This morning, Fuzzy and I visited a church we’ve driven by innumerable times since moving here eight years ago, but have never been in: St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church here in south Grand Prairie.
The building looks more like it should be on the prairie of South Dakota than in the middle of the DFW metroplex, with it’s gray clapboard construction and welcoming red doors. Inside, it’s much brighter and cheerier than the humble facade would imply, with white walls, hardwood floors and a wooden railing at the altar. As we listened to the choir rehearsing, I remarked to Fuzzy, “This feels like something out of Little House on the Prairie.” The grey sky and large empty field (lot, really, but let’s pretend it’s a field) outside the clear windows only added to that feeling.
Apparently the church was originally the All Faiths Chapel at Naval Station Dallas (why a landlocked city needs a navy base is something I haven’t yet determined), back in the 1940s. It was supposed to be torn down in the 60s, but instead was donated to the church, and moved to its current location.
I liked the building.
The service, however, didn’t thrill me. Or rather, it confused me.
Let me explain: Grand Prairie is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. When we first moved here, we went “church shopping,” and began attending St. Andrew’s Episcopal at the other end of town. St. Joseph’s is much closer, but it doesn’t have a functioning website, and when I left voicemail for both both churches, only the folks at St. Andrew’s responded.
I liked St. Andrew’s, the people were a great mix of old and young, it has the local Episcopal school which meant that kids were involved in most activities, and the music director/choir master/cantor was awesome. But then there was a split in the diocese, where the old-school, ultra-conservative sect (led by Bishop Iker) basically bailed on the ECUSA (the Episcopal Church of the United States of America) because they objected to the ordination of women and gay people as Bishops (well, at all when it came to gay people.)
So now, there are two groups calling themselves the Diocese of Fort Worth. One, the old-school ultra-conservative group, petitioned for oversight and realigned itself with the Southern Cone, which is what oversees Episcopal churches in Latin America. The more modern, liberal folks stayed with ECUSA. On a parish-by-parish basis, some entire parishes went one way, some went another, and many still worship together, but are waiting for court decisions on who owns property.
One of the reasons I like the Episcopal church, in general, is that there are women priests and bishops, and there are gay people in those positions as well, so when the split happened, I couldn’t in good conscience continue to worship in a place that went with the old guard. Still love the individual people, but disagreed with their choice.
We spent the next several years at the local UU Church, where I made some very warm friends and was pretty active, but I got tired of the politics (even though I agree with most of them) and really felt like I needed to be in a place where there was a woman in the pulpit. It’s a funny thing about UU churches – most of the congregations are primarily women, yet most of the ministers are men, and even though they’re warm, smart, enlightened men, I like a different perspective.
This was really brought home to me on Christmas Eve, 2010, when a bunch of us went to midnight mass at an Episcopal church in Fort Worth (the modern diocese) with the first female rector in the diocese. She was AWESOME, and the Christmas story has never had so much impact. But that church is a 40 minute drive.
So we checked out one a little closer – St. Alban’s in Arlington, which is currently meeting (well, the modern part) at Theater Arlington. Love the priest-in-charge, love the music, seems like a nice group, but they start at 9:30 in the morning, and for Fuzzy and me the difference between a 9:30 start time and a 10:00 start time is significant, especially since it’s in downtown Arlington – a minimum drive time of twenty minutes.
Anyway, I wanted to go there this morning, but 9:30 wasn’t going to happen, so I said, “Look, I know St. Joseph’s is with the old diocese, but we’ve sung with many of those people during Lessons and Carols, and it’s literally close enough to walk to (if we felt like it), so let’s check it out.”
So we did.
The music was lovely, and, to a point, mass is mass. Different churches use different forms of the service, but they’re all essentially the same during Advent. But the subject of the sermon went a little to far into “people will always be evil until they come to God” territory, and I don’t believe one MUST be religious to be a good person. Faith and Morality are not always a package deal.
As well, even though this is Rose Sunday, I was really jarred by the use of the Hail Mary (which isn’t usually an Episcopal prayer) as part of the service. (I learned the Hail Mary from my grandmother, I have no problem with it, particularly, I just wasn’t expecting it.) I know there are some Episcopal churches that are becoming sort of Anglo-Catholic, but I wasn’t expecting that here.
And then, there was this underlying feeling of guilt about being there in the first place, when I left a church I mostly liked because of the whole split.
So, am I glad I got to see the inside of the building (and I confess, the BUILDING has been drawing me)? Yes. But when a friend asked me if I enjoyed the service my answer was – and still is – “Yes and No.”