St. Mary’s Episcopal Church…Reserved But Warm

[img_assist|nid=125755|title=St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Sign on Tudor Rd Announces Church Entrance|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=208]Years ago, I attended a wedding at beautifully-sited St. Mary’s Episcopal Church located on the small rise on the SW corner of the intersection of Lake Otis Blvd. and Tudor Road. The picture windows behind the modern alter/communion table look out over the Chugach Range, providing one of the most beautiful scenes a church can offer (think clear sunny days for the full effect here). I vowed to return to experience a worship service. Years later on Sunday, June 15, I entered this church to worship at the 10 a.m. service in fulfillment of my vow.

A Brief Observation About the Episcopal Religion
I’m not a stranger to Episcopal churches as my wife was brought up in this religion, and her parents in Florida still worship at the same Episcopal church in Longwood, Florida, a relationship of many years. I tend to associate Episcopal churches with a more formal service, with a set format, but…most churches, including evangelical Christian churches do the same thing. There is a form and purpose to structure. It certainly is comforting to many believers, as an example, when the Nicene Creed is recited, but these formalities tend to put me off. Maybe it’s the up and down, kneelers, when to recite, and when not to recite. Anyway, Episcopalian and Episcopal are terms referring to episcopal polity, the governance of a church by bishops, and adherence to this doctrine.

Greeting Mostly Missing
I was not greeted upon entering St. Mary’s ten minutes before the service was to begin, but I was warmly greeted and handed a bulletin as I proceeded to the sanctuary. Upon entering their simple, but beautifully modern sanctuary I was struck by an almost total absence of the trappings of what I’d come to associate with Episcopal churches such as gothic styles and dark tones. Here there was much light and the added bonus of seven person folk group singing sweetly as I entered. I discovered later they were doing their practice run-through before the service.

Powerful Message
The Presider, think priest here, was Rev. Bob Thwing. The sermon was delivered by their Pastoral Minister, Sara Gavit. The theme of her remarks was the centrality of food and hospitality in Jesus’ ministry, noting this was always done outside of his home, in the spaces of others. Sara shared the story of author Sara Miles whose recent book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (Ballentine Books, 2007) is a wonderful story of life change wrought by experiencing the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Sara Miles wandered into a church by chance one day, took communion, and her life changed. As a result of this experience, she transformed an interest in food to working in her churches’ food pantry, linking the food bank with the eucharist. Before the holy communion, Sara Gavit shared the exitement of a child at a previous communion: a touching reminiscence. She closed her brief but well-delivered remarks with:

“A lttle bread, a little wine, a lot of love, a lot of life.”
[img_assist|nid=125756|title=St. Mary’s Unassuming Entrance Hides a Treasure Within|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=214]
Meaningful Sharing
The prayers of the people were a clear time for sharing and participation. Episcopal “meet n’ greet” time is the Peace. You introduce yourself and share “Peace be With You” with other worshippers in your vicinity in the church. I was warmly greeted by a number of people during this time. The time of the Blessings was a service aspect I really liked. During this time there was formal recognition of birthdays, anniversaries, work transitions & retirements, etc. It was great congregational glue. The visitor introductions felt uncomfortable to me as you are expected to rise and introduce yourself, which I chose not to do. I wonder if I was the only one? A few churches I’ve visited have created a culture of a member introducing the visitor. This implies the introducer needs to know a bit more about a visitor than just their name.

Music That Works
The musical group director, Wade Hampton Miller, had written a song titled “The Time of the Saints Isn’t Over” which was sung in closing. A lengthy song, I was particularly struck by the 4th verse.

Saints in the hospice and on soup kitchen lines,
Saints in the oilfields in frigid northern climes,
Saints in the prisons and clearing out land mines,
The time of the saints isn’t over,
No the time of the saints isn’t over.

One visit is much too brief to embrace the whole of Episcopalianism, but this church clearly has “The Right Stuff”.

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