Friday, September 19, 2014

Why the Episcopal Church?

In the third part of its "Why the Church?" series, the Acts 8 Moment BLOGFORCE zeroes in on our denomination, the Episcopal Church. Previous questions in the series include "Why the Church?" (which I didn't write an answer for, and "Why Anglicanism?" (which I did). As we (or task forces we've appointed) reimagine the Episcopal church, it's worth asking why it is we should bother. Here's my answer.

One warm evening in 2006 I sat on a stone bench outside Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square in Columbus, Ohio. I had arrived too late to participate in the standing room only service taking place inside, part of the festivities surrounding the church's triennial General Convention, so I was just waiting for my friend John.

I struck up a conversation with another man waiting there, too. For the most part we talked investments, a hobby for him, a profession for me. Eventually we got around to talking about what we were doing at General Convention.

"I'm just here to hang out with my friend for the weekend," I said. "He's a page in the House of Bishops."

"Yeah, I'm just a hanger-on, too," the man said. "My wife is the Bishop of Nevada."

Soon enough the service let out. John and I wandered off to get dinner, while the Bishop of Nevada, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, and her husband walked north together on Broad Street in the late evening sun. Just a few days later, she was elected Presiding Bishop, the first woman to head any of the constituent national or quasi-national churches that make up the Anglican Communion.

Usually when you get a group of Episcopalians together and ask them what it is they like about the Episcopal Church you'll get some combination of responses including words like "welcoming", "inclusive", "liturgy", or "you don't have to check your brain at the door". With the exception of that last one, which I think we should stop saying, stat, I think these are all good things, only they're not all that distinctive. Every Christian church should be welcoming; every church does have a liturgy.

For me, what I appreciate most about this particular corner of Christianity is its sense of possibility, and the ability of every person in the church to participate in it. It's a little awkward sometimes: we're a rigidly hierarchical church that is uncomfortable enough with hierarchy that there are chances for the laity to get in the mix as lubricant or sand in the gears at nearly every turn. We're a small enough church (for better or worse) that lay followers (let alone leaders) can rub shoulders with archbishop-equivalents simply by showing up. And we're a human enough church that we screw it up. Like, quite a bit of the time.

I think these attributes have the possibility of serving the church particularly well during the tough times we're in today. Because for all the things that maybe have to change in the church, one that doesn't is the sense that you can be part of something significant just by showing up. In fact this is one thing we might want to double down on, that as numbers or finances or whatever force us to be different that what we've been, the participatory nature of the church be both opportunity and expectation for everyone involved.

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