Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A welcoming Church

I was invited by some friends to join them for Sunday Eucharist at All Saint’s Episcopal Church. The church itself is a beautiful Gothic style church located across the street from City Hall in Pasadena, California. As I entered into the vestibule, I was greeted by very pleasant people who handed me a copy of that day’s liturgical prayers and music.

The music was beautiful and the verses ended crisply, I recalled a Catholic choir director who shared with me that the way that Catholic priests say Mass could make neurotics of most musicians. The other thing about attending an Episcopal Sunday service that always struck me is that it is sort of like listening to the BBC. We both speak English, but they just do it so much better.

I smiled as I read the directive “Silence is kept” on the liturgical program (should I spell that programme?) The differences were not as pronounced as when I took a course in Shakespeare at UCLA, but they reminded me of my old English professor and I could imagine her smiling. The homily was very well constructed and focused on sufficiency. What is enough? How Americans answer that question as opposed to people in Third World nations. I thought of St. Theresa’s quip regarding material goods “you think you own them, but in reality they own you.”

The priest made the point that each of us can make a difference. She quoted the Dalai Lama “Anyone who feels that they are too small to make a difference, has never shared a bed with a mosquito.” We were encouraged to sign petitions to Senators Boxer and Feinstein asking for passage of National Health insurance with a meaningful public option.

After the Liturgy ended, I walked out into the warm California sunshine and decided to enjoy a quiet breakfast. I needed some time to reflect. The whole liturgy was extremely similar to what I have experienced at countless Catholic liturgies. The vestments, the songs, the setting; in fact, the Episcopal version seemed more traditional than what most Catholics experience at the average Catholic Church on Sunday.

I walked back to All Saints and joined several parishioners in the cloister of the church. There was a table with the petitions to the California senators. There were various other tables as well, a welcoming table for new parishioners and visitors. There were various parish organizations present, including Extension University learning opportunities for theological studies, printed sermons for the past year, choral music DVDs and Cds, an outreach to the poor, an LGBT table, etc. I had the pleasure of speaking with various parishioners several of whom shared how they had come to All Saints from diverse backgrounds and had found a welcoming home.

Yesterday I was listening to National Public Radio; the journalist was reporting that Episcopal USA had approved the advancement of lesbian and gays to the episcopacy. The journalist went on to mention that there are two such candidates to become bishops in California. NPR further reported that this decision had placed Episcopal USA on a collision course with more conservative members of the International Anglican Community and this at a time when tensions are already high over the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop.

I sat there in my car after the news program ended and thought how amazing it is that these people prefer justice to security. I felt sorrow and somewhat embarrassed that Catholic bishops lack that courage. Then again, in all fairness, Catholic bishops rarely are asked to seriously discuss any such important issues and unlike their Episcopalian counterparts, they have no “vote” to decide such matters. They are merely told what to teach and publicly state. The vision of the late Pope John XXIII of Episcopal collegiality seems to have died with the late pontiff. On a practical plane, the Catholic Church has one bishop and thousands of “assistants” with the Curia (Vatican bureaucracies) acting as an intermediary.

The result of all of this is divorced and remarried Catholics in Europe who find themselves excluded from the Eucharist and LGBT people who are driven away from the Church of their baptism. Bishops who are more preoccupied with the administration of material goods than with being the Teacher of the Faith in their Diocese. Bishops who are more concerned with “avoiding scandal” and preserving material assets than with extending justice to the victims of pedophilia.
When I said my first Mass at my last parish, the choir sang, “All are welcomed here.” I winced when I heard them sing that song, because my predecessor had informed me that they would send LGBT parishioners across the street to the Methodist Church, since they could not offer them services at St. Paul’s.

The choir did not sing, “All are welcomed here” at All Saints Episcopal, but the community silently proclaimed that invitation by their actions.


Kevin said...

That post gave me the chills. Why? Because it's so true. When I hear songs that say, "All are welcome", I know in my heart that that isn't true! And that makes me very mad, and sad!

Leonard said...

Yes, it´s good to be Episcopalian...I think one of the few times I commented here I encouraged you to discover the wonders of Bishop Bruno and The Episcopal Church Diocese of Los Angeles...the Gay and Lesbian candidates are amongst other candidates for the two Bishop Suffragan posts OPEN in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The Episcopal Church WELCOMES Everyone (and means everyone and at all levels of Churchlife).

Thank you for the kind words.

IT said...

My wife, who feels rejected by her RC church as a married lesbian in the wake of PropH8, has started going to the Episcopal church and I go with her. Like you, she (and I, ex-Catholic) find the liturgy extremely familiar.

We attend St Paul's Cathedral in San Diego. The message that is stated on the bulletin, in the handouts, and at the service is:

Whoever you are, and wherever you are on the journey of faith, you are welcome here. There are no visitors, today you are part of our family.

Not surprisingly, we have found many other RC refugees who are likewise finding succor with the Anglo-Catholics. :-)

I have a whole series of posts on our experience post-Prop8 in exploring the Episcopal church which anyone interested can read here.

I also point you to a reflection of how the steps taken by TEC are reverberating well beyond their denominational size.

I know the Episcopal church welcomes all of us. It's pretty remarkable.

James said...

Fr, come into the light! :) "We'll leave the light on for you."

June Butler said...

Fr. Geoff, I'm a renegade Roman Catholic, who found refuge in the Episcopal Church after our diocesan sex abuse and cover-up scandal some 13 years ago.

The liturgy in the Episcopal Church blew me away the first time I attended. It's quite similar to the RC liturgy of the Eucharist, but (and I know that I am partisan), more beautiful.

I want so badly to say, "Come join us," but I won't. ;o)

Mareczku said...

I find it intresting that the Episcopal Church is discussing having gay bishops. In the Catholic Church we have always had gay bishops. Since our bishops have to be celibate it has never been an issue. Actually, it is don't ask, don't tell. From what I hear there are many gay bishops. I was amazed to hear you say that your predecessor sent LGBT parishioners across the street to the Methodist Church. I never heard of such a thing. If someone is Catholic, why would a priest send them to a Methodist Church? This doesn't compute with me.

Rob T. said...

Thank God for the Episcopal Church. I can't have anything to do with the Roman church as it is under B16, EWTN, etc. How gay Catholics can remain in my former church escapes me, for change won't come in many people's lifetime.

Uncle /\/\el said...

Hello Father,

As a baptized Roman Catholic, I have never been told to "cross the street" explicitly, but always felt and heard so implicitly. I felt driven away indeed.

I found All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena about 15 years ago and found that I was finally able to feel welcome at a church, a church that feels like the old stone churches in Chicago where I grew up, no less. Communion still means a lot to many of us, and to do so in community rather than in the closet allows me to serve God better.

As a choir member of the church, I'm thrilled you felt welcome here and hope you return, even to join us in our summer volunteer choir. As our clergy say every week, "Where ever you find yourself on your journey of faith, you are welcome to join us at this table".


Eric said...

Thank you and the authors of the comments above for the kind words about our denomination. I think you'll find that most of us love and cherish the Roman Catholic church too! Hopefully someday our leaderships will see eye to eye.

Mareczku said...

Your comment made me think, Mel. Do many Catholic parishes have a "stay in the closet or leave" attitude? I know that some parishes are welcoming but it seems that some Bishops do not want their parishes to be welcoming. In my diocese it doesn't seem to be an issue because here it seem that gay people just don't exist.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jj said...

Come visit us at St. Thomas Hollywood, Fr. Farrow. I believe we would be blessed and honored by your presence.

KJ said...

I'm a post-evangelical boy, having grown up in Evangelical Land, "called" to depart when the Spirit moved me into transparency.

I am moved each time when all are welcomed to participate in Communion at our Episcopal parish. I hope that I never take that for granted.

Mareczku said...

Perhaps, I should qualify what I wrote. Our diocese actually does have an outreach to gay people. I called it and spoke with a priest. I called several more times but always got an answering machine. After several more times, I left a message. Ten minutes later, the priest called me back. When I asked who was calling, he said, "Father." When I asked his name, he said, "Just Father." He didn't want to give me his name. He wouldn't tell me when or where his group met because he said that the members wanted to remain anonymous. He almost sounded ashamed to be talking with me. After we talked a few minutes, he said, "This is not a pro-homosexual group." I felt somewhat insulted so did't talk to him much longer. When I told a priest friend about this he told me that I probably didn't sound masculine enough so he didn't want to be bothered with me. So I guess our diocese does have an outreach of sorts but they could do a lot better in my opinion.

Delizza said...

I left the Roman Catholic Church too. It is cruel to not be able to celebrate LGBTs and Women in positions of Church leadership...

These days I go b/w MCC and Lutheran ELCA Churches... the Lutherans are presently awaiting their Churchwide decision on Gay Clergy... hopefully, they will follow the lead of the Episcopal Church!! God's on the move and SHE means business!!! :-)

Mareczku said...

So Father Geoff, how does the Catholic Church welcome gay Catholic teens and young people? Some 30-40% of Catholic priests are gay so they can provide role models for young gay Catholics. What are they doing to help the young people? Especially in need are the closeted kids who are afraid to talk to anyone. What is the Catholic Church doing to support these kids? I was on a Catholic site today and was told that I was deluded and also disordered. What is it like for young people to hear such talk? Who is going to stand up for our kids?

Anonymous said...

"change won't come in many people's lifetime."

I doubt if Benediict XVI's health will allow him to stay on much longer, and there are many in the Vatican who are well aware that radical change is now imperative.

Kenny Hyatt said...

Wow, very profound Father Farrow. I have always felt that exclusion for whatever reason was totally counter intuitive of what the Bible has to say. Love thy neighbor does not say "love thy neighbor, unless...."

Kenny Hyatt