Candles and pine, leather and brick

For the first time ever, I’m creating a category for spirituality. For the first time ever, this morning, I attended a church service, and didn’t feel like a lightning bolt was being aimed at me, or that I was a freak. I’m still nowhere near defining what I DO believe, in terms of God and Christ and all that, as the smaller things seem more important, more relevant, on a daily basis. Things like, give back to your community, and treat everyone with respect, or at least tolerance.

We visited St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church here in Grand Prairie today. In the research stages of my on-again/off-again church shopping, I’d selected the Episcopalians as the group I’d feel most comfortable with, and an email correspondence with Canon Linda, in San Jose, and with Father Young, here in GP, has affirmed that choice. While they are radically different, both struck me as being sincere, warm, smart people, and they embraced my tendency to question, well, everything.

St. Andrew’s is a cozy church. The stone floors of the parish hall and offices are covered with ancient, faded oriental rugs, the once-bright colors making the brick spaces, and comfy old leather furniture seem homey, not shabby. The sanctuary itself is warm red brick, with an inverted ship’s bow-shaped ceiling, typical of Anglican architecture. The natural wood and warm brick really made the space feel comfortable to me.

We arrived about fifteen minutes before the 10 AM service (Rite 1, with music), and Father Young met us outside, and offered a tour of the church, parish hall, and school. We were introduced to everyone, and one of the parishoners was assigned to sit with us, and guide us through the service. As someone who grew up in an Italian Catholic family, though I’ve never been a church-goer, and was actively raised by agnostic/secular humanistic parents, I knew the structure of the service, knew that there would be an Advent wreath, knew that there would be kneeling (my Baptist husband doesn’t like that part). But because I have no real religious education, beyond a couple of generic (required) philosphy classes at USF, I don’t know the words, the music. Sight-singing words you aren’t accustomed to speaking, before you’ve had morning coffee, and when you’re feeling nervous and intimidated already, is NOT easy. At least, since it’s Advent, I knew the one Christmas carol that was part of the service.

Father Young referred to John the Baptist with just a touch of humor, calling him “the hairy man out in the desert,” and urging people to learn solitude and simplicity from his story. His sermon was well written, and well delivered, and his vocabulary met my approval. He even used one of my favorite phrases, “inextricably intertwined.” Most importantly, I didn’t feel preached at.

After the service, we were invited to join Father Young and his wife, Liz (it must be a good thing if there’s a Liz involved, right?) for lunch, at the local Mongolian BBQ. It was a nice lunch, and the conversation was light, but made me more comfortable with the priest as a person. (Despite the fact that I have at least one uncle who is a Catholic priest, who is totally approachable and great fun at parties, I always feel as if members of the clergy look at me and see HEATHEN printed in fiery letters, across my forehead.)

We talked about his Inquirer’s Class – I really want to go. And we talked about our background, in which I explained how it is possible to wind up at a Jesuit university coming from an agnostic household. (USF has the St. Ignatius Institute – it’s a Great Books program, and it’s fabulous), and in which we talked about Communion.

Communion is a big issue for me. I’ve been baptized (Catholic), but I’ve made a practice of NOT taking Communion, because I feel it’s hypocritical to do so, without being certain of my beliefs. Canon Linda had said, when I asked about this, that she felt the Act sometimes helps to promote the Belief.

So, of course I had to ask Father Young, as well. His response was, “If a person doesn’t feel comfortable taking Communion because they feel unworthy, that’s wrong, because by that logic, we’re all unworthy. No one is worthy. Instead, think of it as a gift, and remember that once you feel you need to earn a gift, it’s no longer a gift. But if you’re not taking it because of discomfort with your beliefs, that’s valid, and right.” (Clay, if you’re reading this, know that I flashed on that first Jester’s class in which either Missy or Michele had mentioned that mistakes are a Gift. Yes, I make absurd connections.)

And now, hours after that, I’m sitting here hoping my ankle will continue to cooperate, because tonight’s the NaNoWriMo TGIO party at a laser tag/bowling alley and while I’ve never done EITHER, I’m in the mood to be open and try new things.

Like church. I really liked how welcome they made us feel. How not-freakish I felt. I think I’d like to go back.