By Greg Jones
I am an Episcopalian. Not by accident of birth, or cultural happenstance. No, I am an Episcopalian because The Episcopal Church welcomed me, embraced me, and initiated me into the mysterious Body of Christ Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the Whole World, of which our church is a vital part.
I do not come from a ‘cradle Episcopalian’ family. My paternal grandmother was most decidedly uninterested in organized religion. My paternal grandfather was a Baptist. My maternal grandparents were extremely traditional old world Roman Catholics. My father was not raised in any Christian church, my mother left Roman Catholicism as soon as she could, and most of my cousins were almost entirely unchurched in their growing up.
I spent a great deal of time with a family in our neighborhood that had tons of kids and they became like another family for me – the mother of which led the choir in a Methodist church. I joined that choir – and thus began my first experience of church life. “All Thing Bright and Beautiful” was my favorite hymn from those days. I was five years old, to be exact, when I sang in a Methodist children’s choir.
My parents separated before I entered the first grade, and for the rest of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, I would shuttle between households. However, and thankfully, at the very time of my parents’ divorce, a neighbor invited us to attend worship at his church. It was St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., and from the moment we walked in the front door on Albemarle Street, I knew I had a home. Not only a spiritual home – but a home made of bricks and mortar, wood and glass, with a fixed location and a glorious capacity to bring people in. Every time I drove by my parish I would look at it and smile – and know that it was my place too.
St. Columba’s was undergoing revival in those days, seeing tremendous growth in worship attendance, music ministry, outreach, mission, education, and spiritual formation – much like St. Michael’s is today. I joined the choir there – my mother took classes and was received into the Episcopal Church – and for the rest of my childhood we spent most of our quality time associated with parish life in one form or another.
My first band played there – we played rock and roll at a talent show – and some poor kid in my band even did a break-dancing routine. (It was 1982.) I knew every single square foot of that entire facility. When they had a capital campaign and added significantly to the worship space and bought a world-class organ – it was something I was very excited about, even as a young kid. I took great pride in the beautification and expansion of the nave – and in the glorious sound which came from the organ. The beautiful architecture and the music formed me deeply.
Choir, Sunday School, retreats, youth trips, soup kitchen work, friendships, pancake suppers, weddings, funerals, sneaking around with a pack of kids – it was all what made that parish my home and my way into the Kingdom.
Quite simply, other than my own parents and grandparents, and a few other people – no other place, no other community, no other shaping force has done more to make me who I am than the Episcopal Church – as found on Albemarle Street in Washington, D.C.
If it weren’t for the Episcopal Church, as expressed in that congregation with its very specific place in space and time, and its faithfulness to the Gospel, I wouldn’t even know who I was. Thank God for the evangelism of the people of St. Columba’s who knew that it takes more than talk to spread the Good News. It takes more than getting doctrine right. It takes more than knowing what the Scripture says. It takes more than all of that. It takes the creation of a spiritual home which is alive in the Spirit, and which is truly focused on being the place where disciples of Jesus worship God, meet and grow together, and are formed into the full stature of Christ.
For this I continue to be grateful for and at home in the Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones (“Greg”) was educated at the University of North Carolina and the General Theological Seminary, where he is on the Board. Greg is rector of St. Michael’s Raleigh, and author of Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury Books, 2004). He blogs at fatherjones.com.