Usually, I do what I call a Sunday Editorial on of all days, Sunday. I knew that sooner or later I would come up dry, or at least having nothing I was particularly passionate to speak about. But then I realized that I did have something I was beginning to feel pretty passionate about, but certainly not in the ranty way I am wont to do normally.
A couple of folks were aware that today I was headed off to an Episcopal church to test the waters so to speak. I’ve mentioned that I’ve been having a bit of a crisis in my faith life. Not as I hasten to point out, a crisis with God, but with “church.”
Some of this has stemmed no doubt from my presence on a Catholic forum. If you are thinking of converting, don’t go there! You will get a very squirrelly rendition of Catholicism there in my humble opinion. They are ultra ultra right wing in orientation. They invite me to leave the church quite regularly because either I disagree with their interpretation of certain doctrines, or I disagree with agreed doctrines of the Church.
For a very long time, I have been content to be a “backpew” Catholic. After all, most of the things I was in disagreement on with the Church had to do with issues that I was not personally involved with, so I thought my dissent was personal and private and didn’t matter that much. I was not counseling anyone to disobey, nor was I working for the “other side” so to speak.
But on one issue, well I was in open defiance, but I’m not delving into that now. I will, I promise, but I would like to make that a several part series on my faith as a total experience, and that story is but a part of the picture.
Suffice it to say, I felt okay about the situation for the most part, and was content. But someone pointed out to me, not knowing that they were doing so of course, that things could change quickly. A new priest, one with a very different and ultra conservative outlook, could land at my chosen parish any day, and turn things upside down, and for the most part, be well within his right to do so. The magisterium does speak fairly clearly on abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and other things. There is little if any wiggle room.
The fact is, that for most Catholics, most of whom fall into the middle, these issues are not a bar to their faith. Most Catholics use contraception for instance, and most priests say that it is a matter of personal conscience. They often say the same thing about things like homosexuality and such. That is true to a point, but not to the point that some Catholics take it. I have thought hard and long about these issues, read and prayed, and I’m still not sure I have satisfied what I perceive to be searching for a well-formed conscience.
Most priests avoid these issues, and I would argue rightly so. Sexual issues are not the major issues facing the world. Poverty, health care, the, justice, environment, these are issues that should host the vast majority of our time. Once these are addressed, there is plenty of time to address sex, although I have argued that the Church rather wishes it hadn’t in the first place.
But any priest is in fact well within his rights to claim that parishioners who are in dissent on these issues are “separated” and should not partake in holy Eucharist. The question became, do I wish to remain in a church that may actively turn on me some day?
Thus, my voyage out into the Anglican world. I arrived at Christ Episcopal this morning for 8 am services fifteen minutes early. Nary a car was in the lot for this worship service denominated “Rite I.” I figured I had messed up somewhere. But under the self-imposed belief that any home of God is some place I have a right to enter, I boldly went forth. The doors were unlocked.
I found myself in a corridor, flanked with small rooms down it’s length. Some I could clearly identify: play room, kitchen, bathrooms. None were open, and I saw no doors marked “main church” or something to that effect. I retraced my steps, and went down the perpendicular hallway. I heard voices, and before more than ten steps, a voice asked, “Can I help you?”
I turned to see a gentleman, with that famous collar. “Father, I’m new, I thought there was a service at 8 am. Am I wrong?” “Oh, no, most certainly not. Your just early. They will be rolling in about two minutes to eight.” He introduced himself and I myself. “I’m an unhappy Catholic,” I proclaimed. He, and the woman standing next to him, laughed. “We get a lot of that here. Come let me show you inside.”
The church proper was much like any Catholic church I had been in. I like the long and narrow ones, with peaked ceilings. Lots of stone, lots of wood. Father Bill, (he actually introduced himself as Bill) said, “I’m was ordained a Roman Catholic priest, myself.” We chatted a bit, about my reasons. He nodded, and lamented, “Rome has now lost Europe, and it seems well on its way to losing the American church as well.” He said this with no glee, but sadness. “Yes,” I murmured, “I thought I was okay with being a backpew Catholic, but a certain hypocricy is creeping in. I have friends on the internet who have told me about the Episcopal Church, and that it might be more to my way of thinking.”
He spoke a bit more, assuring me that everything would be easy to fit into, then he left to ready himself, I to my pew. I had little or no trouble following along, many of the responses were identical to what I was used to. People genuflected, knelt upon kneelers, crossed themselves. In fact they did this a bit more than most Catholics do. ( Most everyone knelt for the Gospel, for instance, although standing is perfectly okay.) At communion, everyone goes to an alter rail, circling the alter at the base. I rather liked that, much better than the usual walking up and standing and receiving.
There were two priests officiating, Bill and the associate, Barbara. I found it open and loving in all respects. The handshake of peace was performed exactly as is done in the Catholic faith. After the service ( I didn’t hear it called a mass, so I’m not sure of that yet), I had a chance to talk more with Barbara. I had already met a nice lady from the pew ahead of me. We were chatting about Catholic ritual vs Episcopal.She too is a an ex-Catholic. She told me that the choir used at the 10:30 service (Rite II) was first rate. There was a beautiful pipe organ off to one side, so I imagine it will be quite lovely.
Barbara, is a small woman, my age I would guess. I immediately said, “I have no idea how I am to address you, Father seems inappropriate.” She laughed, “actually its fine to call me Father Barbara, or Dr. Barbara, but I much prefer my Christian name, Barbara is just fine. Just no Mother Barbara–only two people can call me that.” A bit more chatting and I said I would return next week for the 10:30 service.
Now the ultra orthodox Catholic will say that I received nothing of God there. No Eucharist, because no Anglican has the power to convert the bread and wine. Anglicans treat this a bit differently. They don’t believe in transubstantiation, but more than it memorializes the Last Supper in some mysterious way? I’m not quite clear, having not yet received a book I’ve ordered on the recommendation of Ruth at Visions and Revisions.
My response to Catholics who try to claim such power reserved only to themselves, is phooey! You make God so small and frankly you make God a snippy nitpicker. You make God the Pharisee who promotes form over substance.
I’m pretty sure I shall be leaving the Catholic Church. I’m pretty sure I found a home in the Anglican Church. I got that feeling which I get when I know that I have found the “right” fit. I never ever thought I would leave the Catholic Church. I dreamed of being Catholic since I was maybe 11 or so. It was the most wonderful experience of my life converting. I met some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known, none of whom by the way, would dream of imposing such stultifying rules on anyone as the Church formally does, and as some in it seem determined to promote over everyone.
I never dreamed I would leave, in fact I rebelled at even thinking of such a thing mere weeks ago. I search broadly in my faith. (I’m reading the Urantia Book right now, and find it fascinating. I find not a think really incompatible with that and wanting to experience the fellowship of congregational worship by the way.)
It’s ironic to me that I should have yearned for something for so long, finally achieved it, and now find myself, less than 20 years later, ready to formally leave the Church I have loved most all my life. She is simply going in a direction that I cannot share. A direction that is mean, closed, judgmental, presumptuous, and arrogant. While God remains with Her, hoping I believe to guide her back to the real world, God I believe beckons us to grow in brotherhood, love, compassion, empathy. And this can be best accomplished if we perceive ourselves as flawed, not all-knowing as a Church, and thus unwilling to claim moral superiority over the deeply felt beliefs of others.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I’ll be reaching the point where I wish to discuss my full experience with God in a few weeks in my autobiography. If you are interested in such things, then come and join me on this journey of discovery. For truly, it’s a never ending journey of course, and it is endlessly unfolding, seldom in ways we expect, testing us, prodding at us, always giving us the unexpected. We are being taught you see, if only we have the wisdom to see that. The earth is our present day classroom. I’m looking for an A, I say aim high! I may not succeed, but it won’t be for lack of trying!