Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saint Mary's Kansas City

The very first Episcopal church I ever attended was Saint Mary's in Kansas City MO on Easter Sunday, 1980.  It remains among the most beautiful Episcopal churches I've ever prayed in; a wooden vaulted ceiling, splendid brick arcades, a wrought iron rood screen, and a Tiffany altar.  It was definitely the church of the local Establishment at one time.  Now it is marooned among parking lots and freeway interchanges next to downtown.

When I visited there on Easter, I was hooked.  I loved the liturgy and music.  For the first time in my life, I heard a sermon that spoke to me as an adult and not as a child.  After a few more visits, and some visits to some other congregations, I decided that this was the break I was looking for with the bland suburban Protestantism in a fundamentalist evangelical culture that I grew up in.  I was a secular agnostic at the time, and I so wanted a religious life again, and a specifically Christian religious life.  But, just about everything I grew up with was too anodyne or repulsive to consider returning to.  Rome and its authoritarian hierarchy wasn't an option either.  I wanted to keep my own mind and conscience, to remain myself doubts and all, and remain free.  Having grown up in a culture where hellfire is a constant terror, I became convinced that salvation must be something more than simply being spared an eternal torture chamber.  Nor did I believe that a truly loving God would create such a place, though hateful mortals just might.  God was not a monster or an extortionist.  God is Love in every sense of that word.

I've been going to Episcopal churches now for 38 years, and I am so very grateful for this non-confessional church that makes no claim beyond what's proclaimed in the Gospel and the Nicene Creed.  I remember hearing Neil Alexander (long before he became a bishop) describe the Episcopal Church as a place where a motley group of pilgrims ended up and found each other on the way to the Celestial City.  We make no claims to have The One True Answer.  We don't own any copyright on the Gospel or the Truth. We are pilgrims on the way, deeply flawed human beings, sinners like everyone else, trying to live out the Gospel as best we understand it individually and collectively.  Our mission is not to be the exclusive club of the Saved set over and against the Not-Saved, but to be Tikkun to use a Hebrew word, healing.   The Cross is not judgment, but the healing and reconciling medicine for a torn and  bloodied world.  The Gospel is not another calamity piled onto the backs of suffering humankind, but Good News -- liberation, freedom, compassion, God with us always.

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