Disclaimer: Episcopalian friends, Episcopal school friends, brutally honest sentiments herein are not aimed at you specifically. Keep reading.
I am a “cradle” Episcopalian, as we say. I attended Episcopal schools during several of my formative years, and for what I gained there I am thankful. My ex and I had a huge role in founding an Episcopal school that sits on a sprawling campus and from which our young ‘un was expelled three weeks shy of the end of fourth grade with little explanation from the head of school. True story. After our church family peremptorily dismissed us about a decade ago (a wart on our family’s timeline tied to our Episcopal school debacle) I resolved to quit the church forever; what had been home was now sullied, and I felt like an interloper.
When your child’s scholastic aptitude does not fit the Episcopal School paradigm, the paradigm that serves mainly elite, high-achieving kids and their families (we could expand this discussion to include lots of independent schools), there is actually a term for what happens next: you are counseled out. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Like they care about what happens to you afterwards.
When you no longer fit into the crowd at the church you have attended for more than a decade you are simply snubbed and made to feel unwelcome. I think the expression for this is, piss off, thanks be to God. Here is how it works: invitations to social functions (with direct ties to the church or not) evaporate; you are “accidentally” removed from the church mailing list; your child is no longer invited to birthday parties or play dates with kids he has known since they were all in diapers; and the priest’s wife is cool to you when you bump into her at the grocery store (and that is a generous characterization).
Yeah, that really makes you want to go to church.
After my lengthy Episcopal Church furlough I bravely visited a small Episcopal church in my neighborhood here in Vermont a year ago. The people seemed kind (in that reserved New England way), although I never had the chance to really get to know many of them. I liked the priest a lot–probably more than any other priest in my church experience, save one–and I felt spiritually nourished, at least as much as I ever feel spiritually nourished in a church setting. I have no idea how those people might have reacted to our family had they been the communicants in our home church environment, and it is pointless to speculate. In my new Vermont neighborhood there is no Episcopal church, and that is that; going to church now means a long commute. I don’t have the constitution for that on snowbound Sunday mornings.
This all has no bearing on my feelings about Episcopal liturgy: that has exactly nothing to do with the people involved in that awful chapter of exclusion. I will always love the poetry and cadence of the church liturgy, always. But I confess that I freaked out a little when Handsome Chef Boyfriend announced that the two of us had been invited to a wedding, in an Episcopal church, the wedding of a good friend who also happened to be an Episcopal priest, and who was being wed in his own Episcopal parish.
There was no way I would turn down an opportunity to meet more of the people who define HCB’s life and community and about whom I have heard so much for over a year now. And there was also the bit about the rare chance to spend the entire weekend together.
This is the second marriage for each of them and as such the ceremony was appropriately stripped of the pomp and circumstance of most weddings. What impressed me most was the overwhelming support this priest was shown by the church community where he had been rector before–HCB’s community–and who made the effort to be there that morning. And there was the comfort of that familiar liturgy, and communion, and the closeness of my sweetheart sitting next to me in the pew. (And because he is HCB, there was also sotto voce levity, including comments about the communion wafers needing more seasoning.)
I leave you with a William Henry Channing poem that the wedding couple used as a responsorial in their ceremony and which resonated with me so much, where I am now in my life. Peace be with you, as they say.
To live content with small means;
To seek elegance rather than luxury, refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;
To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;
To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.
This is my symphony.