Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Welcome

I had my usual Tuesday dinner with my father. Over the meal he told me a story that blew me away.

Immediately after World War II my grandfather moved my grandmother and their two boys from Philadelphia to Greenville, SC. When they arrived in Greenville, they stayed in a hotel until they could find a permanent place. My grandfather had been an active churchman in his church in Philadelphia. Their second day in Greenville a group of boys from the Christ Church youth group showed up at the hotel and took my father and my uncle around town.

I had never heard this before. I have never heard of any Episcopal related group ever doing such a thing. Certainly, it's never happened to me. But I think, on reflection, that it is no accident that my father is a dedicated and lifelong Episcopalian. If that sort of thing happened back then, then it is no accident that the Episcopal Church at that time enjoyed explosive growth.

Another thing that has happened recently is a dust up in science fiction fandom. I'm old enough to know these things happen from time to time. This most recent one is unusual in that it mostly involves authors as opposed to the more typical fan squabble. If you want the gruesome details just google "sad puppies" and ignore everything from a major media outlet.

My takeaway from the squabble is a point an author made on a podcast. She said, and it is true, that the side in opposition to her side, represents the establishment yet claims to be the scrappy outsiders. They claim to value inclusivity and diversity yet they practice exclusivity and group think.

Does that not sound like the modern Episcopal Church?

It certainly reflects my experience. I have never belonged to a church that I did not receive a cool initial welcome. I have never belonged to a church where I did not have to work at being accepted. I have never been accepted into the inner circle of an Episcopal Church. I have never been made to feel I was other than a conditional member, subject to exclusion and ostracism if I ever strayed from the unstated norms.

I process things very slowly. I have always been the person who thinks of the clever rejoinder two hours after the fact. The more emotionally hurtful, the slower I process it.

The thing that convinced me I really didn't much care for the way things were was back when I belonged to the Cathedral of St Phillip here in Atlanta. The Cathedral was and is a very large church. At the time of this story I had been a member for at least four years. I have never been a pew potato and was quite active at the time. I volunteered. I did jobs no one else would do. I gave money and time. I participated in the singles group as well as the foyers. I was an usher, a reader and an acolyte when there were no youth.

The guest preacher one Sunday was the Right Reverend Reginald Hollis, archbishop of Montreal. I had been his acolyte when he was a parish priest and his wife and my mother were good friends. After the service, I went and sought him out. He recognized me and we caught up on the news. When Dean Sanders, head of the cathedral joined us, I had the privilege of being introduced, for the fourth time, to him. But this time by an archbishop.

How many others were ignored or unnoticed? When was the last time an Episcopal Church actually welcomed anyone? Ignoring the dodgy doctrinal foundations, when was the last time someone was actually welcomed to an Episcopal Church?

My gut says, it's pretty rare.

I'm not saying anyone owes me anything. But if I ever go to an Episcopal Church and get a warm welcome, it will be the first one of my life.

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