgy (which in this church is the “word” of God, not the “words” of God–in other words, not a LITERAL translation of the bible), and reason. I could go on, becaus I found the speech invigorating and renewing, but in brief I walked away from his talk with a sense that this church might not be a place where I would agree with everything, but that on some level, this doubt is fine and accepted and desired above a blind following.
So, what has led me here today? Well, Bush’s statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God was awfully provocative. I realized as I read that, that I believe that, and then I immediately wondered if “my” church believed that, and then I immediately thought, well, I’ll just ask my cousin what she thinks, what her father thinks, and then ask what Frank thinks. And, that was a good feeling, that church is a place of family, community, and thinking.
Thanks for sharing this Tanya. I especially appreciate your thoughts on how spiritual life can be complicated, but also enriched, by an active ‘intellectual’ life.
I think you might be surprised how many people you know go to church on a reasonably regular basis …
I really enjoyed this, and I have a similar background as well as an admiration for All Saints in Pasadena. The current rector and his family lived in my tiny home town for several years, and I was good friends with his daughter. We’ve been in sporadic communication recently, brought on by the Episcopal Church’s decision this summer. I’m Presbyterian (PCUSA), but if I were ever run out of church on a rail, I’d be Episcopal!