Thursday, May 12, 2005

Expectations

Here is something that I did not expect: I have more trouble agreeing with my fellow Episcopalians on campus than with those of different denominations. J keeps telling me I should have known, because what kind of Episcopalian would go to Fuller except an Evangelical one? (well there is me, but he seems to consider me the major exception to the rule, and I think he's right)

We actually had an argument in the Episcopal polity class about baptism! I mean, I'm sitting a few hours earlier in my baptism practicum and everybody is completely respecting everyone else - I am sitting there in a group from different mainline churches, and we all can come to perfect agreement on infant baptism, and even though they may not see baptism as doing what I see it doing, they think my way is "cool."

Then I go to the Episcopal class and these people don't understand infant baptism at all. I had to convince (which I didn't do at all) the people who were supposed to already agree! I was blown away. I mean, I had heard that this was still an issue, but do you know there are churches around here that will let you completely redo your baptism (though they call it anamnesis or "remembrance") as an adult?? How unbiblical to validate the mistaken belief that one's infant baptism somehow didn't count.

But the makeup of this group belies many prejudices. One person attends St. James Newport Beach, which is one of the churches now under the Anglican Province of Uganda (so he's not Episcopalian at all), one attends St. Lukes in La Crescenta, which belongs to the same organization as the splitters but they didn't split, and one has spent the last 10 years as "post-denominational" (bascially Evangelical) before God led her to the Episcopal church.

There there are three of us who are relatively new Episcopalians and are completely embracing that.

The thing I sense in all of these others is that they are somehow ashamed of who we are. I attended a service at St. Luke's and it was simply not Episcopal. We just didn't do anything any differently from the high church Presbyterian I used to attend. And I thought, where is my liturgy? My beautiful liturgy, the reason I love my church? And I also thought: huh, praise band and movie screens.

Yet I think the latter could be done effectively in the Episcopal Church (though I personally find them unnecessary and distracting). The thing that bothered me was throwing out the liturgy. Cancelling the epistle reading, our responsive statements, the corporate intercessions, even the greeting (which was "Good Evening" instead of "The Lord Be With You").

See we don't have to change who we are to attract people. I've been to several other Episcopal churches that are owning their identity and their gifts. They are not empty. This other service was empty.

The whole thing is just so frustrating. Now I am encountering the difficulty of being who I am at this seminary. And it's just so surprising that the troubles - the weirdness and the closedmindedness - are coming from my fellow Episcopalians. Days like these, I wish I were at Episcopal Seminary. No, actually, I wish I were at Fuller and was the only Episcopalian there. Sometimes that would be easier.

6 comments:

Mark Pritchard said...

This trend of re-baptisms reminds me of the trend of going through a marriage blessing or re-enactment -- people who have been happily married going through the ceremony again for some reason. Children do this kind of thing -- they ritualistically enact some behavior over and over, not really knowing why.

So how is this different from doing the eucharist over and over? For one thing, Jesus said to. "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." Secondly, partaking in the eucharist doesn't bestow some grace that a baptized Christian never had before; it is communion, and the bread and wine are changed, but we are not changed; whereas with baptism and marriage (which I don't regard as a sacrament) we enter a new state.

Anonymous said...

Responding to Mark's comment re: sacraments--we do have a need/desire for ritual--that is why well-crafted liturgy can speak so deeply. As for baptism: I was manupulated into being re-baptized while a freshman in college--the off-campus house church that my dorm-mate invited me to convinced me that my infant (Catholic) baptism didn't count, and that I lacked the true baptism of the Holy Spirit. After weeks of preparation and prayer, the time came for my full-immersion baptism. The eager young pastor told me that when I came up out of the water, I would be a new creation in Christ and that the Holy Spirit would manifest itself in me in some dramatic fashion. I said AMEN! and went down underwater and when I came up...Well you can probably guess what happened:nothing. I have a memory of actually trying to fake speaking in tongues so that it would appear that indeed the spirit had fallen upon me. That was the last time I went to that or any other faith gathering for 7 years. I felt like a failure--the Spirit had rejected me.
Just one thought on communion--I would have to say that I hope that communion as well as baptism does effect a change--everytime we gather with our community in the presence of God, we are indeed changed--any encounter with the holy must change us!

Karen said...

You've hit on one of the many reasons why so many bishops require that Episcopal aspirants and postulants attend one of the 11 official ECUSA seminaries. Even at Trinity, which is arguably the most conservative and evangelical seminary in the church, confusion about our baptismal ecclesiology would be cleared up in a jiffy. I know that it is incredibly expensive and inconvenient for people to up and move themselves and their families so that they can attend a seminary far from home, but there's something about being in an environment where certain basic things like polity, ecclesiology, and liturgics are presented in a fairly uniform manner (not to mention that all chapel services are from the BCP), and I think this just makes the transition to ordained Episcopal ministry much more cohesive.

Of course, the fellow from St. James would be an exception since he's not ECUSA anyway.

LutheranChik said...

"Lex credendi lex orandi." Those of us in liturgical traditions need to recognize, respect and celebrate that. And, as you say, we do NOT have to change who we are to attract new members.

My favorite story in this regard: Awhile back I was visiting a Lutheran church in the inner city of a metro area -- one of those neighborhoods that used to be European-ethnic, but that has changed over the years; the church is still a going concern but has a far more multicultural membership. Anyhow, one of the members had a very distinctive Appalachian accent, and after awhile she shared her story with us: She moved up here from the South; she used to walk past this church every day, and often heard the choir practice, or a service going on. "It sounded just like angels in heaven," she said. "I said to myself, 'That's a church I want to belong to, where the people praise God like that.'" So one Sunday she got up the courage to walk inside, and...she just kept coming back.;-)

Re re-baptisms...we get this sentiment a lot in our church as well, and we are trying to respond by reconnecting people to their baptisms. We are trying to make baptisms more of a festive, central event on baptism Sundays. A pastor I know who normally frowns on camcorders in worship now makes an exception for baptisms, because families report that their kids enjoy seeing movies of their own baptisms. And in many parishes we are using bigger fonts, and/or placing them in more accessible places in the sanctuary, where people can see the water, dip their fingers in it, etc., and think about the importance of their baptisms.

Barbara said...

Regarding Mark's original question of how is doing baptism over not like doing the Eucharist over and over...

The metaphor is inapt. It is more that we do the Eucharist time after time, than that we do it over and over. That is, we don't re-consecrate the Eucharistic host. We use a new one. Doing baptism over would be like re-using a host.

dr. joan said...

From a long-time Episcopal theologian:
Baptism, according to our BCP, if done RIGHTLY remains a sign of initiation into the Community of Faith. I suggest that many of us have not had our baptism done "rightly." Mine was attended by a mother who has never been a believer, "God-parents" who never really "God-parented" and to an infant who grew into a person who made a mature commitment to Jesus outside of the church I was baptised in. Yes, grace had been conferred originally. But was it saving grace?
After confessing Jesus I became a new person. And that new person was baptised as a believer. Is that repeating what happened 20+ years before? I don't think so. But it was verifying what had so recently happened and was the means of conferring "affirming" (not saving) grace on that new person. Episcopalians who depend on Baptism as the sole means of achieving heaven are going to be surprised. And the leaders--priests, deacons, bishops--who allow such teaching to be the norm will have to answer to God.