This weekend I traveled south to Nashville and the surrounding area for the holiday. The kids and I were going to visit my old college roommate and her family. I hadn't seen her family in quite awhile, and I was looking forward to getting away.
On Sunday morning, I attended church at St. Ann's Episcopal in Nashville. I had wanted to attend because my roommate's brother attends and is very active there. I arrived a few minutes late and quickly took my place in the back of the church. It was a typical service in my tradition. Liturgy, hymns, a short sermon. The norm for me. I can recite most of the liturgy without looking at it, and there is something comforting about that to me. I can really consider the words, and their meaning changes for me over time. What might be particularly poignant one Sunday is a blur a year later.
As I looked around me, there was a fairly good cross-section of society in attendance. Straight, gay, young, old, a few black folks, a guy robed that I discovered later was a Franciscan brother. People were friendly without being intrusive. I was greeted after the service by the rector of the parish among other people. When I explained that I was just passing through, I still received a warm reception.
As we prepared to recite the prayers of the people, the woman leading asked us to pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters who would observe Rosh Hoshanah this coming week as well as our Muslim brothers and sisters who would be observing the end of Ramadan this coming week. I was struck by this simple gesture. And I was moved by it. This is my family, this is my church.
As Episcopalians, we are people who pray for others regardless of the religious, political and sociological differences that so often divide us. We prayed for the unity of the church universal. We prayed for those who are alone. We prayed for the sick and the healers alike. We prayed for justice and peace for all people.
I've always been drawn to the liturgical church. There is something about the order and sameness of it that comforts me and makes me feel at home no matter where I worship. But more than that, I am drawn to the Episocopal church because of scenes just like the one that played out in front of me Sunday. A group of 80 or so folks who gathered for an hour to be together in worship and in life. People who care about one another and the broader world. I was encouraged by them and their commitment to those around them. Part of their work involved a homeless shelter that was getting ready to open its doors in the coming week.
I am not an ideological person in a lot of ways. I would never profess that my way is the only way, or that the Episcopal church has the corner on the truth market. I don't pledge my allegiance to much. I don't belong to a political party. I'm not ordinarily a follower of much. Not to be glib, but don't think most movements are completely correct about any one thing. While saying all that, I don't mean to indicate I don't take seriously our political dilemmas and our moral and religious crises. Certainly I take them too seriously most days. And while I'm an American who typically votes for Democrats and consider myself a Christian, I don't think any of those groups (Americans, Democrats, Christians) get it right all the time.
Perhaps it's not that I don't take things seriously enough, but rather that I take my loyalty a bit too seriously. For me too offer my support, my unabashed, undying allegiance, I have to believe that on some level those in charge of that body/institution/country have it right. And quite honestly that doesn't happen very often. I mistrust most institutions. And I think rightfully so in most ways.
Having said all that, I was proud of my church Sunday. Pleased to be an Episcopalian. Happy that my children get to be part of this body of believers. And loyal to the values we talk about, that we live out everyday. We love each other and we love the world. The rest can be argued, debated and worked out later. If we start there, that regardless of your creed, color, sexual orienation, gender (name all the other things that separate us)...we will love you, we will accept you where you are and we will welcome you to worship with us and to live in community with us. Certainly that's the way I read the gospel (the "Good News") of Jesus. And it makes me proud to be among those who are doing their best to live out this good news.