The heat of the summer was continuing to up the ante yesterday as members of The Episcopal Church in Parker County began arriving for the launch team meeting. The invitation to sit indoors with each other was welcomed as the temperature outside approached 100 F. In Texas, the heat of the summer is always a valid excuse for not doing something outside, and yesterday, it made for a perfect reason for us to be gathered together as we continue to build community one stitch at a time.
During our time together, we sat to consider some rather deep questions. As we divided into two small groups, we considered questions like, “When you hear the phrase ‘Love your neighbor,’ what does it mean to you?” and “What does it mean to you to be made in God’s image?” and “What do you love most about your life?” Each question was a question that invited us to think about our experience, our walk on this earth. Each question also invited us to consider the action of God in our lives.
In the Anglican tradition, reason plays a rather large role in defining who we are as faithful disciples worshiping Father, Son, and Spirit. To be a church of reason does not simply mean that we use our reason to make decisions in our lives. We acknowledge that almost all people do that almost all the time. The author and theologian Padraig O’Tuama wrote something similar to this in his book In the Shelter. (An incredible journey of narrative, theology, and poetry.) To have the ability to reason is to be human. We, as a species, tend to do what we believe is reasonable at the time. It does not always mean that our actions are just or that they are blessed by God’s presence; it does mean that we are using our God-given giftedness as a species to make decisions – good, bad, and ugly – in the business of getting on with our daily lives.
We can go about defining reason in any number of ways, but it seems that best way to understand reason is through experience. As creatures, we create ways of thinking that are specific to our experiences, shared and personal. The experience of our lives informs how we come to different conclusions and guides us in taking the next step. The experience of each person’s life informs us, guides us, and invites us. The experience that I have in life may not be exactly like any other person’s, but I can share my experience with others. I can look back over the arch of my life to take note of how God has been active in my life, and I can take the incredibly risky step of sharing my life experiences with others. In opening up to others by sharing my life experience, by sharing when and where I have felt God’s presence, I enter into a state of vulnerability with others.
When I take the time to name the moments in my own life when I have experienced God’s active presence in my life, I am placing myself in a vulnerable place, and I am learning how to look for God’s presence. In the act of naming these moments in my own life, I am sharing my experience of God, and I am learning how to listen for the moments when God has been active in another’s life. I begin to learn how to listen for those moments in the stories that others share with me, and I begin to be influenced not only by my own experience but also by the experiences of those that are in community with me. I begin to take on a posture of receptivity that is honed through the continued practice of listening for the movement of the Spirit in my life and in the life of my neighbors.
To be a church of reason is to be a church that looks for these moments in our shared lives of faith. It is to be a church that is willing to listen to the stories of those outside the church as we discern where God is moving in the context around us. It is to be a church that is learning how to help others name for themselves the moments that God has been present in their own lives. To be a church of reason is to be a church of experience, of openness, and of receptivity. Welcome to the Church as an institution of reason.
It is well known that The Episcopal Church is one that follows a liturgical form of worship. We hold up our tradition as one of the things that we love about our church because it connects with who we are as a tribe of Christians. We gather on Sunday mornings to worship together in the Holy Eucharist (also commonly referred to as Communion or the Mass), and we open the Book of Common Prayer to page 355 (or p. 328 if you prefer the traditional language) to enter into our Sunday morning worship. No matter who you talk to in The Episcopal Church, if they have been in the church for any amount of time, they will know the form of worship that is used on almost every Sunday morning in almost any Episcopal parish throughout the church. Even if a person is out of the country they could find an Anglican parish and enter into a worship service that is familiar. The liturgy of the church is one of the chief ways that the traditional side of The Episcopal Church is embodied by everyday Christians seeking to encounter the Divine through common worship.
Just as any other Episcopalian out there, I love the traditional side of our church. It is the side of the church that has kept me in the church for my entire life. I can go to worship on any given Sunday morning and encounter the divine through the same service week in and week out. I know exactly what to expect when I walk in the familiar red doors of an Episcopal church, and I know that I will be able to worship God in a way that is familiar, that is embedded in the muscle memory of my body from years and years of practice.
The beauty that I find in the traditional side of our church is not simply the repetitive nature of our liturgy on Sunday mornings. It is also that I can bring myself – no matter what state I am in – into that worship without having to cover up my current emotional state. During the thick of the Hurricane Katrina response, I found myself going to church relatively often. Though I was working 14-18 hour days for the Red Cross, I found a way to make my way to church because I needed words to help me fill the space that I did not have the vocabulary for. I needed the words of the Book of Common Prayer to help me pray through my emotions. I needed the words of our liturgy to help bring my anger and my frustration before God. I needed the liturgy to carry me forward in a time that otherwise would have completely consumed me.
The tradition of our church is one that runs deep through time having been handed down over centuries. The creeds in our prayer book have been recited by Christians down through the ages since at least about the third century. The shape of our liturgy is informed by a document dating back to the second century, and we continue in this ancient form of worship because we believe that the way in which we pray shapes the way in which we live. It shapes the ways that we encounter others out in the world. The traditions of our church help us to remain connected in the togetherness of Christian community across our church in the contemporary era and across the church catholic throughout the ages. The traditional side of our church helps us to remember the ways in which we have sinned and the way that God redeems us through the gift of grace. The tradition that I inherit helps me to navigate the path of faith as I walk it alongside others that worship next to and with me through the prayers of common worship. The tradition helps us to experience the togetherness that invites us as a community and as individuals to discover the revelatory power of the Spirit in the here and now.
The tradition of The Episcopal Church is not simply found in the vestments that are worn during worship services or whether or not we use incense in a service or if we are low-church or high-church. It is found in the antiquity of the prayers we pray each and every week; it is found in the connectedness of the Body of Christ praying similar prayers across the globe on Sunday morning; it is found in the knowledge that the saints that have gone before us prayed the same prayers in their own time and in their own languages. The togetherness of the Church, the tradition of the Church is found in this reality – the Body of Christ coming together to pray the words of ancient prayers that transport us to the heavenly realm made real here on earth through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Welcome to a traditional church.