Today marks the first day of #ATLT, At the Lord's Table: A Conversation, a series of over 50 posts from varying authors about the beautiful, mangled Church. Look for at least two new posts every Monday through Saturday between January 25th and February 22nd. Join us in the conversation? See you in the comments. I have spent the past few weeks avoiding this post. The feeling of responsibility, of setting in motion this remarkable series of guest posts, does not come as an easy task. I suddenly want to say too much, I want to define things, I want to articulate a theology of the Church that is so inclusive and yet remarkable exclusive, that holds doors open wide but is unified alone in the incarnate Word who sang this cosmos into being. So I have avoided this, avoided setting down words to Mystery for fear of not being true. True in the sense of responsibility, in the sense that words spoken into the cosmos are words we shall be held accountable for, words that we shall have to own one day before our God, if not sooner.
I write this in the coffee shop next to campus, sitting near a dear friend, a friend with whom words like sacramentality are as common as reenacting scenes from last week's 30 Rock. On my way here, I passed by a group of three engaged in a rather forceful conversation. Two against one, the two trying to persuade through rhetorical strategy the other one to accept Christ. I hurried past, unsure of what to do. On the one hand, I want to believe that the Holy Ghost is such that even these moments are brought ultimately to good, that God does not forsake a word sewn in truth, even if the sewer spilled seed instead of planted. But on the other hand, I see in this moment the ache of my soul to intervene, to put myself in their midst and beg for a fuller Gospel, to argue for a larger Story.
But this post is about the beautiful, mangled Church.
I attended St. Paul's Episcopal Church here in Waco for the first time on Sunday, October 4th, 2009. I know the date because it just so happened to be the feast of St. Francis, whom I have spent much of my years in university falling in love with. I wasn't raised Episcopalian. Baptist in blood, I grew up in the church of fellowship halls and lengthy sermons. And I love that heritage, I love it dearly, but I found myself one morning asking God to give me a place where I could rest for a time, a place where I could hide. I was spiritually worn, chaffed by exhaustion, and asking for Him to reveal Himself in the quiet over all the noise I seemed to feel the need to make. By Providence, my car ended up in the parking lot of St. Paul's just in time for the morning service. And there I was; there I have been ever sense.
I have grown much since that first Sunday. I have made a life in the words of the saints, have spent hours discussing Simone Weil in conversation with St. Paul, have taken to painting as a form of prayer and writing fiction in the vein of Flannery O'Connor as a sort of praise. What the small, beautiful Episcopal church in the midst of very Baptist Waco did for me by the grace of God was give me the space to wonder, to venture, to explore.
I am not the sort of person inclined to doubt. I have a fierce sort of faithfulness that is rooted deep in my being. But I am the kind of person who does at times wonder about unorthodox things. I ponder the limits of grace. I question where sacrament fits into cosmos. I consider the mercy of God's reach and how little we surely know about it. What St. Paul's gave me was the place where I was safe to ask unsafe things. It gave me Creed so that in spite of every question and wonder, it all was held in the tension of, "We believe in one God ..."
There is much I disagree with in Episcopalianism as a denomination. I differ on their view of homosexuality for one, the validity of baptizing infants on another. Then there are the issues of property rights for those leaving to join the Anglican Communion, which gives me a headache.
So why do I stay?
It is perhaps that I am too medieval or too Baptist--two extremes that, when it comes to the local church, share more in common than you'd think--in that I do not attend St. Paul's because it is Episcopal, I attend St. Paul's because for this season God gave it to me as a home. It exists, for me, outside of the question of its denomination, of the politics to which it belongs. It is a local body. A good, beautiful body.
I live in the rhythm of the liturgy and in the beauty of the stained glass. I grow in reflection upon the meaning of the Eucharist and in the implications of a body hallowed in the incarnation, made to make the sign of the cross as testimony to belief.
When I leave this city, which shall wrench my heart, and I look to journey on, I'm not sure where I shall end up. I don't think I was formed as the sort of person who finds the need for definitions as given by denominational theology particularly important. I was made to journey, made to live in the rhythm of where I feel God move over where I feel the need to be defined. The Creed gives me definition, the meditation on His Word gives me mooring, the conversation of the saints gives me the fabric of garment with which to be clothed.
This is not true for everyone, which explains why I do not advocate Episcopalianism as the best of all denominations, or suggest that people necessarily come to church with me opposed to a church in which they are already being fed. And with this, I return to the group I passed on the way to the coffee shop. I return to the need to use rhetoric as a means to convert people. And I think about the call of the disciples in the Gospels.
"Come and see."
These were the words that changed the fabric of time. These were the words that gave us an apostle.
"Come and see."
What should I say about the beautiful, mangled Church? How do I begin a series of posts where tens of voices unite to sing in harmony of a one, holy, catholic and apostolic Body in and across time, denomination to denomination, praise to praise?
I must say, "Come and see." Come and see this beautiful Body. Come with us and see Him, He who is real and present in all times and in all places, even unto the end of the age, world without end. Amen.
Preston Yancey is a senior at Baylor University earning his degree in Great Texts of the Western Tradition with a focus in medieval theology and literature. He has a minor in Political Science, specialized in East Asian foreign and domestic policy, which he contends happened by accident. He hopes to spend the rest of his life somewhere sacred and writing. He makes his home where he can, being found often enough in an airport, coffee shop, or car, on the way to the next destination: from Waco to Austin to Chicago to London to Beijing and beyond. He runs on a diet of caffeine and God’s grace. His book on reading Scripture as a means of seeing the creation as an icon of God is to be published with Rhizome, tentatively forthcoming in January 2012. You can find him on Twitter or, most obviously, on this blog, which you are currently reading.