Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 7 December 6, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: changing churches, EFM, reflection, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
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The past year has been a great one and a wonderful experience, so we look to the future and wonder what lies ahead. The transformation from the CoC to the Episcopal Church has been like stepping onto another planet and discovering that you’ve been on the wrong one the whole time. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
We had our kids baptized on Easter Sunday. It was a beautiful experience and also served as our official way of stating that we were there to stay. We are Episcopalians.
Our oldest, Rachel, is an acolyte in the church, meaning that she gets to participate in various tasks during worship services. Generally, when it is her turn to serve, she carries in Gospel and presents it to Fr. Patrick to read during services, but occasionally she does other things. This past Sunday she carried the Virgin Mary for the Nativity scene set before the altar.
Bekah and J.D. aren’t old enough to take much of a role in services yet, but as far as I can tell, they are both very happy with the church.
Diana took on the weekly task of baking communion bread for our service, an act that has been a huge hit among our fellow parishioners who don’t care for the (non)taste of Styrofoam wafers. She also has another role in the works that I can’t mention yet except to say that we’re really excited about it.
As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, I began the EfM program this Fall and it has been a true revelation. As a first year student I am working my way through the Hebrew Bible, reading it, reading the EfM material, and reflecting on all of it. It’s an intensive study, much more so than anything I’ve done in the past and our regular meetings have quickly become one of my favorite times of the week. I love the fact that, when considering the Bible, we don’t start with the assumption that it is perfect and inerrant. Rather, we look at passages and study who wrote it, why they wrote it, and what meaning it would have had to people of that time. It’s the type of thing I’d read about for a long time, but had never actually heard it spoken of in a non-condescending tone at church. I love the way that they accept everyone, even a self-described “hopeful agnostic” like me and I’m consistently amazed at the amount of deep thinking and reflection I see from others.
It’s been a great year and I’m looking forward to many more to come.
Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 4 November 16, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: Advent, changing churches, Southaven, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
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Our intent was to stay through the season of Advent, then move on to sample other types of churches in the area. We eyed other liturgical groups like the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, while I considered the drive into Memphis to a Unitarian Universalist congregation, but as the weeks moved forward, we found ourselves becoming more and more attached to St. Timothy’s.
We loved the participatory nature of worship, the reverence of the Eucharist, and the beauty of every service. We were embraced by the people of St. Tim’s and Patrick, our priest, quickly became a good friend of mine. We loved the fact that our children, even our daughters, had opportunities to serve that would never have been available in past churches. It quickly became home.
The climax of Advent came with the solemn, candlelit Christmas Eve service followed by a joyful Christmas Day service (including a blessing of the toys), forever altering our future in churches, changing our path from that point forward.
At some point near the end of the season, Patrick, who knew we were only planning to stay through Advent, approached us, “So,” he said a bit apprehensively, “Is this it?”
I just smiled, “No, we’re here to stay.”
And we have been.
To be continued…
Awake My Soul: My First Year as an Episcopalian, Part 3 November 15, 2011Posted by Matt in Awake My Soul.
Tags: changing churches, church of christ, liberal theology, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
I’m trying to keep focused as I drive down the road
On the ditches and the curves and the heavy load
Ain’t bitchin’ about things that ain’t in my grasp
Just trying to hold steady on the righteous path
(“The Righteous Path”, The Drive-By Truckers)
After leaving the CoC, we took a few Sundays to stay at home, clear our heads, and ponder on our spiritual future and whether or not it would involve a church. By this time, I was notably angry and frustrated, feeling as though I had been burned time and time again for not fitting the correct mold, and I would have been perfectly happy to spend my Sunday mornings sleeping in and leisurely reading the newspaper. (Later I came to realize that I was as much of the problem in those past churches as the small bands of people who made life miserable, but that’s another story for later.) But, having kids complicates things and Diana was not ready to throw in the proverbial towel, so I commenced to research different types of churches, hoping that maybe, just maybe, we might find something that would fit the ideals we held dear.
It soon became clear that when you hold a very progressive theology in the suburbs, your choices diminish a great deal, despite the fact that there is literally a church at every corner. I was interested in mainline denominations, mostly because I was so unfamiliar with them, so my study tended to that branch of the Christian tree. We pondered for some time on this, but soon the first stop became clear. I looked at the liberal theologians I enjoy: Marcus Borg, Bishop Spong, and others; and realized they were connected with one particular group: The Episcopal Church. My thought process when as follows: If they let THESE PEOPLE in, then they’ll have to be cool with me. So, I did a quick search through the Yellow Pages, found that there was one near our house, and made the suggestion to the family that it be the first stop in our search for a church home.
That Sunday we walked into St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church completely ignorant and unaware of what lay before us, with a sense of both excitement and trepidation, wondering what foreign activities the next few hours might hold. Upon our approach to the building, we first took note of the ornate artistic detail, from the stained glass to the pieces of art adorning the walls, to the candles and colors. It was almost overwhelming when compared to the purposefully drab worship spaces of our past. We found our way to the CAB (i.e. Family Life Center, i.e. Fellowship Hall) where we caught the end of the priest, Patrick, playing and singing a song on his guitar for a group of children. He was about our age and clad in his clerical clothing and collar atop his blue jeans and tennis shoes. I nodded my approval to Diana and she smiled apprehensively. He noticed us right away and gestured to us to “Hold on” before he even completed the song. As soon as it ended, he set his guitar down and made a beeline over to us, hand outstretched in greeting. We introduced ourselves and told him a quick history of ourselves and looked at us, eyes wide and mouth agape, “You came here?”
“Uh, yeah,” I slowly answered.
“Wow, man, that’s far out. Just remember, if you look up and you don’t know what the hell’s going on, don’t worry about it. Just ask somebody, they’re all cool.”
And just like that we fell in love with The Episcopal Church.
To be continued…
Thankfulness July 13, 2011Posted by Matt in church.
Tags: EFM, gender issues, happiness, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
Have I mentioned how happy we are with our new church home, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, and how much it has changed our lives?
Yeah, I know I have over and over again, but please indulge me at least one more time.
It’s amazing to me that we, as complete outsiders, have been embraced so warmly and so fully by the community of St. Tim’s. In our time there, we’ve quickly made good friends and have thrown ourselves into the workings of the church.
I’ve watched with great joy as Diana has really blossomed into her role, one which may become more official and be greatly expanded in the future (our priest has plans for her, but I’m not going to spill the beans to the general public just yet).
The kids, particularly our oldest, have latched onto the new church as well. As the father of two young daughters, it pained me in the past to think of them condemned to life as a second class citizen, with ironclad limitations keeping them imprisoned because their genetic die roll happened to land on female. In our new environment, the sky is the limit for their future in the church. They can look at our new curate (priest in training) or even as high as the presiding bishop herself and know that they will not be held back because of their gender. It’s a wonderful thing to witness.
As for me, well I’ve been fingered as someone to start the EFM (Educational Foundations for Ministry) program in the fall. For those of you not familiar with it, EFM is basically the four year seminary curriculum for laypeople, and it will certainly serve to scratch the intellectual and theological itch that I’ve long felt but have rarely found others to join in alongside me.
So, yeah, things are going well and the future is bright.
It’s Good to be Back June 23, 2011Posted by Matt in church.
Tags: kids, midweek Eucharist, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, vacation
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We returned home from our California vacation late Tuesday night (a full report with pictures will be posted sometime in the next few days) and, fortunately, I had also taken off Wednesday from work in order to have a day to unwind after the previous week’s activities.
Wednesday night we took part in the midweek Eucharist meeting at our church, St. Timothy’s, and it felt really good to get back into the swing of things, but as usual, nothing can go perfectly smooth without some sort of humorous hitch when you have three children. The normally present childcare was not available that evening, so we trooped our kids into the nave for the evening service. Our older two, 8 year old Rachel and 6 year old Rebekah, are accustomed to the Eucharist because they take it alongside Diana and I every week, but our youngest, 2 year old JD, usually spends his time in the aforementioned childcare.
When the time arrived, we knelt at the altar to receive the sacraments as we always do, but it was obvious that our excited son was out of his element. First came the sacrament of the bread, a tasteless wafer rather than the delicious home-baked loaf that Diana usually bakes for service, and I could tell that little JD was less than enthusiastic about consuming the Styrofoam-like substance, but he did it with the minimum level of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But then came the wine. As may be expected, our two year old son is not exactly a wine connoisseur, so I was a bit reluctant to have him partake at first, but as the cup came around, we consented. JD greedily took his sip of wine and then, just as I began to take mine, I heard him spit out, “Yucky. Mommy that yucky.”
And I almost spit the blood of Christ all over the floor.
Room for All June 6, 2011Posted by Matt in church.
Tags: Bible stories, myths, skepticism, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
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I’ve spoken at great lengths over the past several months about the church we now call home, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, and about how the people opened their arms to us with a spirit of inclusiveness that I’ve never experienced in a church before. This is perhaps no more apparent than in the variety of personal philosophies present, from those far out in left field like our priest and I, to those who hold much more conservative, even fundamentalist views.
This fact displayed itself again in Sunday school yesterday when our priest, Patrick, was going on about a topic (I forget exactly what it was) when he stopped and posed a question. “Is there anyone in here who does not believe that, say, the virgin birth and the resurrection are literal, historic events?”
The old me would have felt trapped like a mouse in a cage with no way out. Do you tell the truth and express your doubts, thus opening yourself to the attacks surely headed your way? Or do you remain silent, implying that you agree while burying the truth deep down in the recesses of your being?
My answer to the question is one that might be seen as indecisive, maybe even agnostic – I don’t know. I have my doubts about the historicity of the events, but I’m not quite willing to throw down the gauntlet and declare them to be myths. So, instead of raising my hand with concrete assurance, I did a hesitant, half-staff acknowledgment, along with a back-and-forth, wavering hand motion. I then looked around and saw a few others giving similar declarations of skepticism. I wasn’t alone.
Patrick smiled, looked at us and said, “That’s great,” with affirmation and support, letting us know that there is room under the tent for all.
Our church is awesome.
Another Easter Note April 25, 2011Posted by Matt in Holy Week.
Tags: baptism, Easter Sunday, hot candlewax hurts, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
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Or, how my daughter almost burned down the church
Our six year old daughter Bekah has two unfortunate personality traits: she is both highly dramatic and terribly accident-prone, so we should have realized from the beginning that the Sunday baptism of our three kids would not go on without a hitch.
The baptisms were complete and Fr. Patrick called us over to him, saying that he had something else for them and that was when he handed each of the children (well, he gave Jackson’s to me) a special candle that was lit to commemorate our special day. Bekah made it almost back to our front row pew before she let out a blood-curdling scream, piercing through the quiet atmosphere of the church like a sharpened blade. I turned just in time to see her drop the lit candle to the carpet beneath.
It turns out that the hot candle wax dripped past the protective ring and landed on her hand, giving her a painful jolt that she overreacted to in a manner keeping with her character. Diana quickly grabbed her up and ran the screaming child to the bathroom to wash away the waxy remnants of the candle causing her such pain. As they made their exit, I looked down at the spot where the burning instrument had landed, fearing that soon the entire nave would be engulfed in a Dantean inferno.
But soon my fear gave way to relief as I saw that somehow, someway, the candle had been extinguished. Maybe the rushing air from its fall put out the flame, perhaps the carpet was not as flammable as I feared, or, who knows, maybe there was even a little divine guidance, but whatever the reason, the candle was out.
Accident averted. Whew.
Easter: The New Life is Now April 24, 2011Posted by Matt in family, Holy Week.
Tags: baptism, conversion story, Easter Sunday, family, Sacrament, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
At the conclusion of our Maundy Thursday service and all throughout our Good Friday one, the altar stood bare and naked, devoid of the usual ornamentation to bring about any sort of celebratory mood among the parishioners. And though we attended the Easter vigil at sundown (7:44pm) the night before, it was this morning that the gates were thrown open and the glorifying gaiety poured out across our little spot in Southaven, Mississippi.
Of course Easter is the day on which we celebrate that most important Christian symbol: the empty tomb of Jesus. This idea of resurrection and rebirth permeates the entire service, reverberating through now lavishly decorated nave and embedding itself in the very spirit of all those present. The celebration itself is consummated by the proclaiming of Alleluia, a word not uttered throughout the entirety of Lent, building the anticipation for this celebratory moment of moments.
For our family, this day had another all-important meaning infused into it, for this was the day when our three children would be baptized, thus cementing our place in the Episcopal Church and with the wonderful people of St. Timothy’s. It was a transformative day, a time that will no doubt stand as a turning point in all our lives as we move forward into the world, our newfound faith accompanying us. We were joined at today’s event by my mom and the Dennis family, one set of godparents for our children (the other set, Patrick and Jennifer, were of course already there). We sat on the front row on one side of the nave and the other young child being baptized and his family sat on the other.
We began the morning with the flowering of the cross when the children of the church covered a cross near the altar with flowers (Patrick gave us permission to take them from our neighbors if necessary. He said we could just tell them that the “Lord needed them.”) Once complete, the opening procession came down the aisle and Patrick stood before everyone with energy visibly coursing through him and let out the word that had gone unsaid for some 40 days plus Sundays, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
Following the readings (Jeremiah 31:1-6, Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24, Acts 10:34-43, and the Gospel reading: Matthew 28:1-10), Patrick gave his sermon for the week. His lesson for today’s service was a two headed creature, though he tied them both together well and in a way that I found to be quite profound. As you might expect, he spoke of the significance of the empty tomb and tied it to a discussion of baptism, specifically that of infants. “Baptism, is not for them,” he said as he motioned toward our children on the front row, “it is for us,” and he waved his hands toward the larger-than-normal crowd of parishioners. “They and you are already forgiven. That’s been taken care of. Jesus brought salvation to the entire world. Everybody. So, baptism is not about the individual, it’s about the community.” Baptism is then an affirmation, by the community, of what Jesus has already done for the world.
You know why I love this church? Because I’ve been saying some of these same things for years and it’s nice to actually get some sense of validation.
When the time came for the Sacrament to take place, those of us taking part in the service stood up across the front rows of the building and pronounced that we were presenting them to receive the Sacrament of Baptism. In case you’ve never witnessed an Episcopal Baptismal ceremony, it truly is a beautiful and meaningful thing and one in which the person being baptized, their parents and godparents, and the entire church takes part. It begins with the priest asking a series of questions of those being baptized and of those (parents and godparents) representing them. For example:
Priest: Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
Priest: Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
Parents and Godparents: I will, with God’s help.
The questions then go through a litany of renouncing evil and promising to follow Jesus as Lord.
Next the entire congregation renews their own Baptismal Covenant, which is very similar in content to the Nicene Creed, in a question and answer format, and then say a prayer of thanksgiving over the water.
After all of that, it was time for the baptisms. Patrick took one child at a time, holding the youngest ones and letting our oldest two step up to the baptismal font on their own. He then cupped the water in his hand and poured it over the child’s head three times, saying, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”
Following that, he then marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross, saying, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Amen.”
Lastly he presented them to the congregation, saying, “Let us welcome the newly baptized.” The congregation then answers, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”
It was really an awesome thing to witness.
The only thing that might have made it more memorable would have been if more family had been able to make it, but my dad injured himself last week, my brother and sister-in-law were out of town, and others declined. We were so glad to have mom there, though, and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. Even though our practices in the Episcopal Church are somewhat foreign to her, she still wholeheartedly supports us and that means a lot.
So, I guess this means it’s official now. We are Episcopalians. I don’t think we could have made a better decision.
Good Friday April 23, 2011Posted by Matt in Holy Week.
Tags: Good Friday, Gospel of John, Passion, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
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I’m a little late with this post, but I wanted to continue on the track I’ve laid this week in speaking of our first Holy Week observance with St. Timothy’s, and it could not be complete without Good Friday.
As I mentioned in my last post, on Maundy Thursday the altar was stripped bare and the cross covered by a black veil, signifying the arrest of Jesus by the Empire. Good Friday then is the day of his crucifixion, the day on which Jesus dies and is buried. Our priest, Patrick, has said on more than one occasion that we should live our lives in a guilt-free way where we feel forgiven and that services conducted by him will always reflect that sentiment. The only exception to that rule is Good Friday, this is truly a black day of penitence.
On that evening walked into the nave where the silence was so thick you could almost cut it in the air, found a seat and knelt down for the prayer to open the service. The readings fit with the somber atmosphere of the night, being taken from Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22:1-11, and Hebrews 10:16-25, but it was the Gospel reading for the night that set the sobering tone and truly brought the experience home that evening. Together the congregation read through John’s account of the Passion, with Patrick acting as a narrator, other individual parishioners taking on the parts of Jesus, Peter, and Pilate, and the entire congregation standing in for the people calling for his death. It’s a difficult and sobering thing to actually play the part of those calling out, “Crucify him!,” and it was made even more so when we stood together at the verse about handing him over to be crucified.
Following the reading Patrick stood and talked for a few minutes and I found his take to be quite enlightening and profound. He brought it back home in his sermon, saying that in their opposition to Jesus and his attempt to revolutionize their religion, they built the foundation upon which he would eventually be put to death. As Patrick put it, they started out aghast at what Jesus was saying and began telling everyone, “This guy sucks!” Well, if you say something enough times it will grab a foothold and soon more people began saying it as well. Before you know it, things begin spiraling faster and faster and they’ve moved beyond attempts to discredit and insult and are ready to have him killed. It’s something to remember when we, in our overly confrontational society, are so quick to run down or seek to discredit those with whom we presume to disagree. I know that I’ve been guilty of that in the past just as I’m sure most others are as well.
We ended with more litany and prayer, but no Communion because, as Patrick says, we are remembering a day when God was no longer available. It’s a terrible yet somehow strangely beautiful sentiment.