It was six years ago, during the summer after my first semester in seminary, that I stumbled across the Social Media HUB for the Episcopal Church gathered in its 76th General Convention (in Anaheim).The message of deep engagement in mission locally and globally, dedication to social justice and inclusion (even if it was imperfectly stated or acted upon), and abiding devotion to the Risen Christ was breath of fresh air.
Because I was suffocating. To be clear, what follows is not an indictment against conservative Christianity. Conservative Christianity baptized me, reared me, taught me scripture and how to pray, and taught me about a Holy Spirit who was tangible and visceral. As Rachel Held Evans suggests in her book “Searching for Sunday,” our spiritual journeys are like a giant labyrinth – no step is wasted along the journey. There are bits of conservative Christianity that I will always carry with me and not all the memories are bad.
But at some point six years ago I felt the death throes of my spirituality.
Christianity just didn’t work for me anymore. Nothing dramatic had happened in my life to prompt this awareness; rather, it was more of a slow awareness that I was choking to death and I had no idea there was a lifeline to save me. Platitudes were pointless. Cliches fell flat. Anemic suggestions to just have “more faith” felt offensive and dismissive of my pain and longing for a spirituality that worked. If I could’ve saved it, I would’ve it. But try as I might the well of my spirituality had run dry and I was dying.
Then I heard a woman speak of mission and life, resurrection and fierce urgency. It was The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori preaching about the sending out of the disciples who were instructed not to carry a bag, or purse, or too many clothes, or too many shoes, but to live life in the Spirit on the Gospel edge and to trust God to sustain them for the journey. I’m not sure exactly what it was about that sermon that felt to me like living water. I’ve spent countless hours since that day trying to locate the text of the sermon and to drill down into what it was about those words that sounded to me like “Talitha Cum! (Girl, get up!)” The best answer that I’ve managed to cobble together is that her message of divestment resonated deeply with where I was spiritually, having been stripped of my childhood faith and having slowly realized that the spiritual clothes I was wearing had grown too small. A faith that traveled lightly, that skipped down the paths of Palestine with joy and reckless abandon bringing good news to the poor and release to prisoners spoke deeply to my aching bones which had grown weary under a faith that had grown too heavy and often felt too cumbersome.
In the six years since I made the conscious choice to become an Episcopalian, to jump on board a ship that many had abandoned and that many more feared had run aground, I have felt deeply in my soul that God isn’t through with us yet. My decision to respond to God’s voice and pursue Holy Orders in this feisty little corner of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church was a decision to give my life away to a God who had saved it six summers ago when the light of my faith began to dim. Since that day, I have worshiped with Afro-Caribbeans and African-Americans in a joyful mixture of Gospel and steel drums, I have prayed with nuns on the side of a mountain, shared bread and wine in transcendent cathedrals and humble parish churches, I have raised my voice accompanied by guitar and sat quietly as surpliced-choirs recounted age-old Anglican hymns supported by mighty pipe organs, I have knelt at the feet of the Queen of Heaven in quiet devotion and I have belted out Negro spirituals on a campus carved out in the cradle of the Confederacy, I have witnessed a church stumble in the darkness but display a dogged determination in continuing to press on the upward way.
Six years ago I thought I was looking for a “more perfect church.”
Instead I found a church deeply wounded, but committed to the Christ-cultural vocation of being wounded healers. My hope and prayer is that our beloved church can continue this ministry of touching the least, the lost, and the left-out. I hope and pray that we can continue to counter the voices of scarcity with the vast and bottomless abundance of God’s grace. I hope and pray that as a family we may continue to stumble forward in the darkness, traveling lightly, and speaking boldly. I hope that local parishes can not only see and engage the vast mission fields right outside their doors, but to also honor the God who is stirring right outside of their “beautiful gates” in coffeeshops and locals bars. I hope dioceses can become networks of ministry and support, not mini fiefdoms, as we raise disciples to go into all the world replicating and reproducing, baptizing thirsty souls in the name of God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I hope that we can continue to be a place of welcome, but to transcend vapid appeals to general welcome, and to welcome lonely travelers in the strong name of Jesus Christ who still calls us home and whose still causes the demons of fear and smallness to tremble.
I love this Church. I have found home and welcome in this Church. I have been renewed and strengthened by this Church. I still deeply believe in the message of this Church – that all are welcome in the name of Jesus Christ, all are invited into this ministry through his death, all are empowered by his dying and resurrection, all are strengthened by his risen life, all are nourished by his body and blood, and all means all.
General Convention for some is an opportunity to meet with old friends and new. For others it is a time to take part in the counsels of the church. Still for others it is an opportunity to bear witness to the stirring spirit of God gathered in this diverse community. Among all those reasons, which feel true for me, General Convention is also a time for me to take stock and reflect on my meandering spiritual journey and to give thanks to God for that voice who dared to speak life.