Recently I’ve encountered several “new” Episcopalians and a couple of “new” Christians. The thing that excites me about this is that people are finding hope and inspiration and fellowship and truth. I would probably be as excited about new worshippers of almost any faith. I do tend toward the more loving religions and reject the extreme positions.
That said, I’d like to share my faith journey with friends who read this. I was born near the Mississippi River in the heart of cotton farmland. When I was less than a year old, I was christened (baptized) into the Presbyterian denomination, the multigenerational faith of my father. That means that I was named as a child of God and would not necessarily go to hell for sins committed before the age of confirmation.
My mother, brother and I attended the Presbyterian church regularly. My father dropped us off and went to the other side of town to continue his drinking. Sometimes – no, frequently, he forgot to come back and get us; so we sat on the church steps in our dress clothes while townspeople passed by and stared at us.
Mother, brought up in the Baptist faith, finally got tired of the unwanted exposure to prying eyes, and we quit attending church. Instead, she played the piano and we sang hymns on Sundays. These hymns and the sense of love and faithfulness are the basis of my faith.
In my teenage years, I joined the Baptist Church in the tiny village where we had moved to get away from my father’s alcoholism. I professed my faith mainly because my mother told me that was the only way I could redeem myself from cussing at the preacher during a fire near our house. But, I attended faithfully until they asked me to quit coming because I had organized a teen club where we danced. Dancing was a sin in that tiny church, and I was an unrepentant sinner.
In my early 30s I was involved in Community Theatre and its cast parties after the final performance. One Sunday morning, as we revived somewhat from the all-night cast party, someone suggested that we go as a group to her church. I recoiled but went along because I didn’t want to be left out.
We went to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbus, Mississippi. Most of the others were regular church goers of one denomination or another. I was the sinner, baptized twice, but apparently still unclean. At least I was unclean until I walked through those doors. The priest welcomed each of us with a hug and a compliment about each person’s part in the play. He had never met me; yet, he hugged me and told me what a wonderful job I had done. He could smell the alcohol on my breath and see my bleary eyes, but he didn’t care. I was a sheep of his pasture.
We all sat together, and, fortunately, we sang some songs that I knew; so all of us added to the harmony and joyfulness of the service. I have found those hugs and that joy in almost every Episcopal church I have ever attended.
I have found the same in other places as well, but Episcopal churches and 12-step programs are tops on my list.