With our recent move, the wife and I (and son) have started the process of looking for a church. After deciding against Orthodoxy, which sounds negative, I know, but isn't meant to be understood that way. Ultimately there were just too many little things that we couldn't quite reconcile ourselves to. But after we decided not to become Orthodox, we tried out a few different churches and ended up in a large, non-denominational style congregation. It was certainly a far cry from Orthodoxy, but it was starting to meet our needs and we had hopes of getting involved. Unfortunately, the time demands of school were too much and we didn't end up connecting with anyone for some time. But over the last 5-6 months prior to the move, it had started becoming more and more like the church I youth pastored at (here are some references here here here). Our time in Orthodoxy had given us a stronger appreciation of the intentional nature of worship. Singing pop-music to set up a sermon ain't it.
So we were going to be looking for a church no matter what. Now we're in our new city and not 100 yards down the street is an Episcopal church. We decided to try it out first and have gone for a couple of weeks now. The worship is liturgical and reminded us a great deal of the Lutheran churches (Missouri Synod) that we had checked out before, excepting that the music is much more simple. I last took choir in middle school and the Lutheran hymns were all over the map melodically, which I couldn't even come close to keeping up with. The liturgies have been led by a team of three women priests. The head priest (is that the vicar? I must admit some ignorance of the Anglican terminology) is a male but is presently on a summer sabbatical. I admit that the idea of women priests is still a bit unsettling to me, and not just because of our time in Orthodoxy. I tend to be a traditionalist in many respects and the issue of male leadership is plainly discussed in the Bible in several places. But so too is the equality & priesthood of all believers. I guess I'm fairly ambivalent about the issue at present.
However, the priestess who gave the sermon both today and last Sunday did a phenomenal job, They were on the short side, but I found them both challenging and encouraging. Today, for instance, she spoke about the congruence between our times - with all their uncertainty and present natural disasters striking so close to home*, and the uncertainty of Jesus' time, particularly with the Roman occupation. In sending out His disciples, Jesus sent them out "prophetically unprepared" - no money, no bags, no extra clothes or walking sticks - so they would see both God working in them and in their most meager activities. What may seem just like pebbles disappearing into the roiling sea, may be used in mighty and mysterious ways by God to bring about His Kingdom.
In my distinct pleasure of the simple liturgy, the quality of the homilies and the architecture (say what you want, I still think the design of our worship space is important!), in the challenge of confronting an issue I had not adequately reflected on previously, still ringing in the back of my mind are the larger issues confronting the Episcopal church in this country. I obviously disagree with electing an openly gay, divorced bishop who presently lives with his partner. I also find the disrespect the American Episcopal Church has shown to the larger and more conservative Anglican communion hard to stomach. But I also know there is a fair amount of theological diversity in the local bodies, so this congregation could be fairly conservative or at least middle of the road. I guess I'm just not sure where to draw the line. Is being in communion with Gene Robinson enough to prevent my communion in this church? Or should I be more local minded? So what are the local issues that could potentially cross the line? It seems that a lot of the issues I have dealt with previously, questions of authority, tradition and worship are once again coming back to me, but in very different forms. This congregation seems to care deeply about the things I care deeply about - outreach to the poor, positively affecting the surrounding the community, sharing Christ with those who do know Him. Are issues of sexuality sufficient to overcome those things? Where do I draw the line?
*My brother lives in Cedar Rapids and his home was hit by the catastrophic floods. He was ordered to evacuate Wednesday night and hasn't been able to get back in to check the damage. On top of that, he recently had surgery and so he's somewhat physically limited. Please pray for him & his wife, and the entire region.