I’m welcoming my friend Holly Rankin Zaher to Denomination Derby this week to write about her love for the Episcopal Church. Holly is a theologian and youth minister whose perspective I’ve long respected. If you’ve never thought of yourself as the “high church” type, she’ll open your eyes to whole other way to approach worship on Sunday morning.
Last Sunday I was distracted. My to-do list begged me to be at home, chipping away at the items left. Frankly, I didn’t want to be at church. Sit in a pew, no thanks.
But I walked in, dipping my fingers in the font of holy water right inside. Crossing myself, I recalled this deep part of my identity – as Christ’s own or one who walks with God. I looked up – I always look up. Was it the architecture? A sense of something spiritual? I paused, remembering the ways in the past the liturgy provided language for my life – the joys and frustrations – in the past.
Even on days when the sermon is lackluster or I obviously was not consulted about the music, I can count on the rhythm of the structure of the liturgy. Liturgy, literally the work of the people. The liturgy invites me into the work, to do the work of reflection, of sifting my life through the ancient scriptures, of recognizing my need, of listening for the call to live an intentional life with God in the world.
The Liturgy of the Word allows me to see the big story, repeating the majority of the scriptures over the course of three years with the psalms and the gospels repeated even more. These stories of God’s activity in the world, the retelling of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the interactions of the early church and their struggles are part of my own story as a follower of Jesus. The Liturgy of the Sacrament calls on some of the oldest written communion liturgies that are known and invites us into this practice of sharing a meal. Regardless of social status, racial privilege, or views on politics, we all come to the same place for the bread we need for today. Every gathered Christian community has a liturgy – we Episcopalians just happen to be very explicit about ours.
The Episcopal Church, despite our less than auspicious beginnings with King Henry VIII, has these beautiful moments of reform. One of our founding documents, the thirty-nine articles, called for liturgy to be said in the language of the people, a revolutionary departure from the then current practice of the Catholic mass in Latin. The 34th article still has implications today as we continue to translate, rewrite and rework liturgy. We have a history of working for social justice in response to the gospel: the Episcopal Church ordained Absalom Jones, an African-American, in 1801 – before the Civil War and the Anglican Church ordained Florence Li Tim-Oi way before women’s ordination was approved.
People often ask me what the Episcopal Church believes. This is like a trick question for Episcopalians. While we have a written catechism that illustrates some aspects of doctrine, different Episcopalians give our historical documents varying amounts of weight. How can that be? Well, we don’t base our relationships or community on a checklist of beliefs. Rather we base our commonality on common worship and relationship.
In our age of partisan politics and entrenched positions, hope and life break in with an invitation to break bread and work toward bringing about the goodness of God around me with people who are different from me, believe different things than me and look different than me.
While that worship looks different in various Episcopal settings, it follows a basic form. Sometimes this form is couched in high church organ and choir complete with incense and more pomp than comes with hosting the president of the United States while other times it is a small group gathered around a table, offering each other bread and wine, food for the journey of life.
The liturgies for both baptism and marriage include vows for the congregation to take, illustrating the communal nature of faith. We commit to each other, to support, love and care for each other. Life is not easy and we need each other.
In fact, the Episcopal Church makes up the American portion of the Anglican Communion – we are part of an international community. To be Anglican basically means to be in relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), to have the ABC in your friend list or in your feed.
This dual focus of worship and relationship frame our life as Episcopalians.
These are the beautiful parts of my church. They give me hope when I come across them. But, as much as I love my church, there are downsides. We can be too hung up on liturgy. We have factions within the church on just how liturgy should be done. Change comes slowing for an Episcopalian. We have a reputation for being the church of the establishment – ever looked up how many presidents and members of the establishment have been Episcopalians? For every move we make to advance social challenges in response to the good news of the gospel, we take steps back like stripping Florence Li Tim-Oi of her ordination (her story: http://www.ittakesonewoman.org/public/litimoi.php). And being held together by common worship can seem quite tenuous in today’s climate.
In those moments like last Sunday I remembered my Christian identity. I dipped my fingers into the font of holy water, listened to the scriptures, prayed prayers for the world, received the bread I needed for my journey, and was reminded of my call to live an intentional life with God in the world. And that I’m not alone. For me, being an Episcopalian, following the Anglican Way, makes the most sense to me to live out my faith in Jesus.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Holly Rankin Zaher lives in Nashville with her fun family, inspiring people to think and reflect, whether it is about faith, education, cultural studies, or how fiber crafting grounds thinking and reflection. She has spent twenty years in professional ministry in the Episcopal Church, doing youth ministry, church planting and teaching on the seminary level. These days she teaches at a public high school. A champion for young people and women, she spends way too much time on social media, reads too much dystopian literature, and loves the conversations that happen alongside beverages.
About Denomination Derby
This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.
We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.
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