I’ve just returned from the church. Today, on invitation, I went to worship at the St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edwardsville, Illinois. Here are a few of my observations.
The service was orderly, and timely. Offering was voluntary, and it didn’t involve an elaborate show that requires you to dance all around the church to the front pulpit many times during the service to drop your (special, building, monthly, thanksgiving etc) offering. In many ways, the church reminds me of Anglican and Catholic church services back home. The church structure surely looks orthodox, and could as well have been a Catholic church with its pews, stained glass windows, elaborately lighted altar and the Eucharist. But Episcopal churches are Protestant, that sect that stands separate from the British Anglican church only in its many revolutionary ideas and ideals. The Episcopal Church is the American version of the Anglican Church, but only to the extent of their adherence to the basic service patterns. In many other ways they are very different, very wide apart.
Wikpedia says “the Episcopal Church was active in the Social Gospel movement of the late nineteenth century and since the 1960s and 1970s has played a leading role in the progressive movement and on related political issues. For example, in its resolutions on state issues the Episcopal Church has opposed the death penalty, and supported the civil rights movement and affirmative action. Some of its leaders and priests marched with civil rights demonstrators. The church calls for the full civil equality of gay men and lesbians. Most dioceses ordain openly gay men and women; in some, same-sex unions are celebrated with services of blessing, but “no diocese currently permits same-sex marriage…even in those states and municipalities which permit it.” On the question of abortion, the church has adopted a nuanced position. About all these issues, individual members and clergy can and do frequently disagree with the stated position of the church.” Surely, here is a religious institution with active involvement in social engineering.
The head of this particular church I attended – the priest who officiated the service today – was a woman. In priestly robes. I’d heard so much about women bishops and the disagreement this issue has caused between the Anglican churches in Britain and Nigeria and the Episcopal church. Apparently, it is proving a little difficult for the rest of the world to come to terms with having women on the altar as officiating priests and bishops. I’ve since found out that she – The Rev. Virginia L. Bennet – is also a PhD holder. In Nigeria, her name may have to be written as The (Dr.) Rev. Mrs Virginia L. Bennet (PhD, D. Min, Rector) etc…
After the service that included some really beautiful hymns, a few of which I still could sing along to, we all went for a light refreshment of the best kind, all within the church premises. When George Carlin said in Brain Droppings that “the only good thing ever to come out of religion was the music,” he must not have attended one of these church services where feeding the body is equally as important as feeding the soul on a Sunday morning. In addition to the poetry of the scriptures and the often elevating liturgy, I believe that these two remaining components of organized religion will ensure its continued survival for many more centuries to come.