It's almost Advent. This is a season for reflection on birth, incarnation and connection.
I now have been an Episcopalian for more than three years. I am still a "new" Episcopalian, yet I am able to look back and reflect on my "birth" as an Episcopalian.
My entrance into a denomination was surprising. I never had been religious growing up; to my peers, my religious affiliation was nonexistent, or ambiguous at best. I never let others know what I believed, perhaps because I still was trying to figure that out myself.
One thing I did know was that once I walked into a church, I felt different – it was a good kind of different. But it took a long time for me to do anything about it.
Finally, I mustered up the strength to walk into my local Episcopal church on a Sunday. Before I made my trip, I researched the liturgy online so I wouldn't look like a fool.
It was love at first sight – the beauty of the church, and sounds, too, since I loved the sermon, the prayers and the hymns. Most of all, I loved the people in this small parish. I felt very welcome and sensed that they were very accepting. The stereotypes I had of "church people" were shattered. I used to believe people who went to church were judgmental, humorless, rigid and had nothing in common with me. How wrong I had been.
It was the end of Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. Somehow, this seemed an appropriate time to begin a new faith journey. I studied the prayer book, read up on the history of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, got an NRSV Bible and became acquainted with the liturgical calendar, the saints, the rituals and signs of inner and outward grace. I discovered that I loved "bells and smells" and that questioning the Bible was not only allowed, but also encouraged.
I jumped in with both feet. It was almost like a whirlwind romance: the kind where people meet, connect, feel giddy and are headed to the altar in a matter of weeks. This was a place where I was supposed to be. So, with a sponsor from the parish, I was baptized on Easter at 37 years of age by my new priest, who was becoming a spiritual guide for me. I never even knew a priest before I met him, and now I was seeing one on a regular basis.
As a new Episcopalian, I thought it was important that I follow the news of the Episcopal Church. I was so naive that I knew nothing of the "controversies"; I didn't even know who Gene Robinson was. So, I began to educate myself through various media outlets, and I followed the General Convention of 2006.
Almost two months after I was baptized, the Episcopal Church elected its first female presiding bishop. Since part of the appeal of the church for me was its inclusion of women in the priesthood and episcopate, I was absolutely thrilled at this news. Unbeknownst to me at that time, I would get to meet this presiding bishop almost three years later and tell her in person how joining this church was the best decision I ever made. I learned about all the debates, the disagreements, the talks of "walking apart." I would not be truthful if I said that this chaos did not affect me in some way. After all, we are all "one body" with many members.
But I could not imagine walking away and leaving the church that had so enriched me and introduced me to so many wonderful ministries and people on all levels. I do hope that after this chaos will come peace and that the Holy Spirit will do its work to ensure this.
At the parish level, things have been peaceful, but we have other worries. We are small and worry about growth.
Sometimes I don't know if my church needs me more or if I need it more. In any case, we need each other. I've thrown myself into parish life, with goals to support the church in any way possible: I am involved in serving, vestry, outreach and exploring new ways to draw people to our church.
More than three years have passed since I took those baptismal vows. Have I kept those vows? I'd like to think that, yes, I have made a good start by doing what I've just mentioned, but I still have more work to do. That's the thing about vows – sticking with them is a lifelong process.
I always had been one to care about and value peace, justice and the dignity of my fellow man. I had been identifying with Christian values through most of my life, well before I even realized they were Christian values. Christianity teaches us that these values were brought to us in human form – this is what the incarnation was all about, and we are to carry on these values.
I have been an Episcopalian for only three years, yet it seems like the church always has been a part of me. My faith now comes as naturally to me as breathing. I look back on my journey with gladness. I am in awe of it all. I look forward to continuing on.