Like many adults in the Episcopal Church today, I am not a cradle Episcopalian. I grew up in the Methodist church in my Southern California hometown, though I was not happy there. I was glad when in high school my work schedule at the local supermarket had me in the store on Sunday mornings. That avoided any conflict about whether or not I would go to church.
I spent my years at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, in the early 1970s mostly unchurched, though I did have some involvement with the campus chaplain’s office my junior and senior years. After college I had no involvement with the church until the early 1980s when I quietly slipped into the Unitarian church in Oklahoma City. I had a home there, with the exception of a single year away, until I moved back to California in 1985, this time to the San Francisco Bay Area.
I had been flirting with New Thought philosophies for some time, and attended New Thought church services pretty much weekly after my return to California. New Thought is that (to greatly simplify) “positive thinking” approach to religion, as exemplified by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore and their Unity movement, or by Ernest Holmes and Religious Science (having nothing to do with Scientology). In fact, I went through the whole Religious Science curriculum and was licensed as a Religious Science Practitioner.
I became disillusioned with the philosophy, however, and my activities there became a burden rather than a pleasure. In 1996 I decided I needed to make a change. I was experiencing serious burnout. I had long been aware of the Episcopal Church and knew of its commitment to social justice. On Sundays when I did not have a commitment at my Religious Science church I started visiting nearby Episcopal churches. On my third visit I knew that I had found a church home at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. As it happened, on my first visit they had scheduled Lessons and Carols, so I had to return for a second visit to experience the Eucharist there.
I have considered myself an Episcopalian ever since. I am currently member of St. John the Divine in Morgan Hill, California. There was a ten-year sojourn into the Lutheran church (for reasons that are not really relevant to this discussion), but that entire time I considered myself an Episcopalian who happened to be attending a Lutheran church. I was delighted to become part of St. John’s and return to the Episcopal Church in August 2010.
So all is well and good, correct? Not exactly.
I am an Episcopalian, part of the Trinitarian tradition, but I’m much more at ease with the Jewish rabbinic tradition of the direct relationship of humankind with its God. Why do we need Jesus to intervene?
I was privileged to attend the Erev Yom Kippur service with my first wife, who was Jewish, once in Oklahoma City in the 1980s. I think Yom Kippur must have been late that year, because I remember it being a cold and blustery evening. It was a moving experience that touched me deeply. The Kol Nidre resonated deep within my soul, as it does today.
I once read a passage in the work of the radical theologian Dorothee Sölle, who said that she could not have become a person of faith without Christ. For me, I want a direct connection with God, without an intermediary.
Why not convert to Judaism? At this point in my life conversion to Judaism isn’t practical. It wouldn’t work and wouldn’t make sense in the context of the life I am living today with my wife Terry, whom I married in 1994. And in any case, when I left Religious Science in 1996 I was clear that I wanted to stay close to the tradition in which I grew up. I was not going to become a Buddhist or even convert to the much closer tradition of Judaism. My feelings there have not changed.
Despite my perspective on the Trinity, there is something in the Episcopal Church that is very important to me. That is the Eucharist. Whatever else is going on in the service on a given Sunday, it is important for me to receive Communion. If I miss that I notice it for the rest of the week. I have told my spiritual director that Communion is the anchor of my week.
We say the Nicene Creed every week, and I can’t buy into that. But the bread and the wine are central to my peace of mind and well-being.
There used to be a public radio program called Family Talk on public radio in San Francisco whose tagline was, “Home is where you go at night and they don’t kick you out.” Despite my somewhat Arian-style beliefs, the Episcopal Church has not so far kicked me out. I am grateful for that home.
Mike Christie became part of the Episcopal Church in 1996 after a rather convoluted spiritual journey. He lives near Silicon Valley with his wife, Terry, and their canine child, Tasha, a beagle-terrier mix. Mike works in high tech and is currently in career transition.