Monday, April 20, 2009

High and Praise-y, Low and Lazy

Will and I were Episcopalian-ized on Sunday.

Yep, we went down to the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore (which incidentally is smaller than our church in Frederick ptttttht!), and along with a bunch of teenagers being confirmed, we were "received" into the Episcopal church by the bishop. I'm a big fan of our bishop...he was raised Southern Baptist and spent some time in the 60's promoting the Black Panther party before becoming a bishop in the Episcopal church, and I just find that hilariously fascinating. It was also fascinating to observe some interesting phenomena I have never been exposed to before...for example a priest with BO so bad that it permeated the several layers of heavy vestments he was wearing to wrinkle the noses of people he passed by (who we nicknamed Father Stank), and a crucifer-type guy who looked exactly like Ricky Gervais and who periodically swung around a 30-ft pole with silvery ribbons at the end of it. I STILL haven't been able to figure out what that thing was and how it fit into the service, but it sure made things interesting when, at the end of the service he accidentally thwacked it into one of the hanging chandeliers and had to spend the next 20 minutes or so tugging on it to try and untangle it.

I may seem pretty blase about it all, and this may seem like it came out of nowhere to those who know me, but I just haven't really talked about it. It just seemed premature to mention it before we really became members, but we've actually been working on this for awhile.

As a kid, I didn't go to church. My mom was a non-practicing Episcopalian, and my dad was an Atheist. My mom wanted to take us to church, but my dad had bad memories of being forced to go to church as a kid, so they compromised and decided that my mom could take us to church IF we decided on our own we wanted to go. When I was about 9, I noticed that my friends were doing things through their church youth groups, and I asked if we could go to church. We decided to try out some churches, but ended up staying at the first one we went to, a Church of the Brethren because my mom liked it. There were only about 30 people in the congregation, and only 2 other kids my age. I was ok with it for awhile, and I went through with the whole baptism thing because the other kids my age were doing it, but I didn't really like church. It was all so casual, it felt more like going over to someone's house for a get-together and I wasn't all that pleased with some of the Church of the Brethren's rituals.

Will was raised Episcopalian, but his family switched to a Methodist church when he was about 12. He was pretty into the whole thing, but then his church started to get kind of crazy with people swaying and crying and such. No offense to people who choose to sway and cry, it's just not for us.

We tried to go to church when we were in college once. The whole getting up early on a Sunday morning thing didn't work too well with the way we chose to spend our Saturday nights in college, and the service was INTERMINABLE. We decided not to go back a second time, but it took us MONTHS for the church members to stop approaching us and inviting us to various hayrides and other activities.

After college, we were faced with the task of finding a church in which to get married. As I said, I wasn't a big fan of "my" church which was too small anyway, and Will's old church had left a bad taste in our mouths. We knew Will's family had a long history at All Saints Episcopal church and it passed my test for being big and beautiful, so that's where we ended up having our wedding.

Over the next couple years, we always intended to start going back to church at some to-be-determined time in the future. We both agreed that it would be good to give our kids some exposure to the whole religion/spirituality thing from the beginning, because I honestly wish I had gotten that earlier in life. The plan was to become established at a church before our first baby came along, but we still kept on putting it off. Getting up early on a Sunday was still too much for us to deal with.

So then Emily came along, and we struggled for awhile over whether or not to have her baptized. We felt like we shouldn't make too big of a deal over it, since we weren't especially religious ourselves. Both of our mothers were pushing for it, but did we really even care that much? If we got her baptized, would we be doing it for her, or for us, or for other people? We couldn't exactly carry her up to a random church and ask them to baptize her, so where would we even have it done? Again, neither of us really harbored fond memories of our childhood churches, and my search for someone nondenominational to perform a baptism didn't yield much.

So fast forward almost two years, and I felt that we had finally put it off as long as we could. Soon she'd be old enough to actually start in a sunday school, and the children's bibles Will's mom kept buying for her were bound to raise questions some day.

I was heavily leaning towards the Unitarian church. I liked the idea of exposing Emily to various different belief systems, then allowing her to make an informed decision on her own as to what she believes when she's older. I went to a local Unitarian church to try it out, and it just didn't feel right. As open-minded as they claim to be, most of the message the Sunday I attended seemed to be pretty judgmental towards Christianity. Plus the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that exposing a young child to ALL world religions all at once would just be confusing. Perhaps it would be better to choose a religion in which to give her a background, then visit some different churches/mosques/temples etc. when she is older.

I had kept my search under wraps up until this point, just because I did NOT want Will to feel pressured to go to church with me. He'd had enough of that when he was younger. But it felt wrong to keep things from Will, so I mentioned my search and surprisingly he was totally on board. He pointed out that we live in a largely Christian country, we celebrate Christmas and Easter. Christianity is where both of us have our backgrounds, and is the belief system we still both identify with most, and if the goal was to raise Emily in a church and eventually have her baptized, we had to first choose a church where we were comfortable.

The Episcopal church appealed to us because they are very formal and traditional, and yet they are also very progressive. I like the idea of participating in services that are much the same as they have been for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Services that are very similar to the ones OUR families have attended for a very long time, and yet I am encouraged to decide for myself what I believe. We also wanted a big church, because we wanted Emily to have lots of kids her age to do youth group activities with, and because a big church offers more opportunities. The Episcopal church offered services at all different times, and of all different types. We could have some anonymity and limit our involvement to simply attending church each week, or we could choose to get more involved and take classes or go to smaller services. Most of all I think I wanted to be sure I was choosing this church for the right reasons, and not just because I thought it was pretty enough to get married in.

So we enrolled in the 6 week confirmation class, started going to church, and now here we are. We followed the painfully typical path to get here (going to church as kids, stopping as teenagers, feeling rebellious about it even though almost EVERYONE does the same thing, then coming back once WE had a kid) and it'll be awhile before Emily can actually make it through a service, but for now she loves the nursery, and we're giving her something I wish I'd had. She'll probably decide she doesn't want to go anymore at some point and that's fine with me, but for now I think it's important and I'm glad we've made a decision and are happy with it.

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