The first part of this story is over here. Go ahead, click and read. You know you want to.
So there I was, freshman Fizz, at a Baptist college and feeling decidedly non-Baptist. I joined the Baptist Student Union at first but even that felt too traditional for me. So I joined the [School] Christian Association instead. It purported to be a non-denominational group for students to fellowship and uphold each other without the constraints of a certain church’s philosophy getting in the way. Sweet. Turns out that it was a very small group – maybe 6 regulars. But the school chaplain was very interested in our group and helped a lot, and these girls were kindred spirits (no guys were interested… I guess there was more action to be found at the BSU) and we sponsored some interesting events for our campus that were well attended.
One event was an Ash Wednesday service. Our chaplain invited one of the priests from the Episcopal church downtown to come and speak to us about the observance of Lent, the importance of Ash Wednesday, and the Episcopal church in general. The service we had was moving, solemn, and inspiring. A few days later, I called the priest (it didn’t hurt that he was young, good-looking, and hey – the Episcopalians let their priests get married) and set up a visit at his church to discuss some of my questions.
I was intrigued by the church building, for one thing. Far more ornate than the Baptist churches I was used to, and in a two-hundred-year old building, there was a sense of awe and beauty in the space itself. But I also had questions about the structure of the church. I wasn’t used to “priests” and “bishops” and I wondered how that affected the people who attended the church. Plus, there was so much I didn’t know about Episcopalians – did they believe all those “Catholic” ideas like baptizing babies, praying to the saints, transubstantiation? Fr. Hottie (not his real name, obviously) took over an hour to answer my questions. He walked me though the sanctuary and pointed out things that went on in worship services. He was patient and understanding of my frustrations with the Baptists – though he never jumped in with a Baptist bash of his own.
For the following year, I attended the Episcopal church. When I went home to visit my parents, I went to the one in their town instead of going to the Baptist church with them. To their credit, they didn’t discourage me or speak badly about my search or my new expression of faith. They didn’t come with me, and they did ask me a few probing questions about how I felt about this stance or that belief, but they seemed to give me space and respect.
I loved this faith. I loved the solemnity of the worship. The church I attended in my college town was very high-church; the one in my hometown much less so. But in both churches, the beauty of the liturgy spoke to me. Genuflecting at the end of the aisle before taking my seat, I felt a part of a centuries-old practice of worship. I felt that I’d left behind my Baptist understanding of Jesus-Is-My-Homeboy and had come into a more complete understanding of the awe, reverence, and wonder that comes with realizing we worship the God who created our universe, the God who deigned to become Man in order to save us. I eagerly memorized the Nicene Creed, the order of the communion ceremony, the prayers of contrition.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we earnestly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.
I was partial to Rite One, the more traditional order of services found in the Book of Common Prayer. The beauty of the language thrilled me. The hymns entranced me. I was re-energized in my desire to read the Scriptures, my need to serve in the church, my joy for religion. I imagined myself joining this church and having a beautiful Episcopalian wedding ceremony and a beautiful Episcopalian funeral service. I thought I’d found my faith home, for life.
And then, I met Gruff.