Bells and smells

I recently read a statistic that over half of U.S. adults have changed religions.  So I got to thinking about my own religious change; specifically, how I became an Episcopalian, and more importantly, why I’ve stayed an Episcopalian for 24 years, with no thoughts about changing. 

People come to the Episcopal church for lots of reason, but judging from the informal poll I’ve taken over the years, most Episcopalians who weren’t born into it seem to have come from the Roman Catholic church.  I came from the opposite end of the spectrum, the United Church of Christ, one of the “bread cubes and grape juice” denominations.  

I was introduced to the Episcopal church in grad school, when I started attending with my adopted Chicago family. My roots in the church, therefore, are deeply intertwined with my love for this wonderful family which gave me a home away from home and loved me despite my flaws, and on a weekly basis fed me and allowed me to do my laundry. 

But that doesn’t really explain why I stayed. I stayed because I love the ritual. I love familiar rhythms of the liturgy, which are the same no matter what Episcopal church I’m in. I love the bowing and the choreography and the swinging of the senser (the thingy on the chain that holds the incense). 

I also stayed because of the grayness of it. The “life is hard, but if you pray and sing and connect with other people, God will show you the way” theology that makes so much more sense to me than the “Follow Jesus and you may just get to heaven if you’re lucky” theology that I perceived as the message growing up. I stayed because I think it matters more to me how we treat each other here on Earth and what we do with the life we have now than what happens afterwards.

I stayed because everyone is welcome at Communion. Because there are no rules about who belongs and who doesn’t belong. If you want to belong, you belong. All you have to do is hold out your hand. Even little children. Even my little children, whose hands are smeared with fresh marker from whatever Church School project they’ve just made. And even if you show up 50 minutes late for the service, as we did today, everyone is still glad to see you.

I stayed because it’s okay to believe in the Truth of the Bible, and not necessarily the Fact. Because what I believe is up to me to figure out, not someone else. 

And I stay now because I love my church, and the people in it.

It’s not perfect. We are all humans, who get feelings hurt and rub each other the wrong way and disagree about whose job it is to make The Coffee. And feel put upon and weary because no one else is working as hard as we are.  There are days when I ask myself why I bother anyway. But those days are infrequent.

There is no perfect church. There is no perfect religion. But in embracing our imperfection, somehow we find our way through the red doors every week. And we are welcomed.

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