Sunday, October 20, 2013

Conversion, Part Three

I didn't spend much time attending the Episcopal church - probably no more than a year or year-and-a-half. However, I believe my time in this faith tradition was a very significant event in my journey to the Catholic Church. I've written before about my time as an unofficial Episcopalian, but I think it's good to mention it again.

I say unofficial because I never actually joined the Episcopal church, although I came close to doing so. I had never even considered the Episcopalians until my grandparents died. In the Protestant tradition, there is no belief in purgatory and there is a perception that the Saints have much better things to do than worry about us on earth. This bleak view gave me a sorrow that I couldn't fill - I missed my grandparents terribly and was searching for some way to remain connected to them. At first, I was interested in the Freemasons because my grandfather had been one. Through my laziness, even though I had books about Masonry and membership pamphlets from the local lodge, I never handed anything in - this is good, since a person cannot be both an active Freemason and a Catholic. This is not to judge the individual members - it's just that the principles of Freemasonry as an organization are incompatible with the Church (for instance, the Italian group of Freemasons named Alta Vendita said, "Our final end is that of Voltaire and the French Revolution, the annihilation of Catholicity..."). So, I am sure it wasn't just my laziness stopping me!

I don't remember when I first had the idea of driving to the Episcopal church a couple towns away, if it was the spur of the moment or if I thought about it for a while. I remember it was a weekend when my younger brother was visiting (I think he was home from college for the summer and I still lived with my parents at the time). I found the website of the local church, saw when their liturgy was, and encouraged my brother to go with me. We walked up to the church and followed the others who were walking in. We sat in the very back and observed everyone - some of the older people genuflected and made the sign of the cross before entering the pew. In front of me was an altar and above it a bare cross bookended by icons of St. Stephen and the Virgin Mary. Services began with the people and choir singing a hymn as the altar servers, priest, and female deacon proceeded into the sanctuary. I thought to myself, "Holy crap, this looks awfully Catholic..." After a prayer, the priest then walked through the sanctuary, sprinkling the people with holy water. My brother and I looked at each other and I remember that we both had a "What is all of this crap?" look on our faces. I hadn't been to a Catholic church before, but I knew immediately that all of this looked very Catholic to me and I was very uncomfortable.

I don't remember anything else except that they had communion and I went to receive. The Episcopalians believe that any baptized Christian can receive communion, so I went to the altar and knelt at the rail. I was kind of grossed out at the idea of sharing a chalice with strangers, so I held onto my host and dipped it into the chalice (intinction) before consuming it. As we drove back after services, I can only remember feeling weird about the whole thing. I didn't know why, but I wanted to go back again. My brother wound up coming with me once more and we were surprised to see they were having communion again! In the Presbyterian church we'd have communion once a quarter, but they had it every week? How bizarre!

I can't remember if I went every week at first or if I built up to that over time, but however it happened for the first time since I was a young teen I was going to church every Sunday. I started to see all of these "Catholic" things that I had never seen before: genuflection, a rosary, Stations of the Cross, weekly communion, the sign of the cross, beautiful vestments, kneelers, a universal liturgy throughout (most of) the entire Communion; I started to warm up to a list of things that I had never even considered before. I believe that this was preparing me for full communion in the Catholic Church.

I was so curious about what I was seeing; I couldn't explain it, but I was "eating it up". I remember one day they had their retired bishop celebrate the liturgy. I couldn't explain it, but I was mesmerized watching him walk in with his miter, crosier, and beautiful vestments. However, the closer I got to the Episcopal church, the harder they were pushing me away. They had consecrated a bishop who divorced his wife and was currently living in a homosexual relationship. Although at the time I didn't see anything wrong with women deacons (I still saw them through the eyes of a Presbyterian, that they were just helping the pastor and were not a division of holy orders), I was still opposed to women priests and bishops - although I had never learned the Catholic belief that a priest is an alter christus and that bishops were the successors to the apostles, I could still feel deep down that something was amiss. I was disturbed by all the divisions within Anglicanism - from very "low church" to very "high church" and everything in between. There were even priests and bishops who where advocating heresy - like Bishop John Spong, who wrote that we needed to reject things like the Virgin Birth, miracles, and the Ten Commandments. The more I fell in love with Anglicanism, the more pushed away I felt by these various innovations. Therefore, I never felt truly at home within the Anglican Communion, although I still loved many of its elements. I bought a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and loved to read through many of its prayers and blessings. I used to always grab this magazine they had in the narthex and read up on whatever it was the Archbishop of Canterbury said. Still, I couldn't ignore the things that were bothering me...

At this time, perhaps a year or year-and-a-half went by and I had moved to Somerset County. After my move, I had not attended church anywhere, but was looking at the Episcopal church in my new town. However, I had not yet gone to that church because of the issues I had been struggling with. I started to research the American Anglican Council, which split off from the Anglican Communion in opposition to all the innovations being done. At that point, my frustrations with the divisions in the Church reached a breaking point again - I wasn't about to sift through the various fractions inside the Anglican Communion, as well, finding out which fraction within a fraction of Christianity I would feel at home in. I was saddened to admit it, but although I loved what I had found in the Episcopal church, I just couldn't bear to deal with more divisions, scandal, confusion, and innovation. I walked away for good (probably sometime in 2005) and started my church search once again...little did I know that my search was going to end at the Catholic Church.