Church #8, part 9

Ahh, 39 articles, your time is almost up. We are currently at 29, 30, and 31. So we actually heard 29 last week, I just did my notes on post-its and lost that one. What I remember after reading it again is the long subtitle which pretty much says it all already: Of the wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper. It means that if you aren’t right with God, eating communion won’t be true communion for you. It continues on the theme of not treating the bread as a talisman. You can’t eat it and expect it will magically make you holy. If you are an evil person doing evil things, putting the communion wafer in your mouth is an empty sign and means nothing.

The next articles are straightforward enough. Article 30 says its ok and also good to take both the bread and the wine. Article 31 says that Jesus was the atonement sacrifice for our sins and we need no other. In my experience of churches, both these things are widespread and well known. I don’t really find many places arguing against either of those. Except of course that many churches use grape juice in place of wine. So far I have seen only Catholics and Episcopals use wine. But I may have missed some with the communion once a month tradition that many churches go by. Any of the pastors and knowledgeable people with further info on wine vs. juice, feel free to chime in here.

Church #8, part 8

So I only managed to get in the 39 articles visit this week. I have to admit this week they felt strikingly uninteresting. 27 is about baptism, how it is symbolic new birth, and how it’s fine to do on infants. Further explanation elaborates that infant baptism grafts a child to the church so as to make it hard for them to leave. Where an adult can resist, a baby cannot. This seems odd to me because I thought God was about giving humans free will and letting them decide stuff for themselves. Do we really need to forcibly bond a baby to the church so they can’t escape? If God is good, babies will grow up and choose to love him for that reason.

The next article (28) reiterates a lot of what we heard last Sunday. It’s not called transubstantiation which converts the bread into Jesus’ body. It’s faith. And we don’t understand it. This article also prohibits adoring the communion wafer and carrying it in your pocket like a lucky charm. Not that I was gonna. I eat my lucky charms with milk. Next week I seriously need to get in another actual church service.

Church #8, part 7

This talk we learned about articles 25 and 26. Article 25 lists some sacraments Episcopalians hold useful, naming two of them ‘great sacraments’- the sacraments of baptism and communion. What’s so great about them you ask? Well Jesus expressly said to do them. Jesus told his disciples to break bread and share wine “in memory of me”. After he comes back from the dead and visits the disciples He instructs them to go and baptize all nations. This short speech is found at the tail end of Matthew.
Article 26 is kind of an interesting one. It details the fact that communion is still a sacrament even if the priest serving it is evil or has done wrong. This means a person taking communion need never worry their priest has sinned and somehow invalidated their receipt of the body and blood. The priest should see to his own sins, but they are not passed to the bread and wine. Communion still counts for the churchgoer. I think this could be read as stating anyone can give communion. I wonder, what other things it is ok for anyone to do in the Episcopal church? Presumably a priest still has to apply the blessing or invocation that makes bread and wine into body and blood. Maybe? We learned in relation to these articles that the bread and wine becoming body and blood is a mystery. This is contrasted with the Catholic church which refers to the process as transubstantiation. This seems to me like splitting hairs, but hey, use whatever word you like best.

Church #8 part 6

Today the articles continue with number 22. Anyone not familiar with this; it is a lecture/talk series about the 39 articles of religion of the Episcopal church. 22 is pretty straightforward. The Anglican church does not believe in purgatory, indulgences, or prayer to saints. That is to say they are ok with asking saints to pray (St Veronica pray for me-) but not with praying to saints (St Veronica please give me-). We talked in a zig zag about related stuff and heard a bit from a visiting priest about formalities which priests must affirm as they are ordained and promoted. The visiting priest stated that he’d always heard Episcopalians (that is American versions of Anglicans) did not really believe in the 39 articles. He also said that some of the decision makers in Ireland wanted to relegate the 39 to a historical document. I can’t say I blame them. It feels a bit out of date at times, to downright ridiculous at other times. That whole mess with article 13… I’d toss that one, or at least revamp it. We also got to hear about the medieval Roman Catholic Church some more, because the article is in direct contrast to what they were teaching at the time. Kind of an interesting side note came up: Catholic teaching no longer includes limbo, which was a permanent home for the souls of unbaptized babies. It was not hell, but not heaven, and it was sort of a neutral place for babies who couldn’t possibly have sinned yet, but couldn’t have had baptism either. Currently the Catholic Church seems to hold tentatively the view that they probably go to heaven. Father Egan brings up an interesting point regarding this. He says that if these babies go to heaven, they couldn’t have had original sin. Does this negate the Catholic teaching of original sin? Without a Catholic priest handy to ask, I’m not really sure. But it really makes me realize how easy it might be to fight about this kind of thing if one is very enmeshed in it. I’m really happy that I live in a place where people don’t hurt each other over such disagreements. As for me, I don’t need to know where babies go, or whether purgatory is a real thing. Once I’m dead I’ll find out, and in the meantime it makes no sense to get worked up over it.

Church #8 part 5

oops! I just fixed this below, as it turns out two X’s in Roman numerals is 20…so the articles we looked at were 20 and 21 and not 10 and 11. Where my fact checkin’ fans at?

Another Sunday morning started off with hearing some of the 39 articles. This past Sunday we learned about articles 20 and 21. Article 20 was removed and returned several times; I don’t know why. Other articles seem more questionable than this does. I’ll define it briefly: rules can be made outside of the bible as long as they don’t contradict the bible or make the bible contradict itself. Now the bible is a challenging document to pour over entirely, but I’m sure it contradicts itself sometimes. I guess people can decide themselves how to make peace with that. Basically the article is just outlining a guide on rule-making. We also heard further that there are three steps to resolving disagreements about rules or rules to be made. They are 1) scripture 2) tradition 3) reason. This means that when deciding to set up or review a rule you need to first figure out if scripture can resolve it. If scripture is ambiguous on the point you go with tradition. If tradition doesn’t help, you use reason. And if reason fails, I guess you form a new branch of religion. You know, because this is probably how most offshoots start- from a disagreement. I said the bit about creating a new church at the talk, but no one laughed. Oh well.

Article 21 states that Princes may meet to make rules and that they can make mistakes if they stray from scripture. So, this article is related to the last one and gives a bit of room for the Episcopal church to be wrong sometimes. I’ve actually been complaining for a while now that groups and power figures are not allowed to be wrong by the public. We don’t let politicians change their mind without then name-calling them wishy washy. Everyone needs room to be wrong. I also learned that the word ‘Princes’ refers today to the bishops across the US. In England the bishops are technically still advised by the the queen, but I imagine in reality that it’s more like the other way around.

Church #8 part 4

I am currently doubling up on church visits, but not church services. I am still going to the 39 articles series at St Stephen’s. After the morning talk, I proceed to whatever church was next on my list. Unless I encounter a conflict of course. Then I’ll have to play it by ear. The next church on my list gets it’s own post, so scroll up to see that.

Anyways, more people are recognizing me at St Stephen’s; I’m finding both goods and bads with this. It is nice to say hi to new folks who ask about the project. But I’m also getting a slightly clingy vibe. This is something that happens to some degree in nearly every church I’ve ever been to new. Churches like getting new members. Often, they like it so much that they overwhelm visitors with messages to ‘join us!’ ranging from welcome packets, to talking your ear off about how great the church is, to acting mildly offended that you consider not coming back. I’m not saying this is a necessarily a selfish act on the part of the church or members. For one thing, Christians are taught that those who don’t believe are going to hell. And if you haven’t been to other churches outside your own, maybe you can’t be sure any other churches will get it right. So people have to attend your church because their very soul is at stake. That reason is not selfish, it’s really the opposite. Also I know that church makes some people really really happy and they want to share that, even if it doesn’t work that way for everybody. Whatever the reasons, I’ve seen a lot of churches overdo it with the please-join-us business and they wind up sounding desperate. Best way to do it and not overdo it? Jury of me is still out on that one. I know there is such a thing as undergreeting. (see my post on church #9, coming soon) The subject is worth some thought and it’s own post. I’d like to tackle this at some point soon.

To the group at St Stephen’s: Guys, I’m not staying. And it isn’t a reflection of what kind of place it is or the job you are doing. The church seems fine, everyone seems nice. But I’ve got my reasons, embedded in the project and otherwise. And I’d like to think that in a way (because this is the first church with more than two people checking out the blog) I sort of am staying. Maybe I’m staying a little bit at all the places I visit. My blog could be a way to keep that up and even connect a few people to each other. Could my blog turn into the hottest thing since baked bread? Idk. Stay tuned…

Church #8 part 3

The project is starting to really get exciting. While I knew the internet was a great way to connect people and ideas, I guess I didn’t really think my blog would be good at that. Well, the blog got a ton of traffic recently, and I think much of it might be from the site-sharing going on with members of St Stephen’s. I had several people identify who I was at church today with ‘oh you’re the one with the blog!’

I will jump right into some elaboration regarding that pesky article 13. Father Egan told us this morning that many people were confused by it. I will try to update it based on what he said. Yes I do still think the original article is rather severe sounding and possibly needs to be reworded. I will give you the text and then the explanation. Here is the article word for word:

Article XIII (13) Of works before Justification-
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

And the explanation from this morning is as follows: From an earlier article we learned that through Adam we are sinful- not because of a sin he did, but because he was by nature a sinful person. I guess it could be restated as saying humans can sin. (Just in case you are like me and aren’t convinced there was a literal Adam) So sin is in all of us, in our DNA as it were. The article is meant to refer to ANYONE outside of justification as being in a state of sin. Even if they do good works. The good works are still good, but you need justification. And justification, while a little bit hard to pin down, means approximately- allowed into heaven because of faith and grace. So who is outside justification? I guess atheists and babies? And the do-gooding atheists are probably ahead on that one because babies don’t really know how to do good works yet. Another example that was used was the Christian that attends church every Sunday vs. the part timer who comes on Christmas vs. the non-believer. Ok I have to admit I didn’t completely follow on this one. I think it has to do with how invested you are in your faith and thereby how likely to be in on the grace and the justification. Maybe someone else understood it and can let me in.

Other articles we heard about this Sunday included one that specifies ONLY JESUS was without sin. It directly opposes the Catholic view that Mary who gave Jesus birth was also sin-free. Fun fact: Virgin Mary was the one being conceived during the immaculate conception, NOT Jesus. That, just to reiterate, is a Catholic viewpoint on the topic. We also touched briefly on what the Anglican church calls ‘sins against the Holy Spirit’. They are the sins of not listening to knowledge and willfully shutting out the truth. I thought this was really interesting because different people can see different things as true. A great example is that fictional atheist we keep talking about. He believes it is a fact that God does not exist. Is that seen by the Episcopal church as willful self deception? How are we to judge whether someone is lying to the world or to themselves? Or just confused? And how are we to know if we are confused and someone else has the truth? It is something I’ve been stumbling with for several years now. There doesn’t really seem to be a satisfactory answer. But that’s part of my project too. Seeing how others satisfy themselves with their faith and trying to find the tools I need to satisfy myself with my own belief as it grows and changes.

My plan for next week is to attend the 9:30 talk at St Stephen’s and then scoot over to my next stop -St Thomas the Apostle. It should be a nice chance to revisit my roots and talk about some of the stuff I grew up with as well.

Church #8 part 2

Additional thoughts:

For those just tuning in, the next couple weeks I am continuing to visit St Stephen’s Episcopal Church. Not because I think I’ve found a spiritual home, or because I have found Episcopal is my new brand of choice- nope. But because the church happens to be giving a very interesting series of talks on what Episcopalians believe (or are supposed to believe).

I am noticing that visitors in a new church can belong instantly if they 1) act like they know the pastor AND 2) act like they own the place. People are starting to assume I’ve been coming to church for a long while and they just didn’t notice me before, and I think it’s because I wander the church like it’s my church. And I do talk easily with anyone willing to talk to me including the priest. (I talk a lot btw.) It also makes it easier to ‘sneak in’ to churches where new members don’t get the mob welcome. You may attend for a long while before getting to know most of the other members. It’s something I used to notice a lot from Catholic churches as well. (Big surprise right?)

This past Sunday I heard a bit more about Catholic Queen Mary and her putting back of all the Catholic stuff. Then she died and the Catholic stuff went away AGAIN. Those people in England must have been SO confused. And Queen Elizabeth had a total mess to deal with politically and religious-wise. They were so tied together back in the day.

This project is bringing out so much unexpected stuff. The articles of religion this week went from 10-13. As it turns out, the 39 articles of religion are mostly about how Anglicans are like Catholics and how they are not like Catholics. And apparently about how I am like neither. Article XIII (13) is about how good works which are done outside of the knowledge of Christ are not pleasing to God and have the nature of sin. That’s right, the Anglican church says good works are really not good enough if you don’t believe in God and Jesus. It even calls them sinful. The “atheist down the street” we heard about who does good stuff still isn’t as good as the Christian with Jesus in his heart. And further, the Christian does not have to try to do good works because (from several articles before that one) if he has faith, good works naturally follow. This idea is nice in a fairytale kind of way, but I don’t think it can be right in the context of reality. At least not all the time. I am sure there are atheists who do more good works than I do. Just because I believe in someone does not mean I get a free pass to never push myself to do good works. And I doubt the good things done by an atheist count for less than the ones I do. A good thing is a good thing. So I’m calling bullstuff on article 13. Of course if the actual article was amended to the explanation I got regarding doing works to please yourself or gain respect as sinful, that’s another story. But it’s not. Well, maybe it should be.

Church #8, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Date: 3/11/12

Church: St Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Pastor: Father Adam Egan

Time Spent: 9:30-10:30 lecture prior to service, 10:30-12noon service

Overall Impression: Seems nice

Type: Episcopal, member of the Anglican Communion (it means they are linked to the Anglican church in England from which the Episcopal Church split off in the early days of the US)

Format: The service is very formalized and structured, similar to what you would find in a Roman Catholic Church. In fact, much of it is word for word what is used in the Catholic church. Every part of service has certain words which are used and well known by the congregation. It is very formulaic. If I don’t miss my guess, most Episcopal churches are going to be the same. Rough format is: silent confession of sins, readings from the old and new testament, sermon, statement of belief, prayer intentions, communion, prayer- all interspersed with songs from hymn books.

Thoughts: A bit of an unusual Sunday to the project, I started out by attending a talk at the church about the 39 articles of religion. This turned out to be (awesomely) something of a history and church doctrine lesson. There will be continuation of it for several more Sundays and I’m strongly tempted to put the project on hold and attend all of them. Putting that aside for a moment, I will talk about the service itself.

Inside the church was bright, clean, and adequately warm. I was greeted by several attendees of the 9:30 talk who made chit-chat with me. At the church service itself I was given a cursory greeting by a bunch of different members, especially during the “passing of the peace”. It serves as kind of a hello time for all the members and falls a little outside the formality. This church did a moderately subdued musical chairs style passing of the peace, with some people leaving their seats. The rest of the service was expectedly very formal. The good thing about this church was that the entire formula we were expected to follow was printed in the bulletin. The only difficulty I had was in switching from holding the bulletin to holding the hymn book, to holding the page of the bible readings, which happened several times back and forth.

The sermon was more on the topic of the history of the Anglican church. Here is what I learned:

Much of the format and prayers used in services comes from a book called The Common Book of Prayer. The original version of the book was compiled in 1549, from existing sources mostly, by a dude named Thomas Crammer. He was an advisor to King Henry VIII. After King H died and his son took over, Crammer instituted some minor/huge changes, depending on how you look at it. It was a big deal at the time. He removed idols, images, and relics, because they distract from us praying right to God. He instituted weekly communion. At that time the Catholic church only had communion on Easter. He also emphasized the idea of grace and the fact that God loves us. And most cool of all, he had English used in service instead of Latin! The uncool part was when Queen Mary took over and had Crammer burned for refusing to stick to his recantation of the new church.

There were other familiar parts to the service here and there. The communion used wine like a Catholic mass. The congregation sang a slower version of the doxology. Prayer requests were all followed by a response “Lord, have mercy”. Basically this felt like a bridge between all the Catholic and Methodist churches I have attended with any regularity. Very interesting and intriguing.

Overall Feelings: Felt very familiar. Not as energetic as some denominations can be. That can be ok, boisterous worship is not for everyone.

Project Direction: I’ve decided. I am changing a rule. I was so taken by the timing of finding a church that explains it’s own history and doctrine as I happened to show up, that I am going to stay for a few Sundays. It seemed like such a shame to just move on and miss all that info. It is after all, my project, so I’m going to get my fill of Anglicanism before moving on. I can’t wait to see what happens next.