Why I'm *Still* an Episcopalian
Following on from Megan's post on why she's becoming an Episcopalian, Will writes about why he doesn't want to be anything else! You can read more of Will's writing in the Saint Hilda's Winter Quarterly.
Growing up the son of a priest, the Episcopal Church was a big part of my life whether I liked it or not. For the majority of my childhood, I simply saw church as something that I had to do on Sundays because it was where my dad worked (I used to think he only worked on Sundays!). It wasn’t until my teens that I came to realize that everything was connected. The words of the liturgy, the hymns, the scripture, the numerous sermons I heard my father preach, my summers spent at Camp Henry, serving on the youth council, having the opportunity to participate in many service learning trips, my four years of campus ministry, and my current experiences at Saint Hilda’s House; it all began to connect. Now I see how the church I used to not understand at all has brought me to where I am today. Now I see how it has all had an immeasurable effect on the person I am today.
A lot of people will say that they only experience God outside the walls of a church. They can only experience God’s presence at camp, or in nature, or when they have time to relax and listen. For me, Church has always been where I feel most centered as far as my faith is concerned, but I feel just as close to God at camp, or on a service trip, or at my current job at New Haven’s largest food pantry.
That said, Camp Henry was the first place I ever remember experiencing God outside the walls of a church. Our diocesan camp since the 1950s, Camp Henry is nestled in the mountains of North Carolina (which I am proud to call my home). God was central to our songs and time in chapel, but we also had time to play, swim, and laugh together. I remember vividly how it was a place that the nerdy 6th grade version of myself was able to be truly care free and have people accept me for me, instead of trying to act cool to fit in as was so often the case for many of us in middle school. Looking back now, I realize that camp was my first experience of living in community, if only for a week at a time.
The Episcopal Church has also given me a yearning to serve God’s people in the midst of their deepest need. This was first made known to me in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. My first ever service trip was in coastal Mississippi, where the winds from Katrina had leveled homes to rubble on their foundations. During our week there, our group essentially moved debris from a pile that used to be a house to a different pile of rubble that was closer to the road. It was the hottest and most humid place I have ever encountered, and it didn’t seem like we were getting much accomplished. It was not until a mother and child came up to our van at a gas station with tears streaming down her face in gratitude that I understood what we were there for. We were not there to rebuild this community by ourselves, but to provide a presence of caring and support for our brothers and sisters who were in pain. The Episcopal Church is not unique in the experiences it offers: there are camps and similar trips in other denominations across the country. Where I think the Episcopal Church is different, though, is the authentic foundation our which these experiences spring and the fact there are no hidden agendas. These camps and trips do not exist to convert or to proselytize, but rather as legitimate responses to real need.
My two years at Saint Hilda’s House have done nothing but strengthen my faith in The Episcopal Church. When I first told friends I would be living at an Anglo-Catholic parish, the majority of the comments had something to do with “smells and bells.” But while there is certainly quite a lot of incense in the air at Christ Church, there is also something more subtle. It is the fact that at the heart of its tradition, Anglo-Catholicity is rooted in social justice and being a helping hand to those in need. For over a century people have prayed in this place for the alleviation of pain and suffering, not only for the city of New Haven, but for the world. And our motto, “through the gates and into the city,” is befitting of the roots of my convictions. Yes, we may pray and worship in this brick framework, but that is only a small piece of the pie of what our call is. We also put our feet to the pavement to this city, and are able to walk the walk just as well as we are able to talk the talk.
It is not unusual to hear the stories of young adults who become disenchanted by the idea of church they experienced growing up. Despite the stereotypes of preacher’s sons being the most likely to cut ties with their Christian roots, however, I have never wavered in the knowledge that the Episcopal Church is where I truly am called to be. It has been a church which encouraged questions rather than giving me nonnegotiable answers, I was never scared of going to Hell for having moments or extended periods of doubt, and most of all I was indoctrinated with the idea that the essential nature of God is that of love, forgiveness, and an offering of these things to the stranger in our midst.
Five of my community members over the past two years have either been confirmed or received into The Episcopal Church. In a time when we are considered a denomination on the decline, this is an improbable event. We are defying the odds, and are literally doing something countercultural. I have been one of very few “Cradle Episcopalians” in my community over the last two years, and it is even a rarity in the wider Episcopal network in New Haven. I cannot take much credit it this moniker, as it was not my choice to make. I can however thank and take pride in my forefathers and mothers who had the faith and willingness to pass along the tradition of love and service that this denomination entails. From the mountains of Appalachia, to the urban expanses of New England, there is a wide breadth of experience that The Episcopal Church has to offer; and by the grace of God, I am proud to say that I am a part of it all.
Would you like to be a part of the wider community of Saint Hilda's House? You can join The Friends of Saint Hilda here.