My Christian life, going back to the beginning, has seen two entirely different approaches to doing church.
And it includes a 30-year stretch with essentially no church at all.
As an Episcopal altar boy – an acolyte in ecclesial parlance – my early teen years routinely saw multiple weekly trips to my neighborhood St. Andrew’s Church in Kokomo, Ind., where along with other boys I assisted Father Cooper with various traditional liturgical chores regarding the Anglican Eucharist, an activity Catholics know as Mass and Evangelicals call simply Communion or the Lord’s Supper.
Of the acolytes, I lived closest to the church so it was easy for me to ride my bike or cut through backyards to be there for weekday services – the men’s 6 a.m. communion during Lent, for example. After logging hundreds of Eucharist celebrations, I had the words and movements down pat.
I was shocked the first time I attended a Catholic Mass, a Christmas Eve one-off in college, because the Catholic service was nearly identical to my old Episcopal service. It would be another couple of decades before I learned that I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the Anglican Church formed in the 1500s as a direct offshoot of the Roman Catholic Church. England’s King Henry the VIII, who had written extensively in support of Roman Catholicism and against Luther and Protestantism on the Continent, wanted a divorce and had to form his own church to get one. The Anglican Church was basically the Catholic Church without Rome. I used to joke that the Episcopalians were just the Catholics who didn’t have to go to church.
I’m not sure anyone thought that line was funny, but I digress.
In the late 1960s the church’s liturgy changed, I changed (age 14), Father Cooper retired, I didn’t know the new Episcopal service and I couldn’t sing. Church didn’t offer much action, high school activities beckoned and I drifted away.
Looking back decades later, I realized that the true issue was that while I knew the basics of the Jesus story, could recite the liturgy and loved Father Cooper, I didn’t know Christ. I just didn’t get that part of it, the cosmic hugeness and significance of the concentric mega-mysteries of creation, God’s love and glory, the Trinity, the totality of truth residing in Jesus, the bright light of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of scripture, the fellowship of all believers, relationship with the Father and the assuredness and finality of the Kingdom of God.
Today when I look at my old Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, I am ashamed I missed all that, because it most assuredly is in there.
Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org) eventually figured out what was missing. More next week.