Susan's Voice

You Go to CHURCH? Or, Why I Love Being an Episcopagan

winter wassail orchardBy Susan Lilley

The winter solstice! That magical day that most people in Christendom ignore as they scurry around in traffic getting ready for Christmas. But not me. The shortest day brings me closest to my own spiritual shoreline, and if I can be next to the actual seashore, all the better. Advent and Christmas have always been intertwined with the greatest hits of ancient earth religions’ festivals. Even the visual trappings—those rituals and symbols that have grown like kudzu vine all over this holiday since the Victorians began to embellish it—are irrefutably pagan. If you have a Christmas tree in your house, boom! Pagan. Images of holly or the word “yule” on a card or scrap of wrapping paper? You must be a Wiccan! wintersolsticeSo let’s embrace all of it. The baby Jesus, the star, Fear Not, the holly king, the wassail bowl, and the tannenbaum. The Episcopagan Church welcomes you. No conflict, in our way of thinking. Well, MY way. So far I am the only communicant and therefore the Presiding Bishop in the USA.

And I also belong to a real church. A real good one.

winter advent church

When I opined recently on Facebook that I was missing Advent at church due to cooling my tired teacher heels at the beach (while grading long but mostly wonderful papers on Tolstoy), someone msg’d me expressing their shock that I went to CHURCH. Frankly, I was affronted. What about my behavior suggests that I am not church-worthy?  My devil’s advocate cynicism about unexamined conventional “Christian values”? My absolute loathing for the Christian Right? My need to bellow “motherF***ER!” when pushed to the edge by even a small technology glitch?

Here is a very brief history of my church life: Baptized as an infant, “cradle Episcopalian.” Went dutifully to church with Mom and brothers while Dad went to play tennis. (His gleeful excuses: “The better the day, the better the deed!” and “Your daddy’s a heathen!!”) winter girl with bibleI heard wonderful stories and a huge message that must have sunk in about God making this world for us to enjoy and take care of, and by God we better take care of each other. I don’t remember a lot of guilt. Or any. We always got Krispy-Kreme doughnuts on the way home and my brothers fought over the last jelly. So much for the love they call phileo, never mind agape.

Anyway, I rebelled in my teens and 20s, read philosophy, called everything I had been fed total bullshit. (Calling bullshit is a convenient youthful developmental phase, signaling you just don’t know what to think about it.) I recall sitting in church lost in sexual fantasies or planning an outfit or meditating on a poem by Yeats or wondering where I could buy some of that incense. winter Girl-With-Glasses-WallpaperBut I was still there sometimes. Becoming a mother brought me back trying to see though a glass darkly, and I yearned for my children to have access to the richness given to me by my time in the Episcopal Church. Then I realized, hey,—I CAN make this happen! Some parents keep their kids unchurched by telling themselves they don’t want to interfere with what their kids might “choose” spiritually. Well, I was going to give my kids something to chew on. Then they can do what they want about it. But everyone’s spiritual life is private, including theirs, and they reached their adolescent rejection period too.winter kids in church texting

There is an old Hebrew proverb that says something about laying the lessons on the heart and laying them on again and again, and when that heart breaks, the lessons come in. When I got my heart busted by a college boyfriend and I was languishing for days in swollen-eyed self-pity, the first person to come visit me and make me go out to lunch and laugh again was my priest. He knew full well that I was a very iffy Episcopalian at that point. Still, his care for me was nothing short of Christ-like. As for my kids, I am not sure what has stuck with them, but when they attend church with me as young adults for special occasions or just for “fun,” I can tell the familiar liturgy is still with them. There is something magical about saying the beautiful words I said as a child with my own mother next to me, said in many churches with all kinds of people over the years, words and chants that link us to the root of what it means to be here for our brief stay on earth. For a little while, our differences don’t matter as we turn toward the mystery together.

And today? A thousand hella high hosannas, my current church is pretty wonderful. I was invited by a dear friend, and since then have invited some friends too. This church meets both my selfish and altruistic expectations for a good spiritual community. They are 100% inclusive. It is wonderful to see the gay and the straight, the black and the white, the doubtful and the devout, all willing to share some sacred time together. They do stuff Jesus said to do, as in taking care of others. One member recently went on a mission to bring reliable lighting to women’s clinics in Africa, a small change that will save hundreds of lives. The church houses and feeds homeless families on a regular basis through a project called Family Promise. And more. Plus, they are welcoming and easy to be with. My dog got blessed at the Feast of St. Francis. They have great food at church events. They have a real organ and play my favorite hymns that make me weep with nostalgic joy. The rector is a woman of authentic wisdom, love, and bountiful good humor. Jesus H. Christ, what more do you want?

winter advent starry nightHow it pains me to miss church tomorrow, last Sunday in Advent. Alas, I will still be here at the beach, wrapping up official solstice business as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopagan Church of America. But I’ll be back next week, praying for some of that peace which passeth all understanding. In the meantime, WASSAIL!

16 replies »

    • Greetings, Christine! I was lucky enough to have a three-location solstice observance. Started the day at the beach, sunrise was glorious. Wrote the blog post, went to the intercoastal river for lunch and reveled in being in that little thread of land between the waters. Drove inland to Mt. Dora, FL for the evening–this town is lit up like fairy land and definitely radiates solstice magic. Live music, dear friends, both my children celebrating with me. What a great solstice! What about you?


  1. Great post! I am happy to be wrong in thinking that my husband and I were the only Episcopagan church communicants. Much of what you wrote could be my story, though I can add that until his recent retirement being the Rector’s wife made my situation even more interesting. Good to know we aren’t alone.


  2. Susan, thank you so much for this beautiful article! So comforted to know I’m not the only Episcopagan running around Central Florida. Also, your church sounds a LOT like mine. Your church wouldn’t happen to be in Winter Park would it?;-)


  3. Sounds very much like a church I could fit right into. When FB used to have a place where you could put your religious persuasion, mine was Hippie Christian. Loved the humor and the flow of this piece, Susan. Nice job!


  4. Thanks so much, Janice!! yes, you’d probably love St. Richards in WP. Awesome peeps. And thanks for checking out the Sirens!! And we must get together and chat about your summer writing workshop! Looked very good.


    • Hey, Susan. Yes, I’ve had St. Richards mentioned to me by several other folks. I need to check it out.

      I suspect you’re already in the thick of starting a new teaching year–unless you, like me, are in “recovery” from the teaching profession, which I loved for 38 years and haven’t missed for a minute thanks to my editing work that scratches that particular itch. Seeing all those teachers’ cars in the parking lots of schools I pass on my way to somewhere that’s not a real job engenders nary a nudge of nostalgia. But I bet you pass pretty close to my house on your way home from Trinity every day, and I’d love to get together while the thoughts and memories of my amazing week with Baron and my unexpected second week with Elaine Neil Orr fade into oblivion.

      Let me know what your schedule looks like and we’ll get together for a happy hour at one of our houses so we can “BOOB” (bring our own bottles) and save our money for future writers workshops.


  5. I was blessed with no religious upbringing,though with both parents text- catholic,I got the guilt w no hope of college,I was cathing a ride to visit a friend over Christmas break,but the driver had to sing an Episcopal service.i went along & did what everyone else did.chewing the bread made me super aware of my body chewing,and the alcohol in the wine my blood- a pagan experience 4 me.


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