Eight Northern Virginia churches announced yesterday they will leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia after their congregations voted overwhelmingly to depart because of liberal trends in the 2.2-million-member Episcopal Church.
I grew up in Northern Virginia and our family went to an Episcopalian church. My parents still live in the area and go to the same church. It is a nice church with about fifty to hundred people at a service though I slept through many of the services. I got baptized in this church but it did not mean much to me. Almost all of my teenage memories of going to church involves this church and a group called Young Life. A friend got me to go a Pentecostal church one time. Although that was an unfortunate experience, I did not “get” church like some of my friends. As I grew older the only time I went to church was for marriages and deaths. Yet I was always surrounded by people with faith. I do not remember any of them pushing their faith on me but I was cognizant that their faith was important to them. To me they were very normal with occasional quirks. I remember being mildly amused that my room-mate methodically evaluated several different churches before deciding on one. I kidded him that he put more effort in his church selection than his job selection.
Later in life my wife and I decided to make a major life decision and move to Cincinnati. My wife and my son moved up there early to get my son enrolled in elementary school. While I was still in Houston my wife, her sister, and their mother decided we should all go to a church together and they had decided to try out a contemporary style church. I really did not know about the decision until I arrived. I found it a curious decision. We had been married in an Episcopalian church nearby. It was a nice church and going to the Episcopalian church would have been a safe decision. I was afraid this unknown church would be a cultist, fundamental church that would try and get you to do strange things to show your faith. I had a fear of Pentecostals. Since my mother-in-law and her two daughters were already showing the early signs of dysfunctionality I decided to go with the flow. I was shocked to find that this church was fun, entertaining, educational, and laid back. The idea of using the words “fun” and “entertaining” to describe a church was a new experience for me. The service was very simple and the place was packed. Probably more surprising to me was that over the next couple of weeks I learned that the Bible was readable and relevant to me and my family. Earlier that year I had pulled an old Bible off the bookshelf and had tried to read it. I was doomed to failure. My reading comprehension of Old English was pretty low and I did not have a plan on how to read the Bible. I failed miserably. After a couple of weeks of going to this new church I bought my first Bible, a NIV Study bible. I did not realize it at the time but I had set out on a spiritual journey and it did not involve the church of my youth.
Over the last couple of years I thought a lot about traditional churches and especially the Episcopalian church. This recent division in the church of my youth is fascinating and painful. When I inventory my beliefs I am a fundamentalist. The church I go to now is a fundamentalist church and is huge compared to the average church. My spiritual journey has been many things to me and it is difficult to describe the ups and downs of the journey. I know that I am far from finished but without reservation I recommend others to follow their natural curiosity about God and follow up on the opportunities presented you. My spiritual journey had been very important to me. Part of the painful side of my journey is that I doubt that I would be writing or thinking about religion now if the ladies had decided on going to the local Episcopalian church. Statistics tell us that traditional churches are losing membership. Some are trying to keep people by adding “contemporary” services. Some churches are returning to their theological roots and some are reaching out to be more inclusive to those who have been left out. All of these directions are good for churches to pursue but which direction will stem the tide and save the church from becoming a historical artifact? That is the dilemma faced by the traditional churches. I believe that God presents us opportunities to build our character. We don’t like it because it typically involves change and it hurts. We try our hardest to avoid the change but sometimes when we embrace the change we are amazed at the results. I don’t know the answer for the Episcopalians but I know in my heart that they will survive, it will be painful, and it will not involve me. They are on my prayer list.