Do You Speak Episcopalian?

Oh, the incredible shapes and colors.

Ah, the beautiful music.

My goodness, the prose and poetry. The mystery and the majesty of it all.

Is it fireworks on 4th of July?

No, it’s Sunday morning in one of our faith communities!

Ask any Episcopalian what they love about their faith community, and one of the first answers is always the worship. It reminds me of a great line from the TV show St. Elmo’s Fire, “All the pageantry, with half the guilt.” And while it looks different in every context, our common prayer is central to our identity and binds us together.

Episcopalians love their worship so much that most want others to come experience what they have experienced. Deeper than that, however, is that worship for Episcopalians is central to the benchmarks of their life’s journey. Baptisms, Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Confirmations, Funerals. The depth of human experience – both joy and hardship – is held and expressed in our worship. Why would you not want others to share in the incredible life-enriching experience?

One of the cultural realities is that there are more and more people who have never been part of a worshipping community. Add to that the number of individuals whose worship experience looks nothing like a liturgical tradition, and you can begin to imagine, hard as it is to admit, how unusual our worship experience might be to those who are unfamiliar.

Let’s play this out. A person walks into an Episcopal church, and the first thing they see is a number of people wearing robes. Next, people are standing, sitting, and some are even kneeling – to what end? If this isn’t baffling enough for a person, the next thing they know, someone is standing behind a table and starts talking about, “the body and blood” WHAT?! Who are these people?!

I come from generations of Anglicans and Episcopalians. The way Episcopalians worship is deep in my DNA, it is my “first worship language.” And there’s a challenge in that. How Episcopalians worship is a completely foreign language to an ever increasing percentage of the population. As such, when we think about encouraging others to join us for worship, we need to start from the assumption that we are asking them to step into very unfamiliar territory.  In fact, I often suggest to folks that worship may not be the best first invite for new people. Rather, inviting them to a social gathering or good work in the neighborhood might be more helpful. The reality is, the more comfortable we are with those around us, the more we are willing to try something new.

Our worship is transformative. Yet, it is important that like acclamation to any new culture, it takes time to understand and appreciate. As such, it is incumbent on those of us fluent in “Episcopalian” to understand that our worship is not necessarily a common everyday affair. Walking gently with those we invite, or those who have found their way inside the red door, is always helpful.

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