"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Church (s)Hopping: A Visit to an Episcopal Church

We’ve been in a season for several months now where we haven’t been connected with a particular church. We’ve occasionally attended churches in the area and have often returned to “home” churches in Portland and in Woodland for visits.

But since our church planting endeavors fell through last Fall, it’s been hard to find the motivation to find a new church to call home. I think the reasons are many.

Part of it is a tinge of disillusionment. Part of it is laziness. Part of it is what feels like the difficulty of breaking in to a church, assessing whether it’s a place we’d want to call home in a single visit. Part of it is my (our) being guilty of the vice of cynicism.

Part of it is uncertainty about where I “fit” denominationally and what elements of a church are essentials and what are secondary, non-essentials. Part of it is uncertainty about how long our Olympia season of life will last. Part of it is a lack of urgency, feeling like I’m living a rich life of faith without being connected to a church family, even if I don’t believe this is the healthiest long-term solution for a Christian.

This is just where we’ve been at, the season we're in. However, I’m hoping to do a bit of hopping around in the coming weeks, feeling like I might be ready to put more effort into finding at least a temporary home.

I here share only the positives. While I value criticism, I also know the allure and addictive nature of it. It can be energizing to critique those things I find imperfect and lacking, sometimes leading to deeper insight and right action but at other times simply leading to indulgence, pride, cynicism and negativity.

So...some bright moments from my visit to an Episcopal Church this morning:

  • There were dogs in church. Apparently, today is a day for honoring St. Francis of Assisi, partly known for his friendships with animals. Church members had been invited to bring pets into the sanctuary for the entire worship service, to receive a special “pet blessing” immediately after the service. I only saw dogs, and what I think might have been a pet spider. Awesome.
  • Loosely related, I appreciate the church’s posture toward children in the service. They seem to really emphasize that kids and their noisiness are a welcome presence and not to be seen as a distraction to the worship experience.
  • I’ve long appreciated liturgy. I cared less for it at one time, feeling like it stifled spontaneity and freedom or lacked freshness and relevance. Now I’ve come to appreciate the structure and tradition of it, feeling like within this pattern of prayers and songs and practices that I do find a certain freedom and connectedness. The Holy Spirit can work through structure and pattern and repetition just as much as through spontaneity.
  • I appreciated the boldness of the giver of the homily, who appeared to be a Franciscan monk. He talked a lot about peace and the inherent goodness of others. At one point he made a remark about Troy Davis—executed last week for a murder of which many claim he is innocent—being "probably innocent." Now I know the Episcopal church generally opposes the death penalty. But this was an assertion about a particular person's culpability, and I was shocked by his confidence. Yet I suspect part of the ethos of this church involves a freedom to disagree and that the speaker did not expect his opinion to be blindly accepted by his listeners as truth. I can appreciate that kind of provocation from a Christian preacher.
  • He told a great story about St Francis and his interaction with a sultan during the time of the Crusades and how the two came to discover their common love of and devotion to God—one using the term "Allah" and one "God." We have many ways to divide Christians into categories (most notably denominations). I sometimes think that there really are just two kinds of Christians—those who emphasize their differences from other religious expressions and those who emphasize the commonalities. I believe both are extremely important—identifying where we agree and where we differ. But it does seem like one is usually given precedent over the other, which I think can often tell you a lot about the whole of a person's theology.
  • The choir sang a couple songs, and it was beautiful. Absolutely sublime. It was very simple, not showy. But hauntingly gorgeous.
  • The quote of the morning, from the monk/speaker, went something like this: “When I’m driving, sometimes I get a peace sign from others; sometimes they give me half of a peace sign.” Picture it. I laughed. I wonder if the joke was original. Witty monks.