Sunday, February 19, 2006

If it's Tuesday, this must be the Episcopal church

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I went to the 4:30 Episcopal Holy Eucharist in the university chapel yesterday and was moved by its simple beauty.

Which wasn't supposed to be my reaction at all.

A few weeks ago when I went to the Sunday service at my Episcopal church and left feeling completely convinced that I would not go back. I planned to sit down and write a nice note to the vicar and the congregation explaining my decision and thanking them for their warm hospitality during the past year. This intention lasted all week but for some reason I never got around to finishing that note, and when Sunday rolled around again I decided that attending the annual meeting would be the right way to finish things off, since I first showed up there the week after last year's annual meeting. But instead of closure, what I experienced was a warm sense of belonging. I found, somewhat to my surprise, that if you make that church your "principal place of public worship" for a year and give them something, you are considered a "contributing member" eligible to vote at the meeting (although there was no voting, everything being accomplished by acclaim rather than an actual vote).

So I returned home totally confused, ready to sign up for inquirer's classes (not in preparation for joining, but just because I want to learn more). However, I never made that call, either and eventually I decided it was because I really felt pulled back toward a Catholic church. I had in fact just received a mailing from that group as part of their parish planning process, asking if I wanted to be visited and asking if I still wanted to be listed as a member. And I decided the timing of this letter was fortuitous, a sign that I ought to commit myself to belonging there. Last weekend, however, a big snow storm pretty much determined that their Saturday evening Mass was the only church option I was going to have, and though I arrived anticipating that I would feel I was really back where I belonged, it turned out I didn't feel that way, not at all.

However, I hadn't entirely let go of the idea of committing myself to that congregation when Tuesday rolled around. I think I went up to the chapel mostly because I had put it on my calendar and felt somehow that I ought to follow through. There were only four of us present, as it turned out, all "adults" rather than students: a woman who was the presider and assistant chaplain; the chaplain and his wife, and the dean of the chapel and who is also, as it happens, an ordained Episcopal priest. (Which meant there were three ordained persons and two others--an unusual balance.)

The presider was solemn and thoughtful presider--a little on the stern side, I though, until she greeted me warmly at the conclusion. In fact, they all greeted me warmly--hard not to notice a newcomer in that small group, I suppose. In the dark beauty of that awesome church, with the (to me) poetic words of the Book of Common Prayer washing over me, I felt that I was indeed in the right place. I will go back, I am sure, but my sense of peace was certainly disrupted by my sense of utter confusion. And it doesn't help that the Catholic Mass is celebrated in this same space, at noon on weekdays. (And, for what it's worth, is much better attended ... )

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