On Being in the Middle for the First Time in My Life

First of all, apologies for the delay between my last post and this one. I’ve been processing quite a lot in private and it only now seems appropriate to publicly process.

If I had to pick a song to describe my various religious affiliations throughout my short life, I might pick “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man.” I was baptized Lutheran, raised Baptist, confirmed UCC, and catechized Roman Catholic. When I decided in 2010 not to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church ( a very difficult decision, to be sure), I found myself at a crossroads: The Episcopal Church or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

I knew that my ministry, in whatever form it would one day take, needed to be in the context of a liturgical tradition. At the same time, I also knew that I needed to be in a tradition where there was full sacramental inclusion for women, for queer persons, and for the married. I did not own a car during my freshman year of college–and so my decision was made easy: the closest Episcopal church was 20 minutes away by car and the closest Lutheran church was a 10 minute walk. I settled back into the ELCA, the tradition that accepted me as a child, washing me in the waters of baptism, and claiming me for Christ. I became active in my parish, assisting at the altar and guiding a group of young men toward confirmation. I even began the discernment process for ordained ministry in the ELCA, filling out the forms and having one of several interviews with the Southwest MN Synod.

All that time, there was something weighing on my heart. When I began to seriously think about my future as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I realized what had been keeping me from fully embracing my life in the ELCA: priesthood and a hunger for sacramentality. Taking quite a leap of faith, I signed on with the Episcopal Service Corps and set off for Saint Hilda’s House, a young adult residential internship based out of Christ Church, New Haven, CT. In addition to serving God and my neighbor through the Episcopal Service Corps, I made it priority to give the Episcopal Church a fighting chance.

The Episcopal Church thrives in New Haven, as in much of New England. There are nine Episcopal churches in New Haven, plus however many more in the suburbs of East Haven, West Haven, North Haven, Hamden, Guilford, Madison, so on and so forth. Each of those communities is distinct–in liturgics, in politics, in finances, in mission, in emphases, in outlook–which has given me quite the overview of the wide breadth of the Episcopal Church.

Christ Church, solidly rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Oxford Movement, prides itself on a sensually beautiful experience, taking the best practices of pre-Reformation English Catholicism including an array of candles, vestments, and incense (handmade, one might add, by yours truly). Conversely, the weekly gathering of Berkeley Divinity School in the Marquand Chapel at Yale provides a laboratory environment for Episcopal priestling to test this liturgy and that. St. Luke’s is an Afro-Caribbean congregation, a member of the Union of Black Episcopalians, and so the worship is freer and with much cultural flair. Trinity on the Green, the mother church of New Haven Episcopalians, is decidedly middle of the road, employing liturgical practices, but not setting up camp with any faction of the church.

Anglicanism is the media via–the middle way–in a world fraught with division and discord. I was raised Protestant and nurtured by Roman Catholics. In some ways, I am neither and both. The Episcopal Church locates itself firmly in the middle–Catholic and Reformed. While I tend more towards the Catholicism of the Episcopal Church, I appreciate the Reformed influences–if for nothing else, the moderation that they provide. Moderation is central to Benedictine spirituality and, through time and focus, Anglicanism has adopted a sort of Benedictine tint or flavor.

The bulk of Protestant worship is focused on the Word–a vestige of the Reformation, where it was precisely a focus on the Word that was being sought. The Episcopal Church, never fully Protestant, maintains a dual focus, true once more to it’s moderate stance. The Sunday and daily liturgies are divided into Word and Eucharist, neither truly whole without the other. This appeals to me. I very much appreciate good preaching and have a since love for the Word of God, but it is the Table where abiding transformation occurs.

The Episcopal Church, too, understands ministry in a unique and wholly historic fashion. The ordained in the Episcopal Church are not generally called ministers or pastors, but rather priests (and the associated offices of deacon and bishop.) While Protestant clergyfolk are not only pastoral care workers for their parishioners, Episcopal priests acknowledge that their ministry is multi-fold. While tasked with pastoral care, teaching, preaching, liturgical celebration, social advocacy, and so much more, the priest knows her primary role is sacramental: bringing about the grace of God in the ordinary circumstances of life. It is this sacramentality that draws me most to the Episcopal Church. While I may have talent (God willing) in other clerical areas, it is the idea–blessing, indeed!–of celebrating the sacraments (all 7, thank you) to the people of God that excites me about life. Offering bread and wine for the journey, washing at the font,  offering absolution in God’s name, welcoming the lost with oil and holy embrace, solemnizing love, and sending home the departed. That is my aspiration, my life, my dream.

And so, dear reader, this is where I find myself, in the most Anglican of places: smack dab in the middle, clinging awkwardly to Tradition, embracing fervently the spirit of change, standing passionately with the marginalized, and in it all trying earnestly to listen to the voice of God.

Much more could be said about the Episcopal Church and the reasons that it appeals to me–and why I believe that this is where God is calling me. I will leave it be for the moment. You know what has been said about brevity. I’m hoping to blog more often. Be well in the meantime.

Peace,
Cody

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