Friday, July 2, 2010

The Episcopal Church

I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but now I belong to the Episcopal Church, specifically Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans. The Episcopal Church has many similarities to the Catholic Church but not the problems. Of course, any church has its own problems, but the problems that I find overwhelming in the Catholic Church are not present in the Episcopal Church.

For one thing, women are welcome as priests in the Episcopal Church, and Episcopal priests are welcome to marry. The Catholic Church does not allow women to be priests and does not allow priests to marry. I should point out an interesting phenomenon, though. There are married priests in the Catholic Church. Guess who they are. They are former Episcopal male married priests who objected so strongly to women as priests that, when the Episcopal Church began ordaining women in the 1970s, these male priests left the Episcopal Church in protest and became Roman Catholic. These priests were allowed to transfer into the Catholic Church and to continue both to be priests and to be married. However, if the wife of such a priest dies, the priest is not allowed to remarry.

Having women priests and married priests, first, is sane, and second, solves many problems. One huge problem in the Catholic Church is that it is run by unmarried men. This all-male hierarchy lacks the balance of the female viewpoint. Not only is the female viewpoint unrepresented among Catholic priests, but Catholic priests are not even exposed to the female viewpoint in their daily lives through interaction with a wife. Catholic priests not only work but also live in an all-male society. This is unbalanced. In the Episcopal Church, priests are male and female, married and single. This provides balance and a much greater in-touch-ness with the lives of parishioners.

The Catholic Church has done a terrible job with monitoring candidates for the priesthood and weeding out those without a vocation. Many pedophiles have slipped through and have been ordained. Somehow, during all the years of training for the priesthood, no one seemed to notice that certain candidates were extremely unsuited to be priests. I am sure that there are problematic priests in the Episcopal Church, but one sees nothing among Episcoal priests like the widespread sex scandals of the Catholic priesthood.

The Episcopal Church encourages thinking. The Catholic Church encourages conformity to official dogma. There is a wide latitude of beliefs in the Episcopal Church. Holy Communion is a case in point. Some understand the bread and wine as symbols of Jesus' body and blood. Some understand Jesus to be present in a special way along with the bread and wine (consubstantiation). Some understand that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation).

The Episcopal Church has the same seven sacraments as the Catholic Church: Baptism, Confession, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. The Catholic Church, though, warehouses children through the sacraments of Confession, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Whether they want to or not, whether they feel ready or not, all Catholic girls and boys in a particular grade receive these three sacraments. When I was growing up, all second graders received Confession and Holy Communion, and all sixth graders received Confirmation. Nothing mattered except the fact that you were in second or sixth grade. No one cared what you really understood or how you felt about it. They just wanted to get everyone in your age group done.

In the Episcopal Church, children can receive Holy Communion whenever the parents and child feel that the child is ready, without making a big deal out of it. Confirmation is a bigger deal and is received when an adolescent or adult feels ready to make a mature commitment to the Christian faith. I say that Confirmation is a bigger deal because the Bishop comes on a particular Sunday to confirm all those who are ready to receive Confirmation. But the pressure of the Catholic Church is absent. When I was in sixth grade, I didn't see any possibility of refusing Confirmation. It was so totally assumed that I would be confirmed along with every other Catholic sixth grader that I saw no way to question this. Certainly, no one ever asked me how I felt about Confirmation. In the Catholic Church, the sacraments of Confession, Holy Communion, and Confirmation are inevitable - they happen to you because you're a Catholic child. In the Episcopal Church, you have a choice.

Also, in the Episcopal Church, Confession is completely voluntary, unlike in the Catholic Church, where it is required, especially if you have committed a mortal sin. The Episcopal Church does not have catalogues of mortal and venial sins, as the Catholic Church does.

The Episcopal Church has all the beautiful elements of the Catholic Church: Eucharist (nearly identical to Mass), liturgy, cycle of Scripture readings, church year, saints and angels, altar, vestments, sacraments, apostolic succession of priests, bishops, processions, music, art. All the things that were forbidding, remote, and scary to me in the Catholic Church are transformed in the Episcopal Church to be friendly, accessible, and joyful. The Episcopal Church is the way the Catholic Church should be.

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