A Sad Return to the Church of My Youth


When I was a young child (grade school age), my parents spent a few years at the local Episcopal church.  I was actually baptized there when my sister was christened as an infant.  (I have since been baptized as an adult after my conversion.)  Though I did not understand much about church at that time, I tended to spend the hours looking at the stained glass that filled the two long sides of the chapel.  The panel posted above is one that often caught my attention.  

Last week my father and I ventured downtown to eat at a new pizza place.  I wanted to walk around and take in the sights around my small home city.  There was the church we had attended.  We tried to get in, but the doors to the chapel were locked.  I wandered around until I found an open door.  After I explained my desire to see the inside of the chapel to the secretary, she found the priest.  He was a young guy with red hair and beard.  We went together into the small sanctuary.

The beautiful stained glass was still there.  So, too, was the rich, dark wood of the pews and the arched ceiling.  I asked if I could take some pictures.  He welcomed me to do so.  We began talking about the beauty of the church and how it aids in worship by transporting the mind toward the transcendent.  I told him my pet theory that young people will want more liturgy and worship and less emphasis on preaching because preaching is content and content is available 24-7 on your phone, in the car, while walking, etc.

It was a pleasant conversation and it was good to be in that place with a hallowed feeling.  But then he addressed the one thing I hoped he would not talk about, which has become a new gospel for many in the Episcopal church.  He talked about gay marriage, its inevitability, and our acceptance of it in the church.  I felt it was the wrong moment for him to bring that up.  Maybe he wanted to see if I knew the secret handshake.  In any case, no more time to bask in memories.  Maintaining a cheerful demeanor, I thanked him for allowing me into the chapel, and walked out into the bright sun of the spring afternoon.  

After I left, I wondered whether I should have engaged the question with him.  I could have worked through one of my hobbyhorses, which is that while there is room to talk about gay marriage in the context of politics (a libertarian turn of sorts), there is nowhere to go on the issue theologically.  I might have said with Martin Luther King, Jr. that the church must be a thermostat (something that affects the environment) rather than a thermometer (something that simply tells you what the environment is).  

But to tell you the truth, I was a little heartsick and in no mood to dispute.