February 28, 2008
This past Sunday, I decided to live the example of the Samaratin "woman at the well," and encounter faith in unexpected places. Of course, I've got several reasons that this seemed like the right time to do some exploring — wondering if it was possible for T and I to share church together, wondering if I'd be happier doing less patriarchial battle. So in my tentative effort to do some church-shopping, I came up with a short criteria:
• they had to have a female priest, and
• they had to be gay-friendly.
I headed first to a suburban Episcopal Church. After nearly killing myself on the ice, I wondered if I should have included "must have a parking lot" in my criteria. I was first attracted to this church because of all of it's theological and liturgical similarities with Catholicism, particularly the emphasis on ritual and sacramentality. I was greeted warmly at the door, given the order of service and asked to stay for coffee at the end. The service was amazing — very formal, with several acolytes attending the female priest, a plethora of insence, and a full robed choir singing Gregorian chant. This was high mass. I stayed through the priest's wonderful homily but then snuck out before communion so that I could join T at the church she's been attending.
I raced over to the UMC church very close to my house, again cursing the ice and the three-block walk to the church. Again, I was greeted warmly at the door and spotted T in her pew and joined her. This service was pretty much the polar opposite of what was going on at the Episcopal church, a "low" mass, in the sense that it was very informal and of the people. The bare-bones look and feel of the place along the relatively small congregation were unusual for me — but it became clear pretty quickly that the Spirit was shinning through in this place. The female priest shined with it, as did the enthusiastic worship leader and music director. Midway through the service, I was welcomed by name, and afterward, I was personally greeted by half the congregation! They were a warm bunch, for sure, but the lack of sacrament and ritual left me yearning for more. It was a blessing to share the service with T, who is just exploring faith for the first time in many years. I left feeling grateful that she had found a place that left her uplifted and a community of faith that fed her spirit.
So far, my overall observation is: I'm Catholic, I just am. For me it's the perfect blend of sacramentality with community. Not too formal, not to informal. Not pushily evangelical, but not too impersonal either. My other observation was this: we are nowhere near as welcoming at my parish as we like to believe. Our greeters tentatively mouth "hellos" toward newcomers, but where is the after-church coffee, the aggressive welcome and conversation that I was greeted with at BOTH of the other churches? We need some work here, for sure. Sadly, as much as I loved both female priest and their uniquely qualified observations about this particular homily which is dear to my heart, it was not enough to cause me to move on. Finding the right fit in a church requires some mysterious blend of personal comfort and magical awakening — and though the institutional church continues to challenge my reliance on my current parish, I have yet to feel that spark or strike that balance anywhere else, or really even come close to it.