I returned to church for the first time in at least a month — after so much travel and sleeping in of Sunday mornings. I sat in the pew wondering about how my friend James would take the full Sunday service.
James was raised in small-town Louisiana amidst Southern Baptists. The minister delivered a funeral oration for an alcoholic uncle who had died in a car crash by excoriating the audience about the evils of drink and depicting the Devil carrying the uncle away in flames.
I worried a little through the confession of sins that opens every service, for words like sin ring hard for Baptists and have entirely different senses for Episcopalians, who hold sin as a state of separation or untruth before God, oneself, or others, nothing to do with sex or drugs or alcohol.
Confession is the opening ritual, followed by a purification: scattering holy water, more chanting. Cleansed, prepared, the ritual proceeds, and everything that follows is about community, healing, and love: all bound through rituals of eating and rejuvenation that glisten with hints of the esoteric.
The sermon was disappointingly the most 1950s I’ve heard at Advent -- an older priest, hints of moralizing about how often one prays or how much one donates, much scuffling of feet amongst the socialists in the pews. I crack a grin, wondering: is God laughing at us? Does God really care if we pray regularly, or take offense at our brothers' admonitions to us to pray regularly?
Service adjourned, the ritual complete, spiritual bodies cleansed and blessed and fed. We go to the parish hall and drink coffee. Long goodbyes to everyone, quick discussion of Abelard with the rector, great wafts of blessings and encouragement for the journey, admonition to visit various gay rectors in England. It was so good to return, to remember how much that community has nourished me for the past year, how much love and intellectual stimulation I’ve received from them.
Link: The Ship of Fools' Mystery-Worshipper Review of Church of the Advent
Link: The Episcopalian Church of the Advent of Christ the King, San Francisco