Saturday, December 17, 2011

World Religions Series: The Episcopal Faith

Grant Wiseman was a counselor and student events coordinator at the boarding school, Wayland Academy, I went to for my Junior and Senior years in High School.  And, Grant's wife Heather was my Spanish teacher, my dorm "mother," and my boss, so I got a chance to know the Wisemans fairly well during my time at Wayland.  (In fact, I remember being so nervous to knock on their door the night I was having appendicitis... so I waited until the next morning... good thing I finally did knock!)  I tried to dig out old pictures of Grant and Heather from our days at Wayland, but the box full of photos was too difficult to get at without my husband's help, and he was no where to be found this morning.
Heather and Grant with their twin girls, Abigail and Audrey
I remember Grant was very passionate and excited about working with kids.  His office was in the Student Union, and he had Manchester United stuff on the walls, which I thought was especially cool because my last name was Manchester.  He also played fun music and was a very encouraging force for the students.

I also remember always knowing that Grant wanted to be an Episcopal Priest, and back then, I remember thinking, "Why would anyone want to be a priest?"  Frankly, until otherwise explained to me, I thought that becoming a "priest" meant that Grant would have to end his marriage with Heather like in the Catholic Religion, and when I knew them, they were still newly weds, so that was a bit confusing to me.  I actually remember the day Heather explained to me that that was not the case.  It was like a light bulb went on, and I suddenly got it!

I re-connected with the Wisemans through Facebook, and I was so happy to see that Grant was able to work in the church as he wanted to do when I first knew him.  They are living in Aiken, South Carolina with their twin girls, and Grant is a Rector at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church.  Grant and Heather had a real influence on me back in High School, and I will always have find memories of that time.  Thank you Grant, for taking time during this busy Christmas Season to participate in my World Religion quest.  And now, in Grant Wiseman's words, The Episcopal Church.

What religion do you practice, and how did you come to practice it? 
I am a Christian who practices his faith in the Episcopal Denomination

Tell me about your religion. Describe what the tenants of your relgion are in your words.The tenets of our religion are described in 39 articles formally. They are also found in the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. The thing that makes the Episcopal Church unique in comparison to others of the more Catholic leaning denominations and sects is that we have a bicameral body that makes major decisions regarding practice and doctrine. For that reason, we find ourselves challenging some of the more traditional beliefs of the Christian faith. In some ways it is more like the church in its beginning stages. While we have bishops, and dioceses like many other catholic churches, we give significant amount of decision making to the individual dioceses. Unlike Roman Catholicism where the Pope has ultimate ruling power, we have no central leader. Our “Presiding Bishop” is nothing more than the ‘greatest among equals” and has no power over other bishops. She (that is another difference) is the president of the House of Bishops. We have a House of Deputies as well that is made up of laypeople (every day members) and clergy (Priests and Deacons).We practice our faith using a liturgy that is found in the Book of Common Prayer. It has services for the Daily Office that has its roots in the monastic traditions. It is still practiced both individually among our members, as well as in the monastic communities that still exist. Our regular Sunday services include the Eucharist. The Eucharist is also called Communion. It is an important part of our faith. The other major Sacrament is Baptism. Sacraments are important to Episcopalians and they are defined as “Outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace” What does your religion mean to you?It is life. Practicing as an Episcopalian is for me the best expression of may faith in Christ as my Redeemer. It expresses for me the best way that I celebrate what God has done for me. It is imperfect, just like me. So many of the unexplained events in my life are best understood by my faith.

What are five things you love about your religion?
1. The liturgy, how the service is expressed in its various ways. Whether it is High Church. We call that Smells and Bells or Low Church much more casual. High Church is chanted and is incredibly powerful. Whereas Low Church, is for many people very accessible.
2. Music
3. Community. Like most religions, the strength of the community is an important part of it. Actually most of this is somehow food related. We like our potlucks, barbeques and any other reason to eat.
4. Wide interpretation of scripture and doctrine. This is both a thing I love and hate in its practice. It is messy and causes stress, but that allows our church to respond to the reality that we live in an ever evolving understanding of reality.
5. How it challenges me. Both how I live my daily life, and how it challenges my world view.

What are five things you don’t particularly agree with about your religion?
1. I struggle with those within my faith that see the Bible as infallible. It diminishes the power of the story that is contained in the Bible and the reality that it took us almost 500 years to come up with the Bible in its final form.
2. The way we fight. Often it is done with the most hurtful and least Christain Language.
3. General Convention. It is the equivalent of Congress for the Episcopal Church. My main reason for not liking it is that it is not run well and lasts too long. Done right, it could be incredible.
4. Wide interpretation of scripture and doctrine. Sometimes in our haste to become what we believe is socially or morally correct that is outside of our tradition we don’t take the time to form a defined reason for our changes. It then also becomes a problem where we ostracize those who are not on our side whether it be the side of the innovator, or the traditionalist.
5. Lack of Leadership. We don’t train our leaders well enough and that inhibits growth spiritually and physically.

What are the most common misconceptions about your religion and how do you address them?
That we are elitist. While many of our parishes are very comfortable, even wealthy, most are small and barely making it financially. Hard to overcome when people see the National Cathedral which is Episcopal, and Trinity Wall Street as our main churches. In middle America it is easier. Highlight what we do in Haiti which is actually the largest diocese in population in our church.That Bishop Robinson speaks for the Church. He is the first openly Gay bishop in our church. He does not act like a bishop who happens to be Gay, but seems to relish being the “Gay Bishop.” That is the wrong order or emphasis. He is a bishop, and a generally good man who can’t help but jump into every public argument and speak as if he is speaking for all of us. As to how to address it, hope he retires soon.

How does your religion affect your family life? Your work life?
It is our life, as I am a Priest. My daughters and wife are very much a part of how our faith. We are all active in various ministries and ways. It is where my passions are best expressed. If you could leave people with one idea that most closely describes the way you see and understand your religion, what would that be?If you are looking for a place that you can struggle comfortably with your faith, then the Episcopal church is a good place. It allows you to ask questions, not just follow everything without being able to question the doctrines and practice. It prays well.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 
Not at this time.

To check out the rest of my World Religion Series, click on the links below:
The Story of Old Turtle
The Greek Orthodox Faith
The Christian Science Faith

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