I am finally taking a big step this weekend. I've thought and dreamed about it for a few years now. I guess I was waiting for the final straw or whatever. I've had to trust myself enough to know that I would recognize the time when it came. It has come.
Tomorrow morning, I will attend church service. That's right. Service. Not Mass. I am a bit scared, to be honest. I realize that I am not the first nor will I be the last disenchanted Catholic to walk through the doors of an Episcopal Church. But I know that every experience is unique and I know that this not a lark for me.
I just read that Robin Williams, himself an Episcopalian, jokes about the Episcopal Church being "Catholic Lite" - all the structure with half the guilt. Based on research, I think it goes much deeper. It is a very structured denomination. Ritualistic. If you want proof, try attending an Evensong Service - or better yet, try being an active participant in one. Having sung in the chorus at three Evensong Services -one being at the Washington National Cathedral, no less, I knew that I was hooked on this denomination. The difference between the the rituals of the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church can be boiled down to one word - harmony. When I hear the Episcopal prayers, I am immediately struck by how they are almost all about harmony. There is a rhythm to their psalms that is calming. There is a feeling of acceptance in their words and actions. I began to think that I might really be able to "have my cake and eat it too." Catholic Lite - No. Catholic - New and Improved - Yes.
My research tells me that the Episcopal Church is not afraid to question itself or its principles. In fact its entire history in North America is one of evolution. I believe this to be possible due to its identification with the common man. This denomination has proven (at least to me) that ritual beauty can coexist with empathy and self-evaluation. All is not lost when a change in official position takes place. In words and in actions, it is a mainstream Protestant denomination steeped in tradition that is not afraid to learn, grow and change with the times.
These are all aspects of the Episcopal Church that are sadly lacking in the Catholic Church. I have been searching for them, and the best case scenario I could find was the case of the Catholic Pastor who looks the other way at the lifestyle of the Gay Music Director - "he's the best organist we've ever had, so we'll ignore the fact that we don't condone his lifestyle, would never marry him and his partner and generally believe that he's going to Hell." Over 90% of married Catholics use artificial contraception to control the size of their families. Maybe because deep down, we know that God gave us intelligence and free will in order to have dominion over the other creatures of the Earth. "Be fruitful and multiply" does not mean "Multiply like rabbits". Then there is the question of abortion. The Episcopal position on abortion: "While the Episcopal Church recognizes a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, the church condones abortion only in cases of rape or incest, cases in which a mother’s physical or mental health is at risk, or cases involving fetal abnormalities. The church forbids “abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, sex selection or any reason of mere convenience.”" Well, I feel as though I could have written this myself. Humanity. Sense and feel the humanity in this statement. Feel the recognition of the trials of living across all strata of our civilization. I sense that this was written by people who might try to walk a mile in the shoes of their faithful.
The bottom line for me is that hoping that my parish will always employ a progressive pastor is no longer good enough. The monsignor at my church gives a homily at least once a year about "Cafeteria Plan Catholics". I can hear his voice. "Cafeteria Plan Catholics are ones who want to pick and choose the rules that suit them and their lifestyle. This is not good enough. A true Catholic sees his or her religion as an "all or nothing" proposition, and that is the only way to live a truly Catholic life." Well, guess what? He's dead on. So, I am choosing not to sit in his pew and hear this message again.
Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life.