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May 7, 2014

Faith #1

I've been playing around with some writing about the growth of my faith over the years. When you are married to a clergy person, faith becomes a pretty large part of your lifestyle. I thought I would post my earlier faith formation today just for fun.

The Episcopal Years:

I remember the first time I went to church. I was probably about five, and my British mother decided my sister and I should go to Sunday school at the local Anglican Church. It may be that she felt guilty that Patsy, then 13, had never been confirmed. I have no memory of my mother ever going to church, so I'm not sure if my mother left after enrolling us or actually went to the worship service. . My previous experiences of church were my cousins' christenings since I certainly didn't remember my own. Our extended family would meet on a Sunday afternoon when the church was empty, and some priest would perform the ceremony, probably across town in North Hollywood because that is where my younger cousins lived.

All my senses were on alert during that first visit to All Saints Episcopal parish. The first thing I remember was climbing a steep, dark staircase up to a landing where there was a small, musty room that housed my age mates and a teacher. The topic of the lesson was ecclesiastical paraphernalia that covered all the wonderful things we were going to see when we took a tour of the church.

After class on that first day of Sunday school, my nice new teacher took us into the sanctuary after the worshippers had departed. It was small and quaint and we looked at the items that she had talked about - the baptismal font, the stained glass windows, the statues and pews and kneeling pads, the altar and chalices for communion. As an avid student, I was fascinated to learn something new. As a visual learner, I was mesmerized by all the windows and the icons and statues. I was also touched at some deeper level. There was mystery in that building - and one that was foreign to my normal life with a family uninterested in art or museums let alone church. My father claimed that having been a Methodist as a child was enough for his lifetime. My mother wasn't about to go by herself although she probably retained a childlike affinity as an Episcopalian. Her fondest memories were of attending church on Christmas Eve with her mother and siblings while her father stayed home to decorate the tree.

At that time, the Los Angeles school district participated in a program connected to the various churches in our town. Busses would pick up students and deliver them to the church of their choice for after school programs - sort of like Sunday school during the week. That was one way I could keep in touch with my little church without always going every Sunday - a day that my family often spent with my relatives at their homes.

In any case, something resonated for me in that first visit. My sister must have decided that she wanted no part of it since I don't remember her going again. I kept connected over the years and especially liked worshipping in the sanctuary. When it was time for my class to be confirmed, I was thrilled. Finally I could take communion - the heart of the mystery for an Episcopalian. In those days parents were not intensely involved with their children. Whatever I decided was fine as long it was legal and not dangerous. I think my Catholic neighbors were more excited that I was about to take my first communion than my parents.

We began confirmation classes, and that was the beginning of my life long enlightenment although perhaps not in the way you might think. The priest began by explaining that he was going to teach us how to take confession. When I told my mother, she exploded which was quite an impressive action from a fairly even- tempered and compliant parent. "Over my dead body!" she said. "We are not high church Episcopalians." This was the only theological statement she ever made to me. "You will tell that priest that you will not confess like a Catholic."

Since she so rarely gave me any kind of correction, I marched into the priest's office before the next class and told him that my parents did not want me to go to confession. He was gracious about it, but I never forgot his next sentence. . "We don't want your fellow students to know, so here is the plan. Since confession is the last thing we do, I'll have you confess first, but instead you will go out the back door, and then after a time, I'll go out and get the next student. Everyone will leave after confession so that they won't know that you didn't actually participate. We won't want to have you appear different."

I knew even while he was talking that he was asking me to to go along with being dishonest by hiding my decision from the other children. However, I was so relieved that telling an authority figure that I wasn't going to do what he planned for me to do, that he was still going to let me be confirmed and take communion, that he wasn't annoyed or angry at me, that I simply accepted what he said and went home happy to report to my mom that it was taken care of. But, it was the first chink in the armor of an institution that held me in awe from that first Sunday school visit.

Posted by Marilyn at May 7, 2014 12:38 PM


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