Church name/type: St Andrew’s Episcopal, Episcopal Church USA
Pastor:Reverend Mary White
Style of worship: tight format reminiscent of Catholic masses I’ve experienced, with moderate traveling during the passing of the peace
Overall Impression: Nice!
This is another church I have actually experienced before; I’m sure I visited at least once during my college days. I can’t remember what reason I never made it ‘my’ church- it could have been that I was simply looking for a better fit or that I was still holding onto the notion of a permanent Catholic Church for me. In any case, this visit showed me almost no negatives and much to like.
Inside the church looks rather Cathedral-y, with prominent stone arches and stained glass windows. The windows are actually low enough to be touched and (more importantly) this enables one to wander the church and read the names of the saints depicted. Stylistically old though it is, the church appears to be in good shape. I was on-call this past weekend, so I took a seat near the far back, in case work called me. Speakers and pastor were mic’d so the sound was good even in the back. Age wise, the church seems reasonably mixed. Ethnically there was not a huge amount of diversity. Both these factors of course change when people are missing, and this was the best and sunniest Sunday of the year so far.
The service was easy to follow, with all the parts written in a large bulletin. My only complain was the size. It was a tad difficult leafing through pages and setting them down when directed to either the hymn book or prayer book, then picking them back up again afterwards. Since most of the worship was already printed in the bulletin, seems like all of it could be. The sermon had some interesting bits. We heard from the pastor about those in the Old Testament worshipping a false god called Baal. This term apparently stood for not just one god, but several. It also could mean an official for that god. The other two readings were also about rejecting false teachings. Pastor Mary tied them all together related to our life today by asking us to remember the false gospels we face today. One example was the gospel of prosperity. The gospel of prosperity is basically the notion that the rich have been blessed by god and therefore deserve their wealth. This implies a second idea; that the poor are abandoned by god as undeserving. Dan and I actually talk about this one often. It annoys us that so many Christians take this bizarre view. To us it seems silly to imagine wealth as directly proportional to goodness/closeness to god. Pastor Mary called this idea a distraction.
She named two other distractive gospels: the gospel of works leading to salvation and the gospel of worshipping Jesus over his message. Works leading to salvation is a longer point I want to make in a later post. In any case it’s a pretty standard point for Protestants to stress, often seen as a counter to misunderstood/misused Catholic teaching. The gospel of worshipping Jesus was an interesting one to cite I think. This is another thing Dan and I (and several friends) have talked about before. Jesus as the central figure seems fine, until you make it so that his teachings are ignored and his person venerated. That’s throwing out much of the New Testament. In the New Testament we get messages to believe in Jesus, yes. But we also get messages of healing others, of helping the poor, of condemning the rich, of sharing what we have, and on and on. Those that forget these bits and focus solely on belief in Jesus are rather like someone claiming to adore Lincoln and being pro-slavery and pro-confederacy. It just doesn’t work. Pastor Mary described what Jesus taught as ‘immanent changes’; ‘the kingdom of heaven’ on the way. There would be many good things and people would be healed and happy. We see that Jesus does some work towards this. By extension she told us we are to go out and make this a reality. To me that sounds just about exactly right.
I hung around as usual and had snacks with members of the congregation. I engaged several in conversation and mentioned my project to most of those. Everyone was really interested and I talked a bit about what I’ve seen so far and what I’m looking for. And they talked too, like they are really invested in church matters and wanting to think about such things, rather than simply having them on rote memory. I think the people at this church made the fewest assumptions about me of any church so far. You know, usually there’s questions about college or mention of single girls for me to befriend should I return. And actually after I mentioned my project and was clear that I traveled around, no one bugged me to just stay here. That was really nice. It seems to be the rule that churches want you to ‘join up’ and that can feel very like new pressure. Every. Single. Sunday…
And one more thing:
The church was described as ‘liberal’ and ‘open to all’ by two different people I spoke with. I couldn’t be exactly sure what this meant, but I have a pretty good idea. It sounds like veiled invitation to talk about LGBTQ or at least LG. I wasn’t sure exactly how to ask without being awkward. I’ve mentioned before that I grew up believing homosexuality was wrong and have since changed my views. Still it’s difficult to talk about a thing when you used to use it as a synonym for ‘bad’. So I did not ask. In the literature I took home, however, was another clue. Announcements in the bulletin included one for an Interfaith Pride Service sponsored by AWC. The announcement goes on to state that AWC (Advocates for Welcoming Congregations) encourages the full participation of LGBT persons. This event would not be advocated if the church had a problem with LGBT. Moreover the church’s website states that this church welcomes all religious seekers, then includes a list to make it clear gender identity and sexuality are among traits this church has no restrictions over. Which is pretty sweet.