Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unashamed Anglicanism

Leafing through a folder of old documents, I came across the certificate of my confirmation and realized that I have been an Episcopalian for just over thirty-five years. And you may ask, why?

Fair question. In three and a half decades I have endured so many low-grade, cliché-ridden sermons and winced at so much defective choral and solo singing that if there is anything to the Romish doctrine of Purgatory, my stay there should be seriously shortened.

There is also no particular social advantage anymore to Episcopalianism, which, paradoxically, is a good thing for the church. Now that it is no longer a place to be seen, except in certain pockets, or to make business contacts, it draws a much smaller crowd but people who actually want to be there.

I was drawn to the Episcopal Church for its orderliness and dignity. The liturgical calendar imposes a pattern and rhythm on the passage of time, and the lectionary imposes at least a theoretical limit on the waywardness of preachers, who usually feel compelled to talk about something other than baseball.

I am impressed that Anglicanism indulges intelligence—that you are allowed to  believe in evolution and geology and Copernican cosmology and the biblical scholarship of the past two and a half centuries.  

I love organ music and Anglican chant, and an Anglican church is pretty much the only place you can hear them regularly. I’m moved by the grace and eloquence of the Book of Common Prayer, which has its own music in prose.

I find the vestments and ceremonials, particularly the use of incense, to add to the weight and dignity of the liturgy. (Oh yes, I know perfectly well that the whole thing can get stale and arid, but I have seen it when it wasn’t.)

I am confronted by my own limitations and failings and forced to see them clearly, while being comforted that I am not entirely defined by them and can hope to rise above them.

And—here is where some of you may part company with me—I like what the Episcopal Church stands for.

In my parish, Memorial Episcopal in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill, the late Barney Farnham came in as rector forty-two years ago and announced that Memorial would be an open congregation. That meant that black people were welcome to attend.

I became an Episcopalian at the time that the denomination discovered that women are fully human and decided to ordain them. It subsequently discovered that they could be bishops too.

I am now an Episcopalian at a time when gay people need not conceal who they are, but can also become priests and bishops. And I have attended blessings, in church, of their unions.

Some of this, perhaps much of this, draws frowns from the schismatics who have broken away from the Episcopal Church, and I have no doubt that it is formally condemned by religious authorities such as the Reverend Doctor R. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville.

I am content for them to pronounce their judgments on what I believe and practice, waiting as I am for the ultimate Judgment and remembering that the Founder never expressed much enthusiasm for religious authorities.