In the Fall of 2003 my husband and I made a decision which drastically changed our lives and the lives of our children: we joined an Anglican (not to say, Episcopalian, :D) church. This was, admittedly, a rather odd time for a Bible-believing Christian family to join an Episcopal church. The consecration of an openly partnered gay bishop in the state of New Hampshire had just occurred, and the Episcopal church was making headlines in both the secular and religious media.
Quite frankly, many people thought we were nuts! Both my husband and I had impeccable evangelical credentials. That we would even entertain such a move was beyond belief. I spent a lot of time explaining how the parish we were considering joining was not that kind of Episcopal church. I took pains assuring both friends and family members that the bishop of the diocese and the rector of the parish actually believed the creeds of the church and believed that the Bible was the Word of God; to be followed as our rule of life, not merely as a book of culturally-dated suggestions. (It helped that our rector was a former Baptist who had attended an evangelical college in Southern California :D)
Our journey into the Anglican church did not occur quickly or easily. We visited the church, on and off, for over a year. I met with the rector privately, we prayed and talked through our process with our friends and family, and we read books written by and about people who had made a similar journey before we made the decision to commit to our current parish. It was both an exhilarating and frightening change for us. It was clear that the Spirit was leading us here, but scary to venture into a tradition which was so different from what we had previously known.
I come from a Baptist background. My mother and her father before her were Baptists. I was raised, "catechized", and baptized in a Southern Baptist church not five miles from our current parish. I left home and attended an evangelical university, and my husband and I attended evangelical churches in Southern California after we married. When we moved back to the Central Valley we chose to worship at the large Baptist church my parents attended.
But, for reasons I couldn't describe well back in 2003, I needed something more than my experience of worship in the Baptist church. Something was missing. Even though my husband and I went to church with our children every Sunday, even though I taught Sunday school and used my gifts as a psychologist to give seminars, to speak at the women's retreat, and to talk to MOPS groups, my soul felt as though it was withering. I couldn't explain what was happening to me, but I had a different spiritual experience when I visited St. John's.
In an attempt to "sit on the fence" and experience the best of both worlds, I would often run downtown to our current parish and attend the 10:30 mass after the early service at the Baptist church was over. I would slip in and sit near the back. As the mass began I could feel myself being swept up into a larger drama that the church catholic has been reenacting since its inception. I knew I was both observing and participating in something that was so much larger than me and my existence at this particular point in time. I knew that for that moment, I was, quite literally, joining with "angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven." It was the first time I had truly experienced myself as part of the larger body of Christ.
During the mass I was repeatedly touched by the Holy Spirit in ways I can't even begin to describe. Every visit, as the procession of the mass started, the people bowed in reverence at the cross as it was being carried by the crucifer past their pew, and I shivered. These people, with bodies bent, were showing respect for, and giving deference to, the cross of Jesus Christ and all it represented -- not the gold, not the literal piece of metal on a pole, but the sign, the symbol of the very reason by which we are able to even approach the altar of God.
Involuntarily, the tears would well up in my eyes and start to trickle slowly down my face. And then, as it was time for communion, and I observed people from every walk of life line up to accept the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, offered for their sins and mine, the tears would come more freely. By the time I knelt at the altar and crossed my open palms to receive personally "the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven", I was weeping.
I experienced the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist in ways I had never experienced Him before. I found Christ literally present, not merely symbolically recalled. I found myself, with the other members of the congregation, entering into and sharing in the paschal mystery of Christ. We, as a body, were joined with Him as the perfect sacrifice, made acceptable in the sight of the Father.
What I discovered at St. John's was the necessity of liturgy, or, literally, "the work of the people." My work; indeed, my duty, is to offer myself and my praise to the Living God, in the only way I can - through the sacrifice of His Son.
It is for this I was made.
And so, to my rich evangelical heritage my new-found Anglican faith adds a crucial component: an emphasis on Eucharist to go with my already well-developed emphasis on God's Word.
Thanks be to God for them both!