Coming back to the Church was not, at first, a conscious decision. It was basically a sneaky grace trick. I was coming off of five years of churchlessness, and was following a spirituality based mostly in symbols and synchronicity. My husband Joel had been going to a large Catholic church, and I went there with him one Sunday, where I was struck by one fellow in the clergy who threw back his head and sung the hymns to their fullest extent. Joel told me that was his favorite priest, basically the whole reason he kept going to that church. But Catholicism was not something I could return to — the exclusionary repressive ideals that still plague that institution were too much for me to be a part of, despite the beauty of the ritual and the passion of this particular priest. A short while later that priest left that church, and my husband stopped going as well. So we found ourselves on Christmas Eve of 2009, churchless and with a desire to go to a midnight service.
We knew about Holy Innocents because we had been to a wedding there, in that glorious yet all-too-brief period in California history in which folks were legally allowed to wed whomever they chose (Here’s hoping that we return to that legislative affirmation of love as soon as possible). Therefore, I knew if they loved the gays enough to marry them to one another, they would probably not balk at me, a person who looks innocent enough on the outside but has the pesky habit of loving people the Church deems unlovable (or at least worthy of much judgment). Well, we walked into the cozy, candlelit evening service to find that the priest from Joel’s old church was one of the acolytes! We saw this as a sign, at least that we were in the right place that night. We enjoyed the service, steeped in ritual and mystery, perfect for a introspective Christmas Eve. We went home, worked on our Christmas song, and decided to go back to HI to try out a Sunday service.
When we went the following Sunday, we noticed in the bulletin that there was an upcoming series on Celtic Christianity on Wednesday nights. I was intrigued, as I love me some Celts, and have often looked for avenues to merge their witchy ways with more contemporary spiritual practices. One St. Patrick’s Day I did a whole community ritual that I made up myself, using Celtic, Christian and arts-based practices. Anyway I decided to check it out. It was being held after their potluck and I figured I’d get a meal out of it either way, even if it was not what I was looking for.
When we arrived at the potluck, we learned an interesting fact about Episcopals — when they get together for a meal, they drink! Wine! Lots of it! This was a delicious realization. Maybe I could enjoy these folks after all. Everyone was very sweet and welcoming, interested in us but not jumping down our throats to be their new best friends and join their pet committee (okay one woman did ask us to help with the annual tag sale but she was so hilarious about it that we didn’t mind). Also they were great cooks. So, two points there. We really enjoyed the session on Celtic spirituality, finding it delightfully rooted in a care of the Earth and centuries-old Christian practices. So we kept going back. Every Sunday and Wednesday, we’d surprise ourselves by actually wanting to be there.
It was like finding an old sweater in the dark depths of your closet that you used to wear all the time and decided to throw on. It didn’t fit the same, but it was warm, comforting, and you started to remember why you used to love it.
I asked the vicar one week if it was okay that I didn’t actually believe half of the things we said in a Sunday mass. “When we get up and say the Nicene creed, I feel like a fraud. I don’t know if I believe any of it!” In her Southern drawl she admitted, “Oh, I don’t believe it half the time either. This week I did. Next week perhaps I won’t.” It was so relieving to hear that I could be a part of the community, showing up wherever I was that week on my faith journey, and be involved as much as I chose. I found myself in tears when she would remind us, every Sunday, that “this communion table is not the table of the Episcopal church. It is God’s table, and all are welcome.” This was not the exclusionary theology I had experienced in almost every other church I had been to. But it was also not Christian Lite. We were still proclaiming Jesus, but just saying that everyone, exactly as they were that moment, could be a part of this mercy, could receive this grace. And I needed it, more than I even knew.