I attended an Episcopal church service on Sunday. I'm using the words "Crisis of Faith" in my title, because that's how my well-meaning friends at St Francis will refer to it. I prefer to think of it as an evolution. At any rate, this was a baby step at best. I can't desert my choir right before Lent and Easter, and I certainly can't make any decisions based on one service at one church. But, I feel the need to document this for reference purposes, if nothing else.
My list of Pros and Cons. Note that some of these pertain to the denomination as a whole, while others are particular to this one church.
- Warm welcome at the door of the church. The greeter actually greeted. Warmly. Which leads me to my next point..
- The church was warm. I noticed immediately that nobody inside had their coat on. In all fairness, it was a smaller church and, therefor, easier to heat. As far back as childhood, I have been mystified by the Catholic habit of leaving one's coat on throughout Mass. I asked my mother once "does everyone leave their coat on so that they can leave as quickly as possible when Mass has ended?" I won't describe her response, but rest assured, it involved pain. I used to think it was because there was no place to hang a coat. But in this Episcopal church, I saw many people place their coats next to themselves in the pew. So, I'm still left to wonder - why leave your coat on inside for almost an hour? Is it the lack of heat or the lack of a coat room or the lack of something else?
- Music was very traditional. This is totally about personal preference, of course. I absolutely detest most of the music found in the standard Catholic missalette. When I attempt to sing it, I feel as though I could have written all of the songs in my living room on one slow Saturday night. Most of the Episcopal hymns were sight-readable, but very old school in feel. The choir was not spectacular, but they enhanced the service adequately. The congregation sang. I won't go into the significance of this, except to say that St. Francis parishioners have a rep for singing, but they were mute compared to this group.
- The homily was amazing (yes, they are called homilies still, by the Episcopalians). Intelligent and powerful without being bombastic or judgmental. And it left me with something to think about. I can't remember the last time I could say the same thing after Mass.
- Blessings. There was a lot of specific blessings and intentions going on. Prayers for: people with birthdays and anniversaries, the ill, the recently deceased, other churches in the area-of all denominations, new babies, this, that and the other - all of them listed by name. People celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries were invited to the front of the church for a special blessing. As a first-timer, I felt as though I was getting to know these people through this ritual. I found it to be very welcoming and appealing.
-only one, really. There was (in no particular order): the Book of Common Prayer, the hymnal, and the program (given out by the friendly Greeters). At any particular time, I found myself juggling books in the pew. Some of the BCP material was duplicated in the program, the actual readings from the Bible were in the program, sometimes the program contained only a reference to a page number in the BCP. I can only assume that I would get better at it with practice, but on this particular occasion, it felt quite awkward, and I couldn't help but feel vindicated for occasionally laughing at people who found the Mass to be confusing to follow.
- Communion - received while kneeling at a communion rail! I was quite taken aback at this, seeing as how I've been Catholic my entire life and have never received Communion at a rail. I don't have any real feelings one way or another about this, except that I was startled, and if I was trying to be low-key, kneeling at a rail in front of the entire congregation was not the way to go about it.
- Sunday School - takes place during the service, and at a certain point in the service, the kids and parents come up from the basement and join the service in progress. At Mass, I've seen a "Children's Liturgy", but this was slightly different, as it was referred to as "Sunday School" and the parents had the option of participating with their kids (and most of them did). What went on down in the basement, I have no idea. I was relieved while they came upstairs, because I had been starting to think that there were no members under the age of 40.
So, these were the major points of interest. The sense of warmth and humanity that I gleaned from my initial research was definitely played out during this particular service. I chose not to go to the coffee hour that took place after the service. It didn't seen appropriate somehow, seeing as how I'm still in my discovery phase of this decision, and I was't ready to engage in conversations that might lead to questions. My final impression of this church: the woman sitting to my left turned to me after the service had concluded and informed me that I needed to be in the choir. I smiled and thanked her....... oh Lord, if she only knew.....