What does that even mean?
An Episcopalian is someone who is a member of The Episcopal Church (TEC). Great. Unhelpful. Thanks. So we just break it down. The word “episcopal” (lower-case) just means it is governed by a system of bishops. Is that it? Nope. We’re an episcopal church that has, as it’s mother church, the Church of England, and so we’re also Anglican. OK. The Episcopal Church has a structure of bishops to oversee us and we draw on an Anglican heritage, but is that all? We are “apostolic” too, meaning our bishops are consecrated by three other bishops who were consecrated by three other bishops, so that they can trace the succession of bishops back to the apostles. For someone who loves history like I do, that gives me chills thinking about how cool that is.
But what else makes TEC special to me? Well, there is a duality about us. We have beautiful, sometimes ancient, traditions but we also embrace radically modern ideas. We are liberal and conservative. ALL ARE WELCOME. I recently watched a video on YouTube of our Presiding Bishop Katherine Schori and I was very moved by her words, in particular, she says there is “room for all.” You can fill a room full of Episcopalians and ask them what they believe, both in a theological sense and a social sense, and the answers will be different, sometimes radically, from person to person. Our diversity of opinion makes us stronger. TEC doesn’t make many demands on its members, and so often we find that our members come to us from other faiths and denominations.
I am what is sometimes called a “cradle Episcopalian.” I believe I’ve already written about that. As a baby, I was baptised in Jacksonville, FL in my family’s church. At 13, I was confirmed in Alexandria, VA in the church that adopted us when I was in middle school. Now, as an adult, I attend a church here in Mystic, CT, long after moving out of my mother’s household. (I will say though, I don’t think she ever really needed to force me to go to church with her on Sundays. I liked church.) But if I was essentially plopped into this church as a baby, why do I stay here? I’m not being forced to stay here. You’ll find that there is a lot of controversy these days in TEC and whole congregations it seems in places are leaving over “irreconcilable” differences. So why do I stay?
Well, first, it must be said, I’m an Anglophile. That’s sometimes one of the first things new friends learn about me. Chances are, if it comes from the UK, I’m a fan. However, that isn’t much of a reason, since I was an Episcopalian before I even knew I was an Anglophile. (Or maybe being in such an Anglican church prompted my Anglicanism?)
For another thing, I am comforted by its familiarity to me. I was a military child. I’m about to become a military wife. I’ve been to Episcopal churches all over the country now, and when everything else in my life is uncertain and changing, I find sanctuary in my faith. There are differences to be found in all churches, but they’re similar enough to provide me shelter from whatever storm I’m battling. Everything that is necessary for my own faith, for my own communion with God, comes to me from my church. I have been to other kinds of churches, but I always come back to my own.
I am a rational human being, with a well-working mind, capable of deep thought and reason and skill. I am called, just by virtue of being human, to use my brain and come to understanding. What I take away from a lesson in church may not be what others take away. I am joyful that I am a member of a church that also allows me to argue with it, if I choose. For example, my church ordains and consecrates female priests, deacons, and bishops. I happen to be EXTREMELY supportive of this, but other members aren’t and they can still be members. Faith isn’t a destination. It is a journey. Journeys are rough at times and easy at others. There have been times when I have struggled to come to terms with my faith as I live my life in today’s world, but it has made my current faith stronger for it.
I am also moved to be active in my own way. I have been an acolyte, a choir member, a reader. I have been on committees for various church functions and events. And all of these things I did because I wanted to. I felt called to bring my own gifts to each church I attend and inspired to share them–frequently, my gifts tend toward the musical and occasionally, I’m accosted when I arrive at a new church. “Oh you simply MUST join our choir!”
And that segues neatly into the music of my church. The Episcopal Church’s music differs almost as much as our members. Personally, I love the older hymns. The ones that are hundreds of years old. They sound wonderful on a grand pipe organ. (That’s the other thing I love–pipe organs!) The lyrics are written in an antiquated prose not found in most speech today that appeals to me on BOTH an intellectual level, and a poetic level. They are profound and beautiful and inspirational to me. I sometimes bounce in my seat (or standing–let’s not forget pew aerobics, as Robin Williams put it I believe) when we sing my favourite hymns. I’m still young enough, though, that I’m not familiar with everything in our Hymnal, and you can usually tell when I’m singing a hymn I don’t know. Sometimes, I can either read the notes or the lyrics, but not both, so I end up half-humming the line and joining back in when I’m ready to move my eyes back and forth. The music holds so much meaning for me.
My last thing for this post, about why I’m an Episcopalian, is that I love to learn. My church has a fascinating history and tradition, and I can’t get enough of learning why we are the way we are. I don’t know everything there is to know and I’m eager to know more.
You don’t need to be an Episcopalian to be my friend, or even my family member. I will happily talk about my church because I love it, but I will also talk your ear off about Doctor Who because I love that too. I leave you with this clip of my Presiding Bishop. I feel she is a wonderful role model and I’m proud that she is the leader of my church.