I found a Dana story that needs to be told. Here it is:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
-Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride
My friend Dana and I have both spent an inordinate amount of time in the Episcopal church. We like it because it is familiar- so much so that you could wake us up in the middle of the night and we’d still be able to recite parts of the service from memory. She knows Rite II. I know Rite I. Now that I attend a church that uses Rite II exclusively, I’m learning it as well, but every Sunday I wonder where the Prayer of Humble Access has gone, I usually place a few errant thee’s and thy’s in there, and no matter how many times I say the Nicene Creed, I believe it is the remission of sins, not forgiveness. It’s more eloquent that way. Lest you think my Anglican history is more involved than Dana’s, let me correct you. She has her very own red leather Book of Common Prayer. It is wrong, but I covet it with every chance I get.
Since Dana is now firmly entrenched in the United Church of Christ, she attends there most Sundays. But sometimes she gets the itch to say the magic words or take communion with an impossibly stale piece of what tastes like old rice cake and she’ll come with me to Trinity. But way back, when I was still a member of the UCC myself, we’d get on the Internet and go “church shopping,” not for anything permanent- just somewhere we could go and connect to the Anglican Communion, an official term meaning, “when we go to an Episcopal church in Portland, we are saying the same words and participating in the same rituals as our parents.” It doesn’t matter that it’s in a different time zone, because we’re not just connecting to today. We’re also connecting to the long line of Sundays that march backwards into our childhood.
It was that connection that made me realize I needed to return to the Episcopal church full time- exciting new discoveries in theology and academia are pulling the church forward, but it is not there yet. In the Episcopal church, I have my work cut out for me in terms of learning to present progressive ideas to people who might be hearing them for the first time, or looking at them with fresh eyes.
One of the most progressive ideas in all of Christianity, not just the Anglican/Episcopal denomination, is the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church- not only in terms of being able to receive the sacraments, but in being able to perform them. There are different advocacy groups across the country. In the Episcopal church, it is called Integrity. For Catholics, Dignity. For Methodists, the Reconciling Ministries Network. For Mormons, Affirmation.
I mention them here because even I cannot keep them straight (as it were). Like most things involving Dana and myself, this has led to a very funny story.
While we were in our “church shopping” phase, Dana found a Reform Episcopal church not too far from where we both live. I thought that it was another one of those progressive, liberal arms of ECUSA, and I told Dana so. We both got a little excited about attending somewhere new, and if it worked out, they met at night so we wouldn’t have to abandon Bridgeport, either. We could have the best of both worlds and not feel guilty about it.
When we drove up to the church, there weren’t many cars. That should have been the first clue, but it didn’t bother me because I didn’t think I’d ever been to an evening service that was too well attended. As preaching teacher Fred Craddock says, “I prefer to worship in the evening, but eventually I get tired of being in the church all by myself.” It could also have been that I was so eager to connect that I glossed over the fact that I’d seen more cars in the parking lot when I went for my last root canal.
We went into the sanctuary. It was relatively simple, with white walls and red carpet. It was dimly lit with candles and there was an old Hammond playing in the background. It was deja vu for me, because as a preacher’s kid it reminded me of every funeral home chapel I’d ever seen. We took our seats. When the first hymn began, the congregants were so spread out that the only voices we could hear were our own. Reciting the liturgy, I noted some familiar things, but most of it was foreign, written in an early dialect of English that I’d only read about in high school, when we studied the Salem witch trials. The sermon made Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather look moderate.
After the service was over, Dana and I went to the little coffee hour. While Dana talked to a woman that was actually born on Roanoke Island, I stood around and watched people. It was kind of eerie how they all looked related. I don’t think they liked the way we looked, either. We signed the guest registry and we haven’t heard from them since.
It was kind of quiet as we were driving back, until I broke the ice.
“I don’t think Reform means what we think it means.”
“I think you might be right.”