I mentioned I have been trying to walk in the mornings before our day begins. It has been a good thing for exercise and to clear my head. I love the muted sounds of morning; those of us out seem to tread quietly. We live in a great neighborhood for parlor peaking—each house and yard, though compact, have their own design and beauty. It is one of the reasons that drew us here, a largely Catholic town, which has an aesthetic we admire and appreciate, even if it is not completely our own. Yes, the yards are mostly postage-stamp sized, but that has led to a wonderful use of civic space with playgrounds on every corner, the butcher and the baker in walking distance. How good it is to live a life locally--to be able to work and shop and play and live in one community so that all concerns and care are brought to one place. Ah, and the front porches, which also bring a sense of community as people sit in calling distance, not hidden away in the privacy of the backyard patio. There are often nights when you hear laughter spill down the street, a baseball game if our team is playing, or, my favorite, the Italian neighbor two doors down listening to his Sinatra.
And so I set out this morning, enveloped in the heat and humidity of August. There is a hint of autumn as the sun is not quite so high as it was when I began my walks in July. I pass the faithful and the late as I head up my block where a large Catholic Church on the corner is beginning its daily mass. I realize that walking to church, the parish model, is no longer popular for most Christians. We are people of movement and choice; just as it is rare to work and live in one place so it is rare to worship in that town, unless the place is so large to offer enough choices or so isolated to not offer much else, and then again the community often suffers. But with the parish model, you are forced to engage with your neighbor and pastor, faithful or not, likeable or not; there is not much choice but to push for the good.
And so, I am drawn to follow these walkers to their parish church. It is inviting with its doors and windows flung open and light shining out. I peer into a place so holy, giving and alienating all at once. As I pause, I hear the familiar words of the liturgy of my own church:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
Over 50 people sit and stand and kneel in unison, using their bodies to worship and train their hearts. Before I realize time has passed, a chime rings, the consecration has occurred, and I know it is my time to go. The chime reminds me, not of the Light, devotion, holiness, and beauty that drew me in, but of the differences between my beliefs and those worshipping here.
And so, I turn the corner, heading downhill to the next block where an Episcopal Church, my denomination though not my church, sits. The differences are striking: The red doors are locked and barred and the placard sign offers no invitation, solace or conviction, mustering a weak "Go Phillies." No light shines forth here so the stained glass shows only its lines creating the look of a web blurring the images of Christ. I am sad now. Here is my supposed parish church that we drive past every Sunday morning so that we may worship in a place that is preaching a gospel of Life and Truth; a church that is vibrant and orthodox. The parish model cannot work when a church is bereft of Life. I am reminded of a friend's recent quip that most Episcopal churches are becoming either Day Care Centers or Museums (depending on the wealth of their first parishioners) more than places of worship. So it is with this one. I am filled with such doubt and sadness; how can the creeds and the liturgy and the sacrament that I find so meaningful not draw others?
Despair creeps in. But then as I turn the corner, heading away from the church and its confusion, the hour strikes, the church bells ring.
Church bells built to call and proclaim, strong, rhythmic, and clear.
The world sings forth with the Gospel.
And I hear again the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
Sitting now at my computer, I realize I don’t know from which church the bells rang. Was it the Catholic church calling me to join the ranks that have stood through crisis and heresy and confusion since Peter? Or is my beloved Episcopal church calling me to stand firm during its time of crisis, heresy, confusion? It could even be the bells from the non-denominational church a few blocks away, a church much like the one my childhood, where I feel safe in its evangelical fervor and clarity of belief.
But I realize that for today the message is not about denominational politics.
Christ himself calls. Whatever humans believe or do, God is God. I find hope and joy. Thanks be to God.
And now I pray for those of you who small in number do remain faithful in a denomination struggling with unbelief and conflict. Where even two or more are gathered in His Name, He is there.
And I pray for those of you who have left the old, seeing no future for a church given over to its sin. May your courage bring change and a future for Anglicans in our country. He is there.
And I pray for those who have left vibrant Anglican churches, whether in Africa or Wheaton to proclaim the Gospel in its fullness. There are times when you may be few; there are times when you may grow weary. Do not forget, He is there.
Thanks be to God.