Why I Decided to Join the Episcopal Church

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For those who don’t know it, I took a huge step of faith a year ago Easter; I joined the Episcopal Church.

Photo Courtesy of Patty Moody ©

Photo Courtesy of Patty Moody ©

Some of you may think I’m crazy, others will surely think I’ve gone off the deep end, others will think I can’t be reformed anymore or that I support everything the Episcopal Church supports, but none of these are true.

For many of my friends and family, this move comes as no great shock.

For six years now, I’ve been resisting and raging against the Episcopal Church. I’ve been avoiding it with every fiber of my soul, but the move was, to some, inevitable.

You see, six years ago, I met a wonderful seminarian, a man I thought must pray literally all the time, and he was on the track to ordination in the Episcopal Church. Poor guy heard an earful from this Presbyterian seminarian. Let’s say I was not happy with his choice, though he’d already been in the church four years by the time we met.

I fought, I argued, I brought out every theological reason there was to convince him to leave the Episcopal Church, to see the error of his ways and to come back to the Presbyterian Church, where he had once been a member and where his twin brother is an ordained minister.

I was convincing too, to myself at least.

But he didn’t engage in my theological debates. It’s not that he was passive or checked out, but he kept saying we should focus on what binds us together, what brings us closer, what we have in common, and that was Christ. Love of the Living God in Jesus is what was the core of our faith and what was of ultimate importance. Not transubstantiation or the lack of a unifying theology within Episcopalianism.

And what bound us together was in fact Christ. For us as believers and later for us as a married couple. Christ binds us in his love and in his covenant and in the covenant of marriage to one another.

We tried worshiping in our own traditions for a few years, but it was hard to be away from each other on Sundays. I tried to go to his church, but the stuffy music, rote ritual, ornate “pageantry,” as I called it, bad theology, lack of gospel preaching, and way of doing communion that I disagreed with and couldn’t partake in were too strong at first for me to overcome.

But the binding together in Christ is one of the reasons I decided to join. I wanted to worship together as a family.

So I put aside my pride, saw the lack of opportunity in my own denomination, saw the open arms and opportunities for teaching within the Episcopal Church, and started attending with my husband, the now-ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.

Soon, well after a year or more, I began to realize that I could take communion even if I didn’t agree with what the priest might believe was happening during the breaking of the bread. I looked to St. Augustine’s 4th Century debate over how to handle a separatist group, the Donatists, when they wanted to return to the church. The people were struggling with whether to accept the baptism of the Donatists. Ultimately he concluded that as long as they were baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then it didn’t matter the minister’s moral character or bad theology or separation from the church. The character of the minister could not invalidate a person’s baptism. For you and me today, that means that if our minister ends up committing a crime or turns from his faith, or falls into egregious sin, that our baptism is still valid. It’s not negated because the person who administered it, turned out to be less than holy.

Back to my story though, I used this controversy to say that the beliefs about what happens during the Lord’s Supper in the Episcopal Church does not negate the power of what we receive in the body and bread. So while a priest may believe he is literally turning the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood and it’s being sacrificed through the liturgy and ritual, it’s okay for me to believe that the act is symbolic, but that Christ is spiritually present through his Holy Spirit.

We can differ on our beliefs about what is happening, because what really happens at the table is a mystery and does not depend either on the priest’s views about it or mine, but on Christ. And because of this and knowing this, I could come to His table.

This may seem like a theological aside or long story, but my acceptance and coming to terms with this issue led me to realize that I don’t have to believe everything that a priest in the Episcopal Church believes. In fact, because there’s no central unifying theological system (outside of the historic creeds), there is freedom to believe. There is freedom for my theology to fit in a church with someone else’s theology. In fact, I find that most Episcopalians tend to have their own theology.

Now I can hear a priest say something off the wall, to me, and instead of think we need to, as a church, have a reckoning with him, I think, well, I’m glad there’s room for disagreement. And I’m glad that I have a place where I can teach and can help spread reformed theology. I’m glad that I can be a positive voice in the midst of many who aren’t evangelically-minded or even sure what they believe.

Another reason I joined is for the community. The Episcopal Church is where I am a member of the community. My husband and I have been starting a young adult ministry and working toward that end for over two years now. It was weird to still be a card-carrying Presbyterian while spearheading a ministry in the Episcopal Church.

I also wanted to be able to vote. Membership in the Church means a vote in the life of the church. I was tired of having to sit the votes out when I cared intimately what goes on in our church. I wanted my voice to be heard. But to do that, I had to join. I had to be confirmed.

And then there’s my now twenty-one-month-old son. It was time for him to be baptized, near his first birthday, like I had been many years ago. It would be silly to go to the Presbyterian Church where none of us attended. It would be a slight to the community and church where we worshiped and were growing our ministry to not be at our church (the Episcopal Church). And besides, I was baptized in the Methodist Church, so I saw that ultimately, he would need to make his faith his own, in his own time, in his own church. My son would be baptized in the Episcopal Church. I didn’t want to be the only one left out. As a family, we would worship and belong to the church together.

Besides, the Episcopal Church really has grown on me. I work for a non-profit in the Episcopal Church. My friends are in the Episcopal Church. I saw that there are men and women who deeply love Christ who worship in the Episcopal Church. It wasn’t such a bad place.

In fact, I began to like their openness to differing thoughts and opinions. I liked that I could believe one thing and my husband another, but neither of us be outside the bounds of Christianity. We could serve and worship God together, but we, and others, didn’t have to believe point by point the same things about everything about faith and God and the Bible.

At my former church and within the DNA of the denominational tradition, especially at my seminary, there was a spirit of divisiveness. It was “our way or the highway.” You had to believe everything that church taught or you couldn’t teach there. I had a friend who was told some books she recommended would need to come down from her blog before she’d be able to teach at her church. I had seminary professors lose tenure and jobs (Peter Enns and Douglas Green) because of the slightest nuances, which meant disrupting an entire school for the defenders of “truth,” who found it their purpose to safeguard the denomination from ideas that didn’t conform to their version of truth, to their reading and understanding of the faith and of the Bible. So, instead of divisiveness, I chose openness. I chose the option of breadth of opinion, even when I thought some of those opinions off the mark. I respect that we can serve Christ and disagree on some things. This is why I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church.

Confirmation is more than just joining. You have to be brought into the church. My husband described it as being brought into God’s church, having the bishop’s hands laid on you, and being charged in God’s mission (my paraphrase and recollection of what he said). Unless you belong to the Catholic or Orthodox Churches, you have to be confirmed. Those ordinary of us Protestants can’t just transfer our membership, we have to be brought into the church through the bishop. Again, there’s more here than I want to fight against theologically, but I have found our spiritual home. For now.

And of course, I can always go back if it doesn’t work out! But I’m not counting on that happening.

If you’re in a church, what made you join the one you’re attending? If you haven’t, what holds you back? Answer in the comments below.

Learn more About Keeley.

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19 thoughts on “Why I Decided to Join the Episcopal Church

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about this. It really helps to understand and makes sense why you joined. The most important reason, as you stated, is Christ and second is family. You are where you are supposed to be and you are a free thinker. May your all’s Young Adult Ministry continue to grow and spread God’s word.

  2. Kelly, we met a few times over the past couple of years, and I certainly enjoy reading your blog. I am pleased to hear that you recieved the Sacrament of Confirmation recently and have found a good Christian community for you and your family. The Sacrament of Confirmation has impacted my life in a lot of ways, and I pray that the Lord pours out his grace upon you during this time.

    With regards to your comment on being free to believe what you believe in the Epsicopal Church, I completely agree that the EC is a denomination that is committed to welcoming different views on a host of theological topics and while I left the Episcopal Church for the Roman Catholic Church over disagreements on theological and moral issues, I do appreciate how respectful those in the EC are towards differing opinions. I credit my growth in my faith to the discussions and influence of those I encountered in the Episcopal Church–especially in the Diocese of Dallas.

    May God continue to bless you and your family!

    Pax Christi,

    Tanner Whitham

  3. Keeley,
    I really appreciate your candor and the fact that we can differ on opinions while remaining in the same church. I do not believe that the Episcopal Church ever taught transubstantiation, nor a theology of the sacrifical nature of the elements, and as a matter of fact actually denies it in the 39 Articles as well as in the actual liturgy. St.Augustine’s maxim has been a very important milestone for me since my conversion: In things essential, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things, charity. Welcome to the Episcopal Church, a reformed and catholic faith!

    • Ray is correct, this has been a key difference with the RC church since the Reformation. The bread and wine are symbolic in the EC, but no less powerful in my experience- we receive the Bread of Heaven spiritually and that’s enough for me

      • Hi Margaret, I agree with you and Ray, but there are many Anglo-Catholic priests in the Diocese of Dallas who do in fact believe in a view of the Eucharist that is much more Catholic than Anglo…

    • Thanks for your comments Ray! I wish I could say all the clergy in the diocese agreed with you (and the 39 articles), but I know a few who hold to the more Catholic view of things…

  4. Keeley,

    I know this is several months old–but it’s new to me :-p. Out of curiosity, since I’m trying to make sense of some of what you’ve written here about your struggle re: the Episcopal Church, in which Presbyterian tradition were you formed most distinctly?

    Blessings to you and your family!

  5. Hello, and thank you for your interesting blog. I, too, became an Episcopalian, and eventually became a priest. I;ve also studied the Eucharist issue in what maybe painful detail…it was not until the time of Innocent III that the church felt the need to determine what exactly happens at consecration. Until then, it was simply “mystery”. I’m very happy to let it remain so. Welcome to you, and I’m glad that you, too, appreciate the mystery of the the faith.

  6. We came from a church that felt exclusive in some ways. We were looking for inclusion; for the room to discuss and disagree. It’s mind-blowing! And so freeing!

    • Yes, although sometimes it can be frustrating too! I’m glad that people want to try to work within the church though rather than splitting and forming their own church at the first sign of controversy.

  7. After being raised in the Methodist Church. Choosing as a teen to be Baptist. At 20 I clearly heard God call me to the Episcopal Church.