Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Faith Story, part 1

Does anyone remember that the last General Convention encouraged every Episcopalian to tell their faith story? (Does anyone remember that anything else happened at the last General Convention?)

I thought I would give it a try. Of course anyone who's in the ordination process gets used to "telling their story." In fact, I suspect I'm not the only one who got tired of it. No, not the STORY. Or, as my seminary roommate would say when asked the same question about THE STORY for the umpteenth time by a member of COM, "Read the file. READ THE FILE."

I digress.

It's been awhile, though, since I've told the story. So I thought I would give it a go and see if any new insights emerge.

Really my story isn't entirely my own, because I grew up in a particular context. I was born in the late sixties in Chicago (a North Sider, note, which makes me particularly disposed to cheering for underdogs and losing sports teams). My mother is a church organist; my father worked for a large federal government agency which shall remain nameless. My father is originally from Austria, but was forced to leave as a child in the late 30s because of his ethnic heritage. He spent the war years in England. Our family has been tilted to "Anglophile" ever since.

I was baptized in an Episcopal church in the north suburb of Evanston, but I remember nothing of my early childhood at that church. (There are two satisfying things relating to my baptism: I graduated from seminary in that same church, and I was ordained to the diaconate on the anniversary of my baptism). I don't remember church until I was in grade school. The church we were attending, now in the city itself, hired my mom as the organist.

I remember Bible stories and Sunday School. I remember carefully taking our offering down to the grown-ups' service, although I didn't understand where the money came from or where it was going. I loved the music, but since the kids missed most of the service, we only heard the same music week after week (which may explain my love/hate relationship with Healey Willan's setting for Rite I).

When I was in grown-up church I also remember being bored. Very, very bored. I made up long novels in my head. I looked around at everything but no one ever explained what was going on at the altar, and no chance of being an acolyte for a girl in this congregation. And I wondered what was going on in other people's heads. What were they experiencing that I seemed to be missing out on? I longed to know what that was. I would call it now a longing for the transcendent.

On a more immanent note, however, that church space was a home away from home. I would do my homework while mom practiced the organ. I knew every nook and cranny, and I knew every adult and felt loved by them. Being awkward and book-oriented, church was a safe place. My peers were a mystery but hanging out at church made a lot of sense.

As I grew older, the church became wrapped up in issues of the day. Much ranting happened at coffee hour over women's ordination and changing the prayer book, and later, changing the hymnal. As I grew older, that little parish seemed frozen in time. But of course I didn't understand that until I was much, much older.

(end of part one)


At 8:48 PM, Blogger Cathy said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I am a little over a decade older than you, and I remember so many of the issues you mentioned and the church being "frozen" in time - that makes us "safe" from the changing world. I can still remember phrases from the old BCP and tunes from the old Hymnal - so many feel like "comfort food for the soul" - but they move over and give room for the new that can also give comfort. I look forward to reading Part II!

At 3:28 PM, Blogger St. Casserole said...

Emily, thanks for telling your story here. I'm looking forward to all the chapters!

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Becca said...

I will enjoy reading your faith story ... thank you for sharing.

At 4:10 AM, Blogger Kathryn said...

Ooh...a story. I LOVE stories. Thank you, Emily, for sharing yours. Wish I could see the screen if I curled up on my sofa to hear the next part.

At 10:49 AM, Blogger Annie said...

Coming in very late, I must say that I have already enjoyed a couple of increments of your story. So much of it reminds me of my own early experience. It is interesting to revisit the past, to hang in the memory of those long gone times and also, I find it intriguing to see how things have changed.

(I used to lean my head against my daddy's shoulder during the sermon--he was so patient with my boredom!)



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