When I went to an Episcopal Church

Abe and I didn’t know much about the Episcopal Church when we went there yesterday morning, which led to some awkwardness–like having to fumble with that prayer kneeling thingy (does anyone know the official name?) on the backs of all the pews. Or like when Abe, used to Catholic communion, ate his wafer before the cup was passed to him and had nothing to dip into the wine. But it was a good experience anyway.

In fact, even though the service started at 10 am (and, those who know me know that 10 am is about 5 hours earlier than I normally wake up), I left feeling energized. I left feeling happy. I left feeling closer to God. I left without a head full of angry criticism and instead with a heart full of praise.

Now, I don’t know what exactly Episcopalians believe, and I honestly zoned out during the sermon (10 am, you guys! I can’t handle it!), but once Abe and I figured out how to work that prayer-thing-a-ma-bob, I found God in how the Episcopal church prayed.

Where I grew up, prayer in church was not a collective activity.

And it was definitely not for women.

The pastor of the church I grew up in would call on one person (always a man) to pray.  And every Sunday night, all of the men from the church would go forward to the “altar” and kneel in prayer together while we women stayed in our pews–silent observers.

Women were told to pray in our hearts as the men prayed, but it was hard to feel like I was speaking to God over the booming male voices that was speaking for me. And while I certainly think fellowship as a church can take place as we listen to one another’s prayers, when half the church doesn’t have a voice, when half the church is always listening–never speaking, it’s easy to wonder if half the church even belongs.

I’ve been frustrated recently, feeling like a passive observer rather than an active participant in church–watching men return to their seats, with their faces glowing as if they’d experienced God, while I could only see God through them. I began to feel like I could only see God alone in my room, where I could speak out loud.

So the Episcopal church (and other liturgical churches that I’ve attended) was refreshing.

Kneeling in prayer with everyone…

Listening to men and women take turns reciting prayers…

And responding to them, in my shy, hesitant voice…

Then hearing my own little voice joined with the voices of my brothers and sisters to Christ, in beautiful unison, echoing off the high ceiling and the stained glass windows.

Church this week felt like being a part of a body, rather than being a member of an audience.

Praying for our daily bread, and asking forgiveness for our trespasses.

Maybe not everyone has the same church experience as me, and maybe some of you have no trouble feeling involved in non-liturgical churches. Maybe some of you have no trouble “praying in your heart” as the pastor selects men to pray. There’s nothing wrong with that–we’re all different and we all connect to others in different ways.

But, for me, being allowed to kneel with other church members, as an equal, and to speak with them (I’m sure any woman who has grown up in a “let the women learn in silence” church knows how awkward, yet liberating in can be just to hear one’s own voice during a church sermon) was an amazing experience.

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  • i’m so glad you had such a rich experience! i fell in love with the liturgy, too.

  • Ummm. Kneeler. But if Abe is used to Catholic communion, surely he’s familiar with kneelers? And when I would go at times with my mother to an episcopal church in Houston (in between hosting the occasional past lives regression workshop sort of thing and general non-churchiness) I remember kneeling at the communion rail and receiving the bread first and then drinking from the chalice. But I guess different episcopal churches do things in different ways.

    • Abe

      Yeah, the differences between Catholic mass and the Episcopal service were marginally different, but the small differences threw me off. They stand, sit and kneel at different times than the Catholics, so I was playing from memory rather than Simon Says, and that doesn’t always work so well. Plus I was tired.

  • As a Lutheran, allow me to welcome you to the world of liturgical churches!

    Now did the kneeler benches at this church have cushions? This one Lutheran church I used to go to didn’t, which made confession even that much harder!

  • Did the Catholic thing for my earliest years and occasionally now– most often when, like you, I want to be surrounded by the liturgy (and we always called them kneelers).

    And I *hate* dealing with the way different churches do communion… i think it should be on their website for first timers. and yes, they should have a website.

    …i get it– get the draw where you get to actually feel like you’re a “part of” rather than ‘less than”. I’m glad you got to experience it on Sunday. (and if you put the kneeler down with your foot and sorta cradle it above your ankle as you let it slowly meet the floor, you avoid the noise. tips.)

  • Often times reading your blog, I fail to understand why you feel so shut out by men in the church. Being a guy (even if I’m 17), I’ve never really known inequality of the sexes in church – because I’ve always been part of an Episcopal church (though now Anglican, for some political and liturgical reasons). Heck – one of our two pastors is a girl, and a lot of our vestry is female. Granted, sometimes (most of the time. or always…) I’m afraid to show my brokenness, but I’m really glad you got to experience this oneness with Him and His people 🙂

  • It’s called a kneeler. 🙂

    You can eat the wafer and then take a sip of the wine! I grew up Episcopalian and that’s how I always did it. Dipping it in the wine is another option.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your experience! 🙂

  • I did not like episcopalian communion the one time I did it. The priest dumped like half the chalice of wine down my throat and I got really bad stomach ache from it, I was 12.

  • yay! I love Anglicanism!

  • Yay! You know, I follow a blog online written by two Episcopalian pastors–women–that’s chock full of insights and encouragement. In fact, it was the primary reason I started attending my local EC. It’s at dirtysexyministry.blogspot.com. 🙂

    • Wow — I hadn’t come across this blog, and it’s fantastic! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • I too am an ‘Anglican’ known in Canada and I believe ‘Episcopalian’ in the States. I love the liturgical service. Sometime we are accused of being too repetitive but the important parts are the Bible readings, the prayers and of course the sermon usually based on the readings for that Sunday. You need not worry …there is no definite right or wrong way to take communion. While some churches may tend to doing so one way, you are not bound to follow but do what seems right for you. It is usual if you want to do so to hold the bottom of the chalice while drinking to control how much you are given to drink..hence not too much and to not receive any. When we come to the States we look for the Episcopal church of course to worship in when we can. Glad you felt part of the worship service..

  • Wow! I’ve been reading blogs about the inequality in churches for a while now, and having never really encountered it in my own church experiences, didn’t quite understand what people were on about. But that women having to sit quiet while men prayed, I mean, what!
    I’ve got to say, liturgy I wasn’t a fan of until I lived in france and went to the only english speaking church I could find, which was anglican (it was also the most welcoming, friendly and inclusive church ever). They played down the liturgy as people had come to them from all different denominations and worship styles… anyway… I just loved being there on a sunday and the feeling of saying the same words as my brothers and sisters in christ all around the UK (and europe) and in pretty much the same way as generations of christians before me. Such a feeling being part of it!
    And I’ve always heard it called a hassock, but then I am british

  • I keep meaning to respond here, and I’m a little late now, but I’m SO glad you had an overall positive experience. You managed to cover a laundry list of reasons I joined TEC, so I’m glad you got to see the good stuff. Happy journeying.

  • parodie

    It sounds like you had a great experience! I’m so happy to hear it.

    Regarding communion: eating the bread and drinking the wine is right (and recommended!). Dipping the bread into the wine (sometimes referred to as “intinction”) is done by some but is less recommended – in fact, many churches don’t allow it. So you’re all set! I see someone above gave you good advice for receiving the wine.

    I hope your worship adventures continue to be God-filled and Spirit-led. Many blessings!

  • I join you in finding the liturgy so refreshing! I have the same reaction.