Why am I Episcopalian?
Our national church website is running a new feature these days. Entitled “I am Episcopalian,” it is an ever-increasing series of short (90 seconds or less) videos of people from all walks of life sharing their reasons for being members of the church. Anyone can post a video, and anyone can watch the videos posted.
It’s actually a good question to consider. Why am I a member of this church? In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a parable about wheat and weeds growing together, and it surely seems weedy in our church these days! With all the accusations of heresy or schism, shouting and lawsuits and mean-spirited behavior that makes newspaper headlines, the church sometimes seems less an oasis of Christian discipleship and witness and more an angry sea of argument and dissension.
It’s not only on a national level; if we’re honest, we must admit that even local churches are not immune from conflict that is not always handled well. Why continue to wade into that? Why be part of a group that seems to be the focus of so much controversy? Why not move to a less challenging, less weedy field?
I believe there are two parts to the answer to this question. First, of course, is that old truism about the grass seeming greener on the other side of the fence. It’s not hard to look healthy, cohesive and even holy from the outside; but any group made up of actual people will inevitably reflect the faults of those people, as well as their virtues. Of course, this includes the church-- ANY church. I believe that “all things are being brought to perfection” through Jesus Christ, as the old prayer states; but Jesus obviously isn’t done yet!
We Episcopalians may be making the news this week; but every group of believers has their issues and imperfections, sins and struggles that are often not apparent until one really gets to know them-- when relationships begin to develop and people “let their hair down.” If I refuse to stay in any group that turns out to be less than perfect, then I will be disobedient to the God who calls us into relationship with one another-- and I will be an awfully lonely soul.
The other part of the answer, of course, is that it is not all weeds! I can look around, and see so many vibrant gifts in our midst... I cannot begin to name them all, even in our own region.
I see prayerful, Christ-centered worship: in our Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican tradition; but also in Glenda, Cindy, Jeannie, Mary, Jim and so many others who serve at altar, lectern, and sacristy, working to make our liturgy each Sunday a thing of beauty and grace to offer our Lord.
I hear people “making a joyful noise” in song, as well as those who provide accompaniment as we pray: Jo, who has gently and faithfully held down the organ bench at Our Saviour’s for nearly seven decades; Linda, who graces Calvary with her talent; Nancy and Rosemary, who fill in at Calvary, stepping out in faith as they learn their gifts are joyfully welcomed.
I see practical hands who serve in often unseen and unanticipated ways: John and Ray, who see that lawns get mowed and buildings are kept in good repair; Kris, Cliff and Bruce, who spent hours fussing with a new water heater; Joan and Mike, who have turned their hands to any number of projects; Carol, who turns up each week or two with fresh linens. No one asks; these folks (and any number of others!) just pitch in and do what needs to be done.
I see hearts for God’s work in our world: Doris at the food pantry; Chuck at the Boy’s and Girls’ Club; Mitzi with Domestic and Sexual Violence Services; Ruth driving shut-ins to appointments and shopping; Marilyn setting up a fund for an uninsured neighbor.
In other words, I see the Holy Spirit at work. I see wheat.
Of course, you might find that elsewhere, too. However, it is here in the Episcopal Church where I have seen and known it best. This is where I have learned to look for the image and likeness of God in everyone I meet. This is where I have learned to be a better human being than I would otherwise be. This is where I have seen Jesus.
This is why I am Episcopalian.