That’s what the angels said to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Dear Woman, why are you weeping? they asked.
She wept because Christ was dead and hope was gone.
She turned from the angels. She thought he was the gardener. Woman, why are you weeping? He asked it, too.
She wept because she didn’t understand, yet.
I saw you at church that day, sitting two-thirds of the way back on the left hand side. You were sitting next to your daughter, who is a student at the evangelical university where I work. You were visiting her, and her church; your cheeks were wet.
Later I asked her about it. My mom thinks I’ve lost my faith, she said.
I understood. We attend an Episcopal church. Twenty years ago, most of the Christians I knew thought there was little true faith to be found in the Episcopal church, what with its rote prayers and female priests and politically liberal congregations. I understood, too, because I’m a mother, and I am beginning to see how impossibly fraught with emotion and responsibility and prayer and vulnerability it is to watch over your child’s spiritual formation.
Dear woman, I have thought of you most Sundays over the last few months. I've wondered what -if anything- I could say to put your heart at ease. I know your daughter well, and I know her to be one of the most thoughtful, intentional, mature and spiritually grounded students I’ve worked with. I also know a little something about what it means to grow up evangelical and what it means to move towards the Anglican tradition. I can’t speak for all Anglicans or Episcopalians, but I can tell you from my own experience what it means and what it doesn’t mean that I’ve been confirmed in this church.
It doesn’t mean that I’ve rejected the authority of Scripture.
This is how we used to say it, growing up: "That church has female preachers- clearly, they don't believe the Bible!" While it's true that I've changed my mind about the place of women in church ministry, that hasn't happened because I chose cultural relevance over Scripture. That change came slowly, and it came through careful study of Scripture. (Like this, or this.)
You may have heard that the Episcopal church's position on gay marriage or evolution or Iraq or any number of things shows that we don't respect the Bible. But don't believe that until you talk to us about it.
We read aloud from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament, and a Gospel every Sunday. I'm guessing that's more Scripture than is listened to in most non-denominational churches on most Sunday mornings. We have a high view of Scripture.
It doesn’t mean that I have stopped believing in Jesus.
Episcopalians are basically universalists (or so I've heard). They believe all religions are the same, that all paths lead to God.
But every Sunday we recite the Nicene Creed, something Christians have held in common since 325 AD. Part of that creed reads:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
One Lord. One. The only Son of God. We believe in Jesus.
(Read the whole Nicene Creed.)
It doesn’t mean that my prayers are rote and meaningless, that I believe in magical incantations, or that I worship the Book of Common Prayer.
Someone asked that once - why do we worship the Book of Common Prayer? She thought that when our rector walked down the aisle to read from the gospels, we bowed toward the Book of Common Prayer he held. But it is a Bible he carries down the aisle. We bow toward the gospels, humble in submission to the words of Jesus (see above: high view of Scripture's authority).
I love the liturgical prayers. They are not the only way I pray. But I've found that they instruct me, they form my soul, they shape me in ways I want to be shaped. They give me words when I don't always know what to say to God.
It doesn’t mean that I believe in transubstantiation.
But I do think there's something to be said about the Real Presence of Christ in the wafer and the wine. And there is something to be said for the way it nourishes me every week. I love to take the Eucharist every week.
It does not mean that I have lost respect for the churches of my youth.
It does mean that my Sunday worship has a physical form.
One student at our church said it this way:
"In Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith puts forth the idea that humans are driven more by the desires in their guts than by the ideas in their minds. He encourages physical practices in worship to guide the direction of desires.
Since reading this article and book, I am aware that I have trouble making my mind focus on the readings or the sermon during church; however, when my whole body is called upon to take part in the Eucharist, I seem to wake up to the divine presence in the room."
We are not just minds and hearts and souls; we are bodies, too. Kneeling, sitting, standing, moving up to the altar for communion -- these motions train our bodies in how to respond to God.
It does mean that I am seeking a long, enduring tradition within which to situate myself.
It does mean that I think the tent is wider than I used to think it was.
The older I get, the less I know, the more mystery I embrace. The less likely I am to build clear walls diving who is in from who is out. That doesn't mean I can't say anything about what is true (see Nicene Creed, above). But it does mean that I am willing to say with St. Augustine, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."
One of those "non-essentials," for me, is mode of baptism. I do believe in infant baptism, but it's ok if you don't. You're still welcome here.
(Here are some more of my thoughts about the value of a wide tent.)
It does mean that my children have a spiritual home.
An early memory: our church is meeting in a rented space, a school building. It is a small, non-denominational church. My Dad leads the music. The six or so kids run wild around the building when the service is over, playing spies and hide and seek. It feels like home, the most comfortable place in the world.
I see my children having this exact experience at our Episcopal church now.
It does mean that I want a church that is intergenerational.
I want to shake hands with the little old ladies and hold the babies. I want my own children in the pew with me for at least part of every "big church" service.
It does mean that I want a service that is not sensational, flashy, or particularly “relevant”.
I can be entertained anywhere. At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone's marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.
It does mean that I want coffee and donuts every Sunday.
Actually, the donuts I could take or leave, but the time shared over food every Sunday, ever Seder, every Mardis Gras, every Chili supper... I couldn't do without it.
It does mean that I like a short homily.
Let's be honest: I like that the sermon is not the main thing. I can get biblical and theological instruction anywhere nowadays. I can’t get the Eucharist or the community anywhere.
It also just means that I live in a small town. Not every denomination is represented in this prairied part of middle America. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Episcopalians are the people I agree with most. It isn’t about agreement, exactly. It’s about rooting yourself to a people, saying that you are willing to take not only the good from them but also the bad. It’s about where you pray best.
At least, that’s how Preston Yancey explained his movement towards Anglicanism in his memoir Tables in the Wilderness. (Maybe you’d like to read this story of a young person moving slowly from the Baptist tradition to the Anglican?) Another book that helps explain the movement toward liturgy in the Gen X and Millennial kids is Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail (I also like his Younger Evangelicals). You might like this blog post about the Episcopal church, this one from another student at our church, or this one from an Assemblies of God pastor who became Anglican. If you want, maybe another day I’ll write about the books that led me to the Anglican Tradition.
But for now, dear woman, turn around. See your daughter. Don’t you see Christ in her, in the words she speaks and the way she serves? This isn’t death: this is new life. It just looks a little different.