I’ve been working on a post about God, but it’s overwhelming me, so I thought it’d be easier to start with church. You know, bring it down to earth a little.
I’m a member of the Vestry at my little Episcopal church in Dallas, and each Vestry member is responsible for contributing an article to the church newsletter. This month was my turn.
The article is below. Please ignore my cliched first sentence. My church is a bit of a tamer crowd than my blog audience.
My name is Spring, and I am a recovering Baptist.
Specifically, Southern Baptist. It is the church I inherited by birth, and I really don’t mean to suggest that it’s all that bad. I learned quite a lot about the Old Testament, and I can certainly find my way around a Bible. But when I was 16, a scandal at the church I grew up in involving the pastor set in motion a series of events that culminated in my beloved church dissolving into thin air.
I chose to attend a Christian college, and the two mandatory weekly chapel services gave me more than my fill of church, so I didn’t bother looking for one. By my junior year I began to feel manipulated by the excessively emotional worship, and I obtained permission to waive my final year of chapel. I decided that evangelical Christianity wasn’t for me, but I didn’t know of any other kind. I considered atheism for a while. Tried on agnosticism for size. And then I paid a visit to the tiny Episcopal Church in town.
It was beautiful and mysterious to me. And a little bit rebellious, since my particular brand of Baptist eschewed anything remotely Catholic. I reveled in the Communion wine, the creeds, and the genuflections. I belted out the hymns I hadn’t heard since I was ten, when my Baptist church replaced the hymnals with praise choruses on PowerPoint, the kind that excludes anyone who doesn’t have the melody memorized from singing along. With a hymnal in front of me once again, the notes printed in a black, I no longer felt excluded.
I did feel left out of most everything else, though. The sitting, standing, and kneeling. The going back and forth between the bulletin, the Book of Common Prayer, and the hymnal. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried observing other parishioners, but it felt intrusive, as if I were peeking in on them alone in their bedrooms.
After graduation I got a position working for an Episcopal church in Dallas, Church of the Incarnation. I soon became all too familiar with its inner workings. Though I was very much a part of the church, I still felt like an outsider because I worked there. Much in the way a nanny is part of a family, but not by blood.
In the summer of 2007 I decided to make a project of visiting every Christian denomination in Dallas to see what else was out there. I called it Operation: Denomination. I wanted to learn everything, and, in the process, find where I belonged. Every Sunday I visited a different church: Presbyterian, Methodist, Christian Scientist, Catholic, Charismatic.
By the end of fall, I was weary and ready to go home. I visited St. Christopher’s in January, fortuitously on the day of the annual meeting and potluck. As soon as [Vestry Member] introduced herself, I knew that I had found where I belonged. I was home.
I was confirmed at St. Christopher’s in September 2008 by the Bishop of Dallas. I could smell the oil that he put on my forehead throughout the whole day until I washed it off before bed. I didn’t ever want to wash it away. To me, it was the official smell of the Episcopal Church, and for a whole day I bore it. And even now, though I washed it away two years ago and can smell it only in my memory, I’m still bearing it.