Sunday, August 12, 2012

Episcopal Review

My room mate (hereafter referred to as RM) and I have embarked on a journey to visit at least 20 different kinds of churches. The Episcopal was our first.

I had attended an Episcopal church in the past, but my RM had never been. So, I was familiar with the ritual, candles, liturgy, music, communion, etc. It was like putting on an old, familiar shoe.

If you've never been to an Episcopal church, or a Catholic one for that matter, it's hard to describe how different it is from a typical protestant church service. The Episcopal church has been called "Catholic Lite," or "Catholic without the Guilt." They have a rich appreciation for history, heritage, saints, creeds, old ways of doing stuff. It's kind of a step into the past. Whereas, most protestant churches try to stay on the razor's edge of contemporary and relevant.

Another thing that sets apart a liturgical service is the active participation of the congregation. There is much more sitting, standing, kneeling, praying, responsive reading and the like. Much easier for an ADHD person like myself to tolerate than the typical protestant service where you just stand and sing forever and then sit and listen forever.

There was a procession at the beginning of the service. There was a fine choir and organ. The sermon was interesting and relevant and customarily short. I actually remember some of it now, 3 months later!

But the sermon is not the focal point. Everything in the service points to the celebrating of communion, called "Eucharist" in liturgical churches. This is when we remember and venerate the suffering that Jesus did on our behalf. After numerous readings and singing on this theme, we all filed forward, knelt at an alter, were given a wafer and then we could either put the wafer in our mouth and drink from the subsequent wine goblet, or we could dip the wafer in the wine and then eat it. (The taste of real wine on a Sunday morning when I have usually not eaten yet is quite potent.)

For me this was all a familiar and oddly comforting ritual. I coached my RM through it, since this was his first time, and to be honest, there's a lot of stuff to keep track of and have ready in your hand if you're going to participate actively with everyone else. You probably need to go 3 or 4 times before it starts to become automatic and you don't feel lost and clumsy anymore.

The Episcopalians don't pretend that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. They do believe that truth is contained IN it, as is true of most mainline churches. However, they all agree to follow the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). This is a collection of rites and rituals to be followed throughout the church year. It is the one thing that binds Episcopalians together, regardless of how much they disagree about everything else.

One of the things that dogs at me in an Episcopal service, with all the pomp and circumstance and ritual, is the feeling that I am just "playing church." That there's nothing real or vital or supernatural going on here... just people who've been conditioned to blindly follow ancient traditions and are going through the motions. It heightens my sense of skepticism in some way.

My RM thought it was interesting that the Pastor/Sermon wasn't the focal point, but was concerned that the liturgy itself had become the focal point, and in so doing also missed the main point... God himself.

It was a small church building by Episcopal standards, but was on lovely grounds on a river, and has a proud heritage in that Harriet Beecher Stowe was one of its members. The service was well attended by a cross-section of white folks, with many blue-hairs, which is typical of Episcopal churches. They typically have a lot of elderly and wealthy congregants. The bulletin boasted a bevy of church activities. Episcopal churches are generally active in social work in the community.

So, I'll probably visit the Episcopal church occasionally throughout my life, like visiting and old friend, not to make my home there, nor for serious religious questing. The theology is so liberal it almost doesn't matter what you believe... as long as you follow the Book of Common Prayer!! :)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Steeple Chase

My room mate and I are in the midst of visiting 20 churches, including non-Christian religions.

So far we have visited...

  • Episcopal
  • United Methodist
  • Presbyterian
  • Spiritualist
  • Buddhist
  • Non-denominational
Yet to visit...
  • Lutheran
  • Mormon
  • Baptist
  • Charismatic
  • Assembly of God
  • Messianic Jewish
  • Jehovah's Witness
  • Catholic
  • Atheist
  • Unitarian Universalist
  • Hindu
  • Muslim
  • Christian Science
  • Seventh Day Adventist
  • Mega-church
  • Jewish
  • Black