The Forum: How is the Episcopal Church Organized? How does Old St. Paul’s Function?
(Led by The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley)
Sometimes (at least for me), it can feel like the Church has kind of a “secret (not secret) language” of “bishops,” “deacons,” “presiding bishops,” “general conventions,” “catholic v. Catholic,” and so forth. This kind of “secret language” can feel a bit shadowy or Man-Behind-the-Curtain-esque at times (I know it often felt that way to me when I was a kid). But today’s Forum got to the heart of this matter. The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley explained not only core elements of this “secret language” for Episcopalians, but also where this language comes from historically, how different positions and roles have shifted over time, and – the big fish – Why.
She kicked things off with a game. Designating one end of the room as “Yes,” and the other “No,” she instructed us to move from one end to the other (or hover somewhere in the middle) to indicate our answer to each of her questions (Is the outcome of the General Convention personally important to you? Do you identify as a Christian? Do you identify as an Anglican? etc.). Our responses to many of these were surprising and oddly funny, revealing how well (or how poorly) we actually understood the inner-workings of our church and denomination.
A point of particular fascination for me was learning that the Episcopal Church is in what’s called “full communion” with the Lutheran Church (as well as with a few other denominations). Being in “full communion” essentially means that we’re so tightly-knit with each other’s beliefs, values, and organization that we could go so far as to interchange our priests if our bishop wanted to for whatever reason. For example, as Episcopalians in full communion with the Lutheran Church, one of our priests could be assigned to lead a Lutheran congregation. Likewise, it would be possible for a Lutheran priest to be assigned to serve at Old St. Paul’s.
My favorite part, however, was when Mary explained that what binds Episcopalians together is our approach to learning about and practicing faith, rather than any strict code of required beliefs. This, I felt, also fit particularly well with The Rev. Mark Stanley’s sermon, wherein he dissected a passage from the Gospel of Mark (1: 29-39).
In his sermon, Mark highlighted the importance of one’s approach to practicing faith. Through Mark 1: 29-39, Mark discussed Christ’s example of taking time to have fellowship with friends and family (Mark 1: 29-31), as well as Christ’s dedication to taking personal/private time for prayer and meditation (Mark 1: 35). As Mark explained, we can’t keep saying that we’re too busy to pray. In truth, we’re likely “too busy not to pray.” Prayer and fellowship – these methods of learning, practicing faith, and seeking Truth – are vital to keeping “spiritually sane.”
Thank you, Mark and Mary, for another enlightening Forum and worship service!
(For more explanation regarding the organization and inner-workings of the Episcopal Church and Old St. Paul’s specifically, please feel welcome to either email Mary Luck Stanley or Mark Stanley, or visit: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/episcopal-church-structure-and-organization)