Rector's Blog: We are Made for Each Other
So, I already told you that I’m Christian because of Jesus. That was my last blog post. But why do I go to church? And more specifically, why this tradition known as the Episcopal Church? Does a Christian have to go to church? Can’t I just believe what I believe, know what I know, and then live life on my terms without having to deal with, you know, other Christians? Do I have to be religious to be in a relationship with God?
I can only tell you about my experience of these questions and how my heart and life has responded to them.
I realized I believed in Jesus back in my early 20’s. I grew up in a different denomination in which I was very active, but I left as a teenager – and I don’t mean I stopped going for a while or didn’t feel like it: I left. I said no to church, and entered a period of prolonged and significant questioning about the existence of God, my beliefs about Jesus, about myself, and the universe, etc. But very long story short, I came to a place where I realized I in fact did believe in God, and that I believed in the Jesus of the Christian faith. And immediately, the question hit me: “What now?”
Going to church was not the obvious answer to me at all. I did not believe I would find a group of people with whom I could connect over faith. I did not believe I could find a place that would accept me for who I was. I figured wherever I went, they’d try to “fix” me and I wasn’t interested in that at all.
But here’s the problem: the more I read about Jesus and about faith, the more I realized that I couldn’t practice Christianity all by myself. Everything about it screamed out Community! Connection! Relationship! Gathering!
So, after a couple years of stutter steps and personal wrestling, I found myself at an Episcopal Church for a Wednesday evening class. I wouldn’t even go on a Sunday at that point. But someone invited me to this class, and I went. On the first night, the facilitator said the motto for the class discussions was, “No question too simple, no statement too hostile.” Wait, what? I could say anything I wanted, ask anything I wanted, and be honest? Yes. That was the point they said. My table was filled with people all across the spectrum of belief and ideology. All of us were attracted to this Jesus thing and we were trying to figure out what that meant for us. It seemed to mean different things to different people, and nobody was getting in trouble. And we prayed and ate together and hugged and built friendships.
Halfway through the class, one of the priests led a class and she spoke about the powerful presence of Jesus in the Church and in the world. And she talked about the existence of evil and of spiritual warfare – and of our part in combatting evil with love. She spoke about civil rights through the lens of Jesus Christ. She talked about the need for Biblical literacy, and the power of prayer and community. I went to church that Sunday.
I’ll never forget that first Sunday. I remember hearing the Nicene Creed and when we got to the point where we said, “we believe in one holy catholic apostolic church” I believed it. I believed these people here meant they believed there was one church and we all belonged to each other. I believed that in the Episcopal Church unity meant more than uniformity, and Jesus meant more than denominational peculiarities. I remember taking communion, and them sending communion out to someone who was homebound, and the whole congregation saying, “We who are many are one body, for we all share one bread, one cup.” I believed them. I believed they meant it. I never stopped going. It took another year and a bishop’s visit to make it official, but I became Episcopalian that day.
There is something terribly attractive to me about thinking I can attain spiritual peace and enlightenment all by myself just by believing in good things and doing the right things. But I had to accept that I would never find real peace all by myself - that I was literally built for community and connection. How terrifying and risky it is to believe that vulnerability, commitment, and even accountability to a larger body made up of other people is essential to my wholeness! I wish I could find peace all by myself. I wish I didn't have to depend on you. It would be so much simpler.
It turns out, though, that I need you. It turns out there is no real love without real community. Enlightenment and peace do not exist in a vacuum.
Jesus tells us to look for Divine Love in relationship.
Jesus tells us we are made for each other