Friday, July 8, 2011

No really, what the heck is an "Episcopalian"? (Part 2)

One of my earliest blog entries No really, what the heck is an "Episcopalian"? was an attempt to explain what being an Episcopalian is and what it means to me. Back then I listed the "reasons" given by comedian Robin Williams as a way to look at this with humor but with the intention of giving it more thought and eventually posting something about it. I just realized that it has been a while.

"Episcopalian" in many ways is a "label" because let's face it, we are (for better or worse, like it or not--in a Facebook or non-Facebook way) a society of labels. When it comes to "Christians" there are many labels: Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. And those are just the so called "denominations" and their according labels in Christianity. An interesting new thing I noticed is more churches changing their titles to something that rejects any denomination. Example: a church that used to be called "First Baptist Church" in one town may now be known as "First Christian Church", replacing Baptist with Christian; this is part of the effort that embraces the "non-denominational" label (in the end for all practical purposes it is a label) that is becoming more popular to many Christians. I am not saying that I approve or disprove of this, just that it is something I observed.

Even my friends in the Atheist and Agnostic circles cannot escape labels. Last year I attended a meeting of the "Society of Non-Theists at Purdue". The purpose of that particular meeting was for the members to have an open discussion of the pros and cons of using the Non-Theist label.  I have some friends that identify themselves as atheists, others as agnostics, skeptics, other. Ah, the other label...that's a discussion for another time.

So when I use the label and I "identify" myself as an Episcopalian, what do I mean? What is it and what does it mean to me? First what "is" an Episcopalian? I think many would agree that an Episcopalian is a member and/or has some formal or informal association with the Episcopal Church.

As part of the "I am Episcopalian" campaign by the Episcopal Church, the following is what they came up with:
The Episcopal Church welcomes you.

As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Episcopal Church has members in the United States, as well as in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Venezuela, and the Virgin Islands.

We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person.

The Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and traces its heritage to the beginnings of Christianity.

Our liturgy retains ancient structure and traditions, and is celebrated in many languages.

We welcome men and women, married or celibate, to be ordained as bishops, priests, and deacons.

We believe in amendment of life, the forgiveness of sin, and life everlasting.

Lay people exercise a vital role in the governance and ministry of our Church.

Holy Communion may be received by all baptized Christians, not only members of the Episcopal Church.

We uphold the Bible and worship with the Book of Common Prayer.

We affirm that committed relationships are lifelong and monogamous. Episcopalians also recognize that there is grace after divorce and do not deny the sacraments to those who have been divorced.

We affirm that issues such as birth control are matters of personal informed conscience.

We celebrate our unity in Christ while honoring our differences, always putting the work of love before uniformity of opinion.

All are welcome to find a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.

Some of the things above may or may not be familiar to you. If you are a Christian, you may agree with some of them, most of them, or disagree with some (or most) of them. As I was reading it I imagine this took many meetings by a committee that eventually agreed on this. It would be interesting to know the agreements and disagreements over a particular point, word or term.

There are some Episcopalians that say: I believe what's on the "Nicene Creed". (Note: for more on that you can look at the "Creeds" section of the Visitors Centers page at the EC website.) There are some Episcopalians who say "I am a Christian", others who say "I'm an Anglican" (another interesting label) and there are many more, including the connection to the "Baptismal Covenant" to name a few.

I also left out how other Christians see the EC.  I have been told everything from 'so you are a Christian' to 'you are not a real Christian' to 'never head of it' to 'you're from the gay church', etc. The what is a real Christian is something I may write about one of these days, since it also came up to my mind a few days ago when I was reading some letters that were part of my copy of the "Jefferson's Bible" titled The life and morals of Jesus of Nazareth by Thomas Jefferson. He tells you what he thinks a real Christian is. The part about being a 'gay church' is also very interesting.

Finally, what does being an Episcopalian mean to me? I admit that I never use the exact same explanation every time. Yet, when I think about it, and when I think of how I have responded in the past it seems to me that every time it contains a variation of the first couple of things that were listed in the "I am Episcopalian" campaign:

As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person.

In addition, many Episcopalians like myself believe that along with "scripture" and "tradition", there is also "reason". And in, out and between all of those, along with reason I believe there must always be love. My favorite passage from the Bible has the word "love" all over it:

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (from the Gospel according to John 13:34-35)

Love in all of its "ways" and "forms" is something that I try to "understand" and will continue to do so for the rest of my life, with all the successes and failures that will come with it. I have many great discussions and chats on "love" all the time with Christians and non-Christians on what does "love" means and what does it mean to live a life with love and in love.

As an Episcopalian I also like the following words from the 20th century thinker (one of my favorite writers) Thomas Merton, and these are the same words that I use as part of my "electronic signature" for my emails:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

1 comment:

  1. I very much enjoy your musings Mario, I continually appreciate your clarification and description of what your faith is and what it means to you and to others. I will be the first to admit that I do not have a lot of knowledge of the Episcopal Church, so I really value your insight.