Now that January is over, it’s time for me to share my final thoughts on the Episcopal Church. Ok, I will probably be writing about the church again at some point this year, but these are the official final thoughts.
I have absolutely loved diving into the Episcopal Church. I am so thankful for St. John’s; they were so willing to answer questions and share their stories with me.
This month, I discovered that some of my initial assumptions were actually pretty accurate. The Episcopal Church is “Catholic Light” – but my understanding of that term has changed. I didn’t know the history behind the church, and how it emerged as a middle way between the Catholic and Protestant beliefs. The Episcopal Church is an Anglican Church, a descendant of the Church of England. Because of this, they have retained some Catholic traditions. The use of sacraments and liturgy remind people of the church’s Catholic past; the leadership of deacons, priests, and bishops strikes fear in the heart of low church devotees. But the Episcopal Church chose not to retain the authoritarian structure of the Catholic Church. There is no Pope; instead, it is a democracy. The Episcopal Church also allows clergy to marry, and for both men and women to hold positions of leadership. This further separates them from the Catholic Church.
But not all my assumptions were correct. I thought all the ritual and liturgy meant the Episcopal Church was strict and based on rules. Turns out they are better defined as liturgically high and liberally low. I had mistaken structure for strictness. Yes, because of its similarities to the Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church can be misleading. They follow the Book of Common Prayer in their services, and rarely, if ever, stray from it. But that doesn’t mean they are strict. You will never hear fire and brimstone preached from the pulpit; you won’t be commanded to avoid certain sins. The Episcopal Church believes in embracing life. That means they aren’t opposed to enjoying the occasional glass of wine or game of poker. (Ever heard the phrase “Episcopal guilt”? No, no you haven’t.)
I’ve learned that the Episcopal Church is an intellectual one, always open to questions and suggestions. It is a church that strives for social justice and equality for all, but above all else, it desires to be a home for its members. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church or the Church of Latter-day Saints, the Episcopal Church doesn’t advertise. They are a church for seekers. They won’t force their beliefs on you; instead, they welcome new faces and opinions.
There are some things about the Episcopal Church that give me pause, though. I have always loved praise and worship at churches I’ve attended. Singing “How He Loves” with my hands lifted just does something for my soul. But the Episcopal Church is strictly hymns, at least during their services. The priest I talked to even discussed how much musical tradition was lost in the formation and changes of the church. Also, and this is just my opinion, I think the Episcopal Church prefers hymns and quiet praise because they are very into reason over emotions. In fact, in Those Episkopols by Dennis Maynard, he says “(s)eeking some sort of emotional experience is outside the Anglican tradition”. I think it is wise to rely on knowledge instead of feeling, but I do think emotions belong in the church. I want to worship with my head and my heart.
Overall, though, I could see myself finding a home in the Episcopal Church. I would just have to listen to “How He Loves” at home