We attend St John’s Episcopal Church, which is located in a small town in a sparsely populated county in a southwest corner of Washington state. It is a tiny congregation, of sturdy people, with traditional values, and they have kept the fact of St John’s alive over the decades with their sheer determination and will. I admire them for the values that have gotten them to where they are in keeping the parish viable despite many adversities.
I am not sure I have that kind of faith, yet I know I hold a deep faith that I continue to put through the test means of tearing it down to build it up. I am not ‘churched’ as the saying goes, certainly did not grow up as Episcopal or Episcopal churched. My mother believed we should try different church settings and perhaps did not have the confidence to share her own brand of church faith with us, having her own doubts perhaps, and fearing she might pass those doubts along. She was also, as a young new bride being exposed to a family who was steeped in fundamentalist type beliefs, and not shy in pronouncing judgments upon my mother and my father, who grew up in that judgmental environment.
I think my mother found safety in keeping her beliefs and faith to herself because outward examination with her new in-law family yielded her the negatives of damnation that are such a hallmark in Pentecostal type religions. The need for calling out condemnation and judgments seems as well to be a hallmark of and true today of the hybrid evangelical religion premises that evolved from some of the earlier pentecostal type religions. For whatever reasons, my mother chose not to assert her own church preferences on her children, we were left to wander among the landscape of various church religions. As a result, I’m not sure what we learned about faith as much as what we learned about different ways churches chose to practice faith in their own stylized versions built on their premise of an interpretation of the bible.
In my wanderings in the religious landscape, I found myself at Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Community non-denominational churches, and along the way got baptized a few times because I felt the pull of emotion wash over me when a pastor would call for the those who wish to be saved to come forward. Who wouldn’t want to be saved given that the other places supposedly prepared for the unsaved were highly unpalatable. Thus, I came to ‘know Jesus’ as defined within these types of structures.
The dilemma for me was that in my very real inner world and my very real child life I did have a friend in the spiritual world that I knew to be as real as the real life and conditions I was living. If the churches called this Jesus, then indeed, I had a friend in Jesus, uniquely my own friend and unique to me. My church experiences were sporatic, because I was also the child of a military parent, and our moves were frequent, about every 2 years, and it often meant for me whatever was a convenient church. You know, if a bus came and picked up the kids, that was the church I went to; or if the church was in a nearby location and I could get there by my own means, that was the church I went to; or sometimes no church at all. I did not consistently attend one church of one faith, so I got some rather mixed messages about the faith experience.
By the time of adulthood and having my own children, I saw a need for some kind of churching as part of the parenting experience and responsibilities. Not knowing really how a parent decides which is the right church, I was subject to a lot of evangelizing from people who were quite willing to tell me why their church or faith was the ‘right’ church for me and my children. After some awkward experiences attending such churches, I decided that my mother’s way must be okay – let the kids decide for themselves, thus I abandoned my efforts to bring my children to church.
There is a fairly large flaw in that thinking, I fully recognize now in hindsight, in that there is an assumption that children can discern through the fog of religiondom and decide for themselves. Since adults cannot do that easily, how can children be expected to escape the Babel that makes up faith and religion? So my children are not churched either and they are adults now themselves, beautiful human beings, raising children of their own. (Well, my daughters are raising children of their own, my son has chosen not yet to have children).
Along my adult years, I continue to study out religions, often times with a driving passion, looking for that ‘right’ church that most closely corresponds to my inner beliefs. No such church exists, quite probably because my inner beliefs like many people’s inner beliefs are built on foundations of information as provided by the adults who surround them and they try to make their inner world fit the outer world they are being taught. But maybe I project my perspectives as being the shared experience of others. Along the decades of my life and search, I did come to a recognition there is no ‘right’ church or at least not a church that would match my inner world beliefs. And I contented myself in trying to find a church home that at least would not offend my inner beliefs.
Thus did we land in a historic hundred year old building, in the quiet space of an Episcopal church, knowing little about the Episcopal belief set, but having experienced an assortment of other church belief sets. We being my husband, who has come out of the LDS faith, having been raised in it and having raised his own children in it, and myself with my hodgepodge assortment of church exposures. And this is how we came to St John’s Episcopal Church, finding a welcome home, warm people and in time we became confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Thusly, in the confirmation, did the Bishop remind us we were to remember our baptism. Given neither his nor my baptism were done in the Episcopal manner, being called to remember our baptism evokes strong memories for both of us and so did we begin the process of ‘reconciliation’.
Now I’m not entirely sure what is meant by that word within the Episcopal experience, but I play with the concept trying to understand it as it has meaning for me. It seems to me that for Episcopalians and the Episcopal Church a large part of the experience is perpetually ‘reconciliation’, as the Church grapples with societal changes over the generations. As the Church grapples, so then do the congregations and the people who make up those congregations. Since life is a perpetual journey of learning and exploring, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, and preparing to take the risks to make more mistakes, and curiosity drives the learning, the Episcopal experience makes sense to me. Or at least the way in which I come to define what I think is the Episcopal experience makes sense to me.
All this to lead up to what this post has to do with Kevin Thew Forrester. I only learned of him yesterday, or rather learned that there was a bit of a dust storm being kicked up about his status as Bishop-Elect of Northern Michigan. It seems he spent some time studying in the Buddhist religion and attained a lay status which he was able to bring with him into his Episcopal experience. That, by itself, doesn’t kick up a dust storm. But it seems he gave a sermon during Easter season that called into question the terms of baptism, resurrection and redemption as it is traditionally qualified by the Episcopal Church – an Easter Church – a Church that affirms in every worship service it’s collective belief in the Christ resurrection.
Well now, here is where I can begin to explore my own space of inner beliefs within the context of the Episcopal experience. What if I can’t fully buy into a resurrected Jesus and the need for that whole experience as the redemption of humankind? What if to make that concept work for me I have to realign the meaning of my outer words to be palatable to the ears of those who belief without question in the absoluteness of the concept, while the inner meaning suffers in silence at being unable to express or be heard on the matter. What Forrester has done with this sermon, intentionally or inadvertantly, with it’s ensuing criticisms, has created a much needed space for me to explore aloud within the context of my church of choice one of the backbone foundations that make up the Christian experience.
Going forward, I am not sure what will become of Thew Forrester’s Bishop-Elect status, and I’m fairly sure he has a full plate just now as most of the Bishops of the Episcopal Church line up to give a no vote to his election. Bishop Greg Rickel of our own Diocese of Olympia has given what he explains as a thoughtfully considered no vote (see his blog). But simply said, for this one person, for me, this Episcopalian in a small parish in a remote corner of the state, Forrester has thrown open for me the doors of constraint that will keep me remaining in the Episcopal Church at at time when I had about reconciled and resolved to make a decision to leave my Total Common Ministry circle and perhaps my parish as well.
I wouldn’t leave in dissent or even disquiet, as much as reconciliation to the fact that these elders who have kept this parish alive deserve the comfort of worship within a church structure they still recognize in their last years . They have fully embraced some of the changes that have come down the pike along their years, including permitting women priests (we have 2 priests in our parish, one male, one female, both studied in the TCM and were ordained priests by then presiding Bishop of our Diocese).
Essentially my thinking is that if I find myself at odds with some of the beliefs , it is incumbent upon me to find the place of reconciliation within myself;it is not incumbent upon them to rework the settings to accommodate me. I then get to choose patience and faith in that the belief will come or exercise my option to appreciate that the belief will never come because already there exists within me a belief set. I have carved out my own space for faith and beliefs from amongst the offerings placed before me or that I have sought out and along the progression of my own years, I come to realize those inner belief sets within me have hardened, are less maleable and have place within the dialogue and experience. Now I enter a new phase in trying to find words to articulate what has been a highly personal inner world of beliefs – how to put words around those beliefs, and how to withstand criticisms that may come as a result of articulating my beliefs.