When my husband and I first entered the doors of St. Paul’s at a 10:30 Sunday service many years ago, our senses were fully engaged. As a former Roman Catholic, I was immediately transported to my youth at the first whiff of lingering incense. I surmised that this church had experienced several decades of liturgical processions, with heavenly smoke permeating the walls and rafters. It was a part of my past that I missed. The people present who were waiting for the service to commence were praying on their knees or sitting quietly or talking softly with neighbors. I noticed what appeared to be a homeless man, as his clothes were in tatters and his overall appearance disheveled. He walked up the aisle and lay prostrate below the altar. I could hear him speaking and crying and I wondered if this was his first time at St. Paul’s as well. Those sitting in the pews did not reveal any alarm at this act of contrition and I was filled with a flood of peace—“Yes,” I said to my husband, “these truly are the people of God.”
The Episcopal service had a rhythm, a flow, and each part of the service glided into the next. At times I followed along in the prayers and the singing; other times I listened to the voices surrounding me. It seemed apparent to me that congregants felt free to worship in the manner that was most comfortable for them, whether sitting, standing or kneeling; reciting or keeping silent vigil. And the choir! This church is blessed, I thought, with its own heavenly host!
The sermon for that Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, was about the pains and joys of waiting—active waiting. Could one parish have it all, I thought—celestial music, graceful liturgy, and transformative preaching? The only break in the flow came in the form of “greeting one another with the sign of peace.” Though never one of my favorite moments in any liturgy, I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the people. We both felt genuinely welcomed and one couple took it upon themselves to introduce us to others. Not only did we return after that first Sunday, but within three months we were both involved in the liturgy. We have been delegates at the Annual Convention for the Episcopal diocese and I was honored to serve on the “search committee” for the woman who was to be our new rector, Mother Melissa Skelton. I was quite certain that I would never see a woman priest in my lifetime as a Roman Catholic! Another one of the many joys of being an Episcopalian! And, yes, I am a proud Episcopalian, as I was received by the bishop into the church six months after first visiting St. Paul’s. So, after joining and/or participating in seven different Protestant denominations since leaving the Roman Catholic Church, I can finally say I am home.
By Debra Sequeira. Debra is Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at SeattlePacificUniversity.