I'm beginning 2017 as an Episcopalian. A decision I started to make in late October/early November has come to resolution.
2016 was a horrible year from a social perspective. The incredibly divisive presidential campaign, the exposure of gross mishandling of justice in so many cases involving blacks, gays, bi-sexuals, transgenders, immigrants, woman and almost every social group that stands outside the designation of white and male.
The world of the arts and entertainment also lost too many to death through cancer, old-age and substance abuse.
When the incredibly disheartening news that Trump had won the election via the Electoral college and not the popular vote, I, like so many, became despondent and depressed about the uncertainty of the future in the hands of an ego-maniac and political party that seems bent on restoring the "old order;" a fictitious utopia that exists only in the jaded memories of ultra-ultra "so called" conservatives. A view of the world that included no struggling minorities, an invisible lower class, vote-less woman and a clear and distinct division between the "haves" and the "have nots."
The weekend following the election I decided to attend the Episcopalian church in our neighborhood that I'd attended earlier the year when they had held a church congregation meeting to talk about possible solutions to racial violence. It had been good to talk through the issues in a non-judgmental diverse community gathering. So I sought a place to vent my anger and fears about the future.
The church was welcoming and extremely encouraging; offering creative insights and positive suggestions for healing and making a positive impact in what promises to be difficult political times.
I have continued to attend the church, and met with the Pastor, or Rector, after Thanksgiving, to both tell him my story as well as confirm my observations about what appeared to be the Episcopal "Way."
He shared with me the philosophy and theological interpretations of the Episcopal Church in general and the unique approach of his particular church.
I'll try to summarize what I heard from him and what I've discerned from my studies of the church.
According to "The Episcopal Handbook":
The Episcopal church is a "place that welcomes random questions and eccentric personalities."
It's made up of a "peculiar" people whose spiritual "arc" bends more toward boundless hope and a reasonable faith than hardened surety and entrenched absolutism. Convictions are solid, but questions are welcomed.
Episcopalians are known to look more for possibility over peril, imagination over anxiety, and dreams over danger.
The Rector of my local Episcopal church confirmed these assertions and added that in his local version they did not claim certainty of doctrine as much as a honest heartfelt investigation of reality as it is. This is refreshing to hear in a time when Protestant Christianity has become generally identified with a conservative political agenda that sits in judgement on those that appear to push back against the flow of the "acceptable."
The local church has a mission statement that stands in context with the general Episcopal view of society and spiritual truth.
The vision of my church is clearly stated:
"We seek to become a community that mirrors the radical hospitality practiced by Jesus. We do that in five ways:
- Praise God
- Serve Neighbor
- Nurture Faith
- Invite All
- Connect Lives
- that identifies as both progressive and rooted in tradition;
- that celebrates a rich diversity of races, economic statuses, cultural backgrounds, gender identities, and sexual orientations;
- that is strengthened and deepened by each individual's story, honoring both faith and doubt, hopes and concerns.
The last sentence above is what "sealed the deal" for me. A place where both faith and doubt are balanced against each other cannot help but be a healthy, human community.
Speaking again of "eccentric personalities" mentioned earlier. I found out that among a list of famous and prominent Episcopalians was the actor/comedian Robin Williams. He coined this wonderful observation about the Episcopal Church that I'll conclude with:
10. No snake handling.
Top Ten Reasons I Love Being Episcopalian (according to Robin Williams)
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female, God created them; male and female, we ordain them.
7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color coded!
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All of the pageantry, none of the guilt.
2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.
And…the number one reason for being an Episcopalian:
1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.