Monday, January 13, 2014

WELL, God may not be an Episcopalian --- but I AM!

I'm working on the next of my posts on my non-trinitarianism, but something is just annoying the living devil out of me, and I've got to get this off my chest. I promise to have the next "Why I Am Not A Trinitarian" post published here within the next day or so.

But, for now, I wonder:


WHY ARE NON-EPISCOPALIANS ASKED TO CRITIQUE OUR EPISCOPAL WORSHIP PRACTICES?

AT MY CHURCH, an ordained Presbyterian minister and "church-seeder" is happy as a lark to see the changes that are being effected there. He's enthusiastic about them, and thinks they're the greatest thing since sliced bread or toilet paper. He poo-poos the idea of "stand to praise, sit for instruction, kneel for prayer," and why wouldn't he? He's a PRESBYTERIAN! That's not their tradition. But it IS OUR tradition; it's our form of "congregational participation." It would never, ever, occur to me to be so bold as to suggest to Immanuel Presbyterian or First Congregational or any Baptist Church that they aren't worshiping right, that they should observe Episcopal traditions. For instance, at weddings, we don't play the "Here Comes The Bride" thing; at funerals, we don't throw open the casket and have everybody troop by for a (morbid, in my opinion) viewing of the corpse. But why would I go to a Baptist or Presbyterian wedding or funeral and tell them that they aren't doing things right --- that they should do them in our Very Proper Episcopal way? I wouldn't.

A friend of mine from church calls our worship services a "cut-and-paste liturgy," and I agree. What we used to do right back in the "glory days" of the Episcopal Church was worship in our distinctive way. No, it didn't appeal to everyone; it didn't appeal to MOST people. But it DID speak to the souls of some people, and we're losing those people at 
St. John's Cathedral.

We're being told constantly that our worship services are being modernized, made more attractive to younger people. Why? 

We're told constantly that our services, our approach to the worship experience, is being brought into the 21st Century, that what may have been attractive to people in the mid-20th Century is simply no longer what they want. That's nonsense. I'm old enough, and I've been an Episcopalian long enough, t have seen us go through several major "modernization" phases in our Church, and it's gotten to the point that those to whose hearts and spirits the traditional, Book of Common Prayer-based worship experience speaks are ignored, or worse, patted on the head and told in no uncertain terms that we're just too grossly ignorant or spiritually benighted to understand that what's being done is for our benefit.

Why do our leaders at ST. John's flatly refuse to see that we're not going to draw the people who're attracted to First AME or West Angeles or Agape or even Pacific Crossroads Church? When will they see that the USC students from affluent Episcopalian homes who want to go to church shouldn't have to trot all the way across town to St. James' WIlshire to find what speaks to their souls? We, St. John's Pro-Cathedral, are right next to them --- in walking distance, for God's sake (pun intended); but they come once, are bewildered and horrified by what they see, leave at The Peace, and we never see them again. I volunteer at a venue in downtown L.A., and many people recognize me as an usher at St. John's. Hardly a week goes by that at least one or two of those people don't really unload on me about the horrors of the theoretically Episcopal worship experiences they had at St. John's.

Yes, I know that God is not an Episcopalian. He isn't, but I am. And I very strongly resent people telling me that my sentiments are outmoded, old-fashioned, not productive. I am an Episcopalian, and I am most comfortable worshiping like an Episcopalian --- not like a Lutheran or Roman Catholic, or a Presbyterian. My word, even the services at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles --- First Congregational Church, folks! --- have gone "High-Church"; the services in even that most Protestant of Protestant churches seem more like past Episcopal services than do whatever it is that we're doing at St. John's now. And First Congregational is growing, and has hordes of young people! 


As I've said over and over and over, ad nauseam, all of this would be moot, and could be dismissed as just the ramblings and grumblings of a cranky old man stubbornly clinging to the past if it were not for one glaring fact: Not all Episcopal or other mainline churches are ageing and withering and dying; there are even many Episcopal churches that are robust and dynamic and growing --- and not all of them are ultra-conservative and in the South (such as the Episcopal mega-church, the Bush family's St. Martin's Church in Houston, TX). Just look at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco; All Saints' Pasadena; St. Thomas' New York; St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle. What they all do have in common, though, is an allegiance to our literary and liturgical masterpiece, The Book of Common Prayer, and their services are clearly Episcopal services. If you were to wander into either of those churches on a Sunday morning, you'd know immediately that you were in an Episcopal church, not a Lutheran or Presbyterian, or (gag!) "non-denominational" church. I wish the same could be said of services at St. John's Cathedral. 

As I said before, I know that God is not an Episcopalian, but I am. That's why I agree with the apocryphal Boston matron up to a point. Remember the lady? She grumbled about her church's new young rector, who (according to her, anyway) was always going on and on about Evangelism. "Everybody who should be an Episcopalian," she sniffed, "already is one." Yes, there are many people to whom the distinctive Episcopal way of worship is moving and inspiring; they want to be Episcopalians, and they should be Episcopalians. They just need to know where to find an Episcopal church.

For links to the thriving Episcopal churches mentioned above, please go to:
St. Martin's Houston: http://www.stmartinsepiscopal.org
Grace Cathedral: http://www.gracecathedral.org
All Saints' Pasadena: http://www.allsaints-pas.org
St. Thomas' New York: http://www.saintthomaschurch.org
St. Mark's Cathedral: http://www.saintmarks.org