August term is almost over…today most of my classmates are in a workshop about Intercultural something (another requirement of the Episcopal Church for those training to be priests) and I am devoting the day to memorizing the Qal Perfect verbal endings for a quiz on Monday. Since seminary is, after all, supposed to be about the act of exploring one’s own self and growing in one’s faith through study, I thought I would take a moment this Friday morning to summarize what this Baptist has learned about Anglican worship from these last few weeks of living in an Episcopal world.
Lesson No. 1: I’ve really lived a very ecumenical life, so it hasn’t been so very difficult to be surrounded by people who worship differently, probably have a slightly different theology than I do, and most likely interpret their relationship with the Divine differently. Having spent a lot of years in the Presbyterian church, even more with Unity School of Religious Science, some years singing in the Catholic Church and some with the Methodists and United Church of Christ (oh yes, and those few years when even I used the “spiritual but not religious” descriptor), I’ve had good opportunities to examine my beliefs and get really clear about my faith and the ways in which I relate to God. I have also had a chance to learn that no one, no institution, no commentator — no human of any kind — has the answers, so we should all just allow people to ask the questions the way they need to ask them.
Lesson No. 2: After a couple of weeks of participating in a fairly standard Morning Prayer service, I am happy to report that just as I suspected, I really like the practice of communal prayer to start the day. While I do feel a little boxed-in by a set liturgical text, I do understand its value and its comfort. More than once I have been moved to tears by the reading of the Apostle’s Creed in prayer service (although I prefer the more ecumenical and more simple version of the text). It is wonderful to read (or sing) the various Canticle texts as a community after we hear each of the Scripture readings (so far, only the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel) and to read the Psalms together as a community of worship.
Lesson No. 3: What surprised me most about Morning Prayer? That would be just how grounding it is to confess my sins each morning. As progressives, given the mis-use of the terms sin, confession, and absolution that abound in the more fundamentalist view of faith, we tend to be squeamish about that. In my church community, we do include a confession of sins and a grant of absolution in the Communion service (in a most moderate, progressive way, of course), but I was so surprised to find the tears welling up in my eyes as I read for the first time the Confession of Sin from the Book of Common Prayer:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
And finally, Lesson 4: Well, Lesson 4 is really a lot of little lessons, but we’ll call Lesson 4 the lessons I’ve learned about myself. I had a lot of fears about “not fitting in” etc. and so forth. But the truth is that I get a lot back from not being in the denominate group (being neither Episcopalian nor enrolled in the MDiv program). That position forces me out of my automatic “good girl” responses and makes me take serious evaluation of why I am here and what I need to do. And, most of all, it reminds me that I came to seminary for study. The most common question I encounter, after I explain what a progressive Baptist is and why I would not have gone to a Baptist seminary, is the question of what I plan to DO with my Masters degree. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to say to an eager young student who is working his/her way through the checklist that is the ordination process in the Episcopal Church that I am working very hard in this moment to have no goals, no plans — just to be open to God’s call on my life. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And every time I have to say it out loud, my only real goal — to deepen in my relationship with God and my ability to live into my faith — becomes stronger and more clear in my heart and my mind.
These things are certainly not the only things I have learned over these past weeks, but this is enough for today. Since I didn’t have a chance to go to Morning Prayer this morning, let me share with you the Prayer of John Chrysostom that often closes that service. Some of us might need it today:
Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.