I was raised Evangelical. If you want to get specific about it, I was raised Baptist. My family likes to joke that I was baptized twice–once when my mother was baptized as an adult (8 months pregnant with me), and again when I was 15.
The Church (big C church) has been a part of my life literally since before I was born. I was raised on Vacation Bible School skits and 90s CCM and felt-board Sunday School lessons and memorizing the books of the Bible, in order, in exchange for mini Snickers and Reese’s Cups. So I can only imagine how odd it must have been for my mother when, my senior year of high school, I told her I wanted to attend the Episcopal church in town.
In a way, it was prompted by something my English teacher said. One of the perks of attending a Christian school is that your teachers can go off topic and talk about the Protestant Reformation (a topic that is also covered in World History, but hey). My teacher said that Luther didn’t want to split the Church (big C) up into Protestant and Catholic–he just wanted the Church to stop selling indulgences and passing Church titles down to the sons of priests and Cardinals and Popes that officially didn’t exist. He wanted the Church to start following God again. And it did! After the schism the Catholic Church had what is called the Catholic Reformation (by Catholics) or the Counter-Reformation (by Protestants who were likely a little sore about being labeled Protestants). But what stuck with me was the idea that the Episcopal denomination was as Catholic as you can get without actually being Catholic.
My parents had very different reactions. They were both raised Catholic, but they met at a Protestant church and raised my sister and I as Protestant. My mother didn’t understand why I wasn’t fulfilled by Evangelical worship, and my father thought it was fascinating that I—-the daughter who only attended mass when I was with his parents, my paternal grandparents, (and who once, famously, asked my sister if Catholic people worshiped idols after I saw said grandparents genuflect before the Crucifix before mass), was, after all, fascinated by high worship.
So they were confused (and amused) but they didn’t forbid me from going. So I bought a set of prayer beads and my Dad and I went to the Episcopal church in town. It was largely populated by elderly people, so I never went back and attended that Baptist church until I moved away for college and that, I’m sure my mother believed, was that.
The problem was I had a hard time finding a church in Chicago where I felt comfortable. I went to Evangelical churches and they felt familiar, but they also felt large. I didn’t have the luxury of being a part of those churches my entire life, and I had absolutely no idea how to make friends in a church without my parents beside me. When I graduated college and moved to Los Angeles (the land of the mega-church) it was even harder. If I thought the churches in Chicago were large, they were nothing compared to the multi-building campuses and elaborate graphics and impeccably planned sermon series’ in Los Angeles.
Through a strange twist of fate I ran into a casual acquaintance (my best friend’s husband’s college roommate) at an alumni event, and he mentioned that he attended a Lutheran church on the UCLA campus. I was sad and lonely and I didn’t feel at home at the mega-church down the road I attended half-heartedly, so I went. It was the first time I had attended a liturgical service since high school (excepting the handful of Ash Wednesday Catholic masses I attended with Catholic friends in college). Suddenly I remembered why I loved going to church. The liturgy spoke to me–a piece of familiarity that reminded me that even though I hadn’t attended this church my entire life, that I was part of the Church (big C again) that stretched across millennia.
The Lutheran service was almost as different as it was possible to get from First Baptist Church of Reading, but it felt more like home than any church I had attended since.
I didn’t go to this church very long–it was a long drive, and by this point I was already planning my move back to Chicago, so I didn’t want to get involved in a new church. I was also confronting some reoccurring depression symptoms, so I wasn’t in a great place all around.
I didn’t plan to go to a liturgical church when I moved back to Chicago, but I moved into a neighborhood where four out of the five college friends I still kept in touch with lived, and they all went to the same church, so why not? And I loved it. I felt even more at home at Redeemer than I did at the Lutheran church at UCLA. I learned the liturgy and prayed the hours and observed Lent and Advent and Epiphany and Lent and Pentecost and marked the days through Ordinary Time until the feast days came back around. And then I left that church too–for reasons too complex and painful to go into in this particular blog post.
But unlike the other times I left churches–when I left First Baptist after I graduated high school, or when I half-heartedly searched for churches in Chicago and Los Angeles–I knew where I wanted to go next. I knew I wanted to worship with liturgy. I’m attending a Lutheran church again. We sing the liturgy instead of speaking it–making this new church different enough from my Anglican church that the similarities don’t hurt as much. I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 years or if I’ll still be at a Lutheran church (or if I’ll move on to Episcopal or Methodist), but I do know that worshiping in liturgy will have a space in my heart for as long as I live.