Today was the last Sunday at Grace Church in New York, the Church that has been my spiritual home for the past five years as well as the place that had birthed me as an Episcopalian. As many of you know I had found Grace after a year or so of wandering, having become disenchanted and rather angry at what seemed to be the epistemic closure of the Evangelical mindset. It was with great sadness that I saw the branch of the faith that nurtured me as a child become taken over by the religious right and increasingly became more and more rigid in its ethos. I could write about my issues with modern Evangelicalism for quite a while, but that is for another time.
Grace Church in New York is a bit of an anomaly in that principal service on Sunday is Morning Prayer, Rite I. For feast days and the first Sunday of the month, we use Holy Eucharist, Rite I. The other Sunday services are always Holy Eucharist Rite II. We don’t use incense, our main altar still faces east, and the vestments are tastefully understated. Grace is also interesting because while the congregation is mostly upper middle class white folks, there are quite a few conservatives, quite a few progressives, and quite a few folks with no ideological slant who are committed Christians who want nothing more than to spread the Gospel through the world by championing Social Justice issues.
I decided to try Grace church out not only because it was a beautiful building, but mainly because of an inside joke between me and my boyfriend at the time would have about the building. Ironically enough it was the first Sunday of Advent, and since it fell on the last Sunday of November, there was no Eucharist, but I have to say that the traditional language of Rite I and the service of Morning Prayer really spoke to this refugee from the Evangelical world. What I thought was really really REALLY awesome was that the the psalms and canticles were chanted.
Anglicanism has contributed a great deal to the edification of the Body of Christ but I think one of the most profound gifts we have is that we sing the Bible.
Let me repeat that. Anglicans sing the Bible. I was home. I was confirmed the next time one of our bishops came to visit and the rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward five years and a half years.
Pentecost is a big day in the Church calendar, but goes relatively unnoticed in much of the Church. But it’s a big deal. It’s the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that he would pray to the Father who would send us an Advocate, a Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who would abide with us forever … The Holy Spirit. Once again, God gives Himself for us as He gave Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
My first Sunday at Grace Church was the first Sunday of Advent, and my last Sunday is the Day of Pentecost. I served as an Acolyte today along with three others, including the Rector’s son. (As an aside, there was a great Kodak moment when he was spotted riding a skateboard in the hallway while vested … wish i had a camera!) At coffee hour, I said my good-byes to everyone and promised I will be back to visit. (And I will be back….One does not give up one’s Manhattan apartment, remember!)
One of the Pentecost readings for today is invariably the second chapter from the book of Acts. Two phrases stand out from that passage … Peter quotes the prophet Joel and says “In the last days, God declares, I will pour my spirit out on all flesh,” and later he says, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.”
The inclusiveness of those passages is astonishing especially when you consider the context of the times in which they were written. God’s Spirit being poured out on everyone. Everyone who calls on the Lord experiences salvation. This isn’t limited to a class or tribe or any group of people, the Gift of the Holy Spirit is for everyone.
The 50 days of Easter were days of fear, awe, wonder and some serious soul searching as the disciples of Jesus probably wrestled with what to make of their sitings of The Risen Lord and especially what to do after Jesus’ ascension. Then like violent wind, the Holy Spirit descends and tongues of fire appear over the heads of those gathered in the upper room in a building in Jerusalem. Long after the tongues of fire vanished the wind continued to blow … sending Paul all across the Roman empire bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. Legend has it that the winds of the Spirit blew apostles to far flung places like India and Ethiopia. This is a Spirit who doesn’t recognize gender, race or class. This is a Spirit who recognizes the whole human race.
That wind is still blowing 2,o00 years later. Maybe … just maybe … the Spirit is sending me away from New York. I have no idea what is in store for me when I get to Key West, but one thing I do know.
Following God is never dull.