Sunday, April 5, 2015

E is for Episcopalian

On Good Friday, I attended my new church's Stations of the Cross service. We stood outside, in a small garden, and recited the Lord's Prayer together as we began. Joining my voice with all the others reminded me forcibly of just one reason why I love the liturgy. In the Episcopalian church, we pray out loud in unison a lot. And here we were, doing it again. Hearing the mass of voices raise into the air, I felt at home. I knew that no matter what, I was in a community of people who shared this prayer. Our voices created unity despite our differences.

There are many things I love about liturgical churches in general, and the Episcopalian liturgy, found in the Book of Common Prayer, specifically. I love that I am given words for the holiest of mysteries. There is no awkwardness, no worries about a clergy member putting a foot in his mouth, because we all know the words. I love that within the language, we are allowed the luxury of thinking freely about the meaning. In the post-communion prayer there's a phrase I love: "you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ." The rich imagery of the language always thrills me. Best of all, no one dictates to me exactly what that means - to be a living member of Jesus Christ. In the Episcopalian tradition, the words are meant to leave wiggle room: to allow people to freely practice their faith according to their conscience: the Book of Common Prayer was deliberately written in the time of turmoil when the protestant movement was wrenching the Roman Catholic church apart. The Anglican church sought the "middle way." It was intentionally created to allow former Catholics and new Protestants to practice their faith together in unity.

I love that I don't have to manufacture feelings or search for words. We have a time of communal confession before we take the Eucharist, and then the rector absolves us all. I don't have to search my soul for any sin within me - I don't have to find an emotional response. Instead, I pay attention while I pray the confession prayer, bringing my intention to it. And then I am absolved, simply, without drama. The rector passes God's grace to me, no questions asked. In most of the non-liturgical churches I've attended, communion goes one of two ways: the presiding clergy gives a warning and there's a time of silence in which we prepare, or the presiding clergy gives an invitation and people are left to to wander up as they will. For someone with chronic anxiety (ME), that time before going up is fraught: did I confess everything? Am I holding a sin against my neighbor? Am I worthy to receive communion? But as an Episcopalian, I know with assurance that I am ready, that I am absolved, that I am worthy.

Another thing I love is the uniformity of the Book of Common Prayer. Every one has the same pagination. So the BCP I bought for myself almost 15 years ago has the exact same page numbers as the larger BCPs in the pews at my church. And the BCP my husband bought when we first came to St. Michael's also has the same page numbers. Very convenient!

While we only recently began attending an Episcopalian church, I've known for years that I would like to be here. I attended Episcopalian services while in college and loved them. I already mentioned that I bought my Book of Common Prayer when I was in my 20s because I loved the language and wanted to practice liturgical prayer on my own. (I didn't actually do it, because I wasn't sure where to begin, but the desire was there!) A few years ago, my husband and I attended a workshop with the enormously gifted Robert Benson, and received modified prayer books, which we both used. I'm thrilled every time I discover a phrase or prayer in the BCP that was in the Benson prayer book we used. When we realized it was time to find a new church, I knew I wanted to try Episcopalian churches specifically because they are socially liberal and concerned with social justice. And my husband was ready for the structure, simplicity, and beauty of the liturgy. It is home for our family.


  1. I felt such ease reading your post.

    I am not a particularly religious person but I do love ritual. Times when everyone knows what to say and can draw their own meaning without getting tangled up in the details of wording, those are beautiful to me.

    Thank you for writing about this.

    1. Christine - I'm so glad that you felt a sense of ease when reading. I know faith and religion can be touchy subjects, and I strive to keep my own words from being a source of pain or anger.