I was telling a friend about the Episcopal Church the other day and I said something that I hope is true. I said we don’t try to get people to join so that they can get something we have. We want them to join because we’re doing something important and they want to help. It’s a very different perspective on the church and on the world.
Episcopalians have been accused of being too inclusive. “No matter what you believe, there’s someone here who agrees with you.” Sometimes I think that’s true, but then I remember, we’re not a group of people that believe the same things (orthodoxy), we’re a group of people that do the same things (orthopraxy). The question is, what do we do? What is our common purpose. And that, I think has been part of the contemporary struggle.
Number one: we worship God together. This may seem insignificant to outsiders, but I can tell you, for me it’s profound and deep. Yes, it means attending the same worship services and generally doing things the BCP way, but it’s more than that. First, liturgy is more than custom, it’s discipline. Second, worship is more than liturgy, it is life in praise of God. And third, the good life means having trouble differentiating worship and life.
So let us start with liturgy. We forget on occasion just how intentionally and beautifully the Anglican liturgy has been crafted and refined over the last five centuries. Did you know that every Episcopal service includes the Lord’s prayer, and usually at the high point? ( I think there’s one exception to this, but I leave it to the geeks to find it. grin.) Have you noticed how often we say “the Lord be with you”? By this we both mean that the Lord is with you and we wish the Lord to be with you. It comes before prayer and it says something significant about how we view worship. God is not brought from the church to the people, but exists in the people who define the church. Have you noticed how common Eucharist is these days? It seems like we’re always feeding one another; there’s something special about that. Finally, I’m particularly fond of the words “dearly beloved,” which used to adorn all our rites and now are reserved for the marriage ceremony. Nonetheless, it means something when the priest begins the service with these words: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered.” We are God’s beloved people, beloved of one another and created in the Divine image.
Moving on to non-liturgical worship, that is praising God outside the church services. I think a few quotes are appropriate here.
Hymn 592, from George Herbert: “Teach me, my God and King, in all things thee to see, and what I do in anything, to do it as for thee.”
Sunday Confession: “…that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your name.”
General Thanksgiving “And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives.”
We have long held to the doctrine that proper worship extends from the praise of God in holy places to the praise of God in creation, to the praise of God in the streets and by serving our neighbors. The disciplines of mindfulness, prayer, peace, community, and joy extend from the church gathered to the church at work in the world. We only forget occasionally that that’s what we’re about. We are ambassadors of love and grace.
Finally, the worshipful life. In Anglican theology, the world was made good. There are evils to fight, without question, but our very existence
as people made in the image of God
as redeemed followers of Christ
as a church gathered by the Spirit
means that we are light in the world. It is not the ideas we share, it is not the actions we do, but the people we are in the world. And, when we remember who we are together, they will know us by our love – not only for each other, but for the world. It is a love so deep, so high, and so broad that it leads us into the darkest places. Episcopalians don’t advertise much, and perhaps we should fix that, but better still we should be so busy doing the will of God, that we haven’t the time. Worship is life, when life is about God.
We, and sometimes we Episcopalians alone, have this message to share. The church is not about what we get, but about what we give. We have a mission, to love God and neighbor. And sometimes that will mean sharing our ideas and our words. And sometimes that will mean using our strength and courage to do things in the world. But always it means being who we are. The beloved people of God. So if you want to invite someone to join us – I hope you will – don’t tell them they’ll be saved, or they’ll have fun, or they’ll meet new people. Tell them there’s work to do.
The whole earth is being made new. We need peacemakers, and healers; teachers, preachers, and priests; story tellers and listeners; guides and caretakers; scholars, scientists, and engineers. Nothing less than a new heaven and a new earth, and you can be a part of that.