This is my response to Episcopal Café’s #myepiscopalidentity campaign. 🙂
What makes me an Episcopalian? It’s in my DNA.
It’s a long tradition in my family carried by my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and further back my family line. It’s a mantle that I now bear, and by example live and share with my children.
It is a Christian faith that sees the importance of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason – all as equals. It’s a faith that doesn’t make windows into other peoples’ souls. It’s a faith that strives to agree upon matters of importance, but allows a wide range of differing opinions and expressions with everything else. It is a faith that loves music. It’s a faith that recognizes the Creeds, the universal, catholic church, and the unbroken line of Bishops that trace all the way back to Jesus’ Disciples. And it is a faith that shows how the way we pray – together in Common Prayer – also shows the way that we believe. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
A number of ethnic churches tend to identify themselves by their origins (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Polish Catholic, etc.) and keep the rich culture of their heritage as a vessel for how they express their devotion to Christ. With the Episcopal Church it is the same, but harder to see. Many do not realize that our tradition stretches all the way back to England where, in the mid 1500s, our ancestors began to share the rich liturgy in their native English for the very first time – during a period when virtually all of the language heard in church was Latin.
It was a tradition to be understood by the common person, and as such it has spread and touched upon everywhere the English language has traveled to – every continent – throughout what eventually became the modern Anglican Communion. To this day it leaves fingerprints in our greater culture and language, leaving idioms and phrases from rituals, from turns of phrase in Shakespeare to modern idioms such as, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest,” or “speak now or forever hold your peace.”
Sometimes, folks from other flavors of Christianity will ask me, “Is your church based on the Bible?” And I am one to point out that, “I could more say that it’s likely your Bible is based upon my church.” The King James Version that many denominations lean so heavily upon on was “Authorized” by the Church of England, and brought to America by what eventually became the Episcopal Church. The church that today claims among its own a full quarter of our country’s Presidents, great thinkers, scientists, and artists such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charlton Heston, Madeline L’Engle, Buzz Aldrin, and Robin Williams, but to name a few.
Judy Garland & Fred Astaire in “Easter Parade” (1948)… It doesn’t get much more Episcopalian than that. 🙂
We are educated, because we see the value in education. We hold the most graduate and post graduate degrees per capita of any Christian denomination in the United States. We are not afraid to use them.
Where our liturgy has come a long, long way it is still based upon essentially the same patterns and formularies that have been used for over 500 years. It is a liturgy which is predominantly made up of reciting portions of Scripture, chanted Psalms, Canticles, and readings from the Lectionary.
We have services with thees and thous – but in the spirit of keeping the liturgy understandable we have services modern English as well (our Rites I and II). We also have a rich Daily Office, founded upon Thomas Cranmer’s original abbreviation of the seven Divine Hours down to Morning and Evening Prayer, with the distinctly Episcopalian Lesser Hours of Noonday and Compline to compliment them. We love our coffee hour after the Eucharist.
We focus on community service – feeding the poor, clothing the needy, housing the homeless – and strive to see Christ in all people, no matter who they are. We are part of a greater whole, locally adapted, and are always out to do the right thing, no matter how tough.
There is more to be said. There is always more to be said. But all of this boils down to #myepiscopalidentity.
Steve Caruso, MLIS
Christ Church, New Brunswick, NJ