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.