I was raised in a loving Catholic family, eating fish sticks and tuna casseroles on Fridays. Fast forward 30+ years, my husband Jeff and two small children moved from southern California and joined a parish in a suburb of Saint Paul, with like-minded people. We participated in a family ministry program with a monthly discussion group. Eight couples, all parents with young kids, grew close as we met regularly, vacationed together, and are now attending our kids’ weddings. We remain a close-knit group.
Over the years, our discussions evolved from children’s faith to social justice issues to what some of us viewed as incongruities in the Catholic church. We struggled with issues like no women priests, the abuse cases, and the non-welcoming of divorced people and the LGBT community.
When the Twin Cities archbishop came out so vehemently for the divisive marriage amendment, it was a last straw. I realized I could no longer contribute financially to the Catholic church. I put my time and treasure into different causes. But I still attended “my” church. I liked that it fought for social justice issues. I liked that all my friends were there. I liked the liturgy, the contemplative time, the music.
I liked that whether we vacationed in Wisconsin or Brussels, we could attend a Catholic church. My kids went to Catholic schools from grade school through graduate schools. Catholic was in my DNA. I could put up with a lot of things and rationalize that the church was still ok.
In 2011, my 22-year old son came out as gay. And just like that, he was no longer welcomed to fully participate in our church. Although he was baptized, reconciled, first communioned, and confirmed there, he couldn’t get married there. So of course, he left. His sister followed. She certainly would not support a place that was not accepting of her little brother as Jesus would.
And still Jeff and I clung to the Catholic church. Pope Francis was making progress, and “shouldn’t we stay and work for change?” After explaining this to our kids and assuring them no money was going to the archdiocese, their response: “By sitting in the pew, you are tacitly endorsing the Catholic church and all its inequities – all its non-Jesus and non-Gospel practices.” OK, then. That’s how the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the 2000’s. We listened. We left our parish after 21 years and the Catholic church after 56 years.
We weren’t done with church or Jesus or spirituality; we were done with being Catholic. We wandered around churches like Moses in the desert. The “theater” mega-churches had a good message, but the loud rock music allowed no contemplative time. And they won’t marry same-sex couples. Other faith denominations had their own quirks I wasn’t ready to accept. Or they felt so focused on themselves that they missed surrounding injustices. Some churches lacked scripture readings or just didn’t feel welcoming.
I googled “inclusive churches” and read the websites. Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church came up. I remember reading that “all are welcome at the table.” I learned that they had two diverse types of Sunday services: a relaxed, intimate gathering with contemporary music, and a more traditional service with full choir music. Other aspects of Saint Anne’s that caught my attention were the weekly coffee hours after services, education and inclusion of all ages, thinkers, discussions, all working, praying, and playing together. We tried the early service. The welcome was palpable. The sermon, delivered by a married, woman priest, was thought-provoking and memorable. The Our Father was the same; the Nicene Creed the same. The readings followed the same cycle as the Catholic church.
I knew I was home. I realized I love the liturgy, I enjoy listening to the readings, I sing my favorite Marty Haugen songs, I feel peaceful after receiving communion. There’s a wonderful sense of familiarity about the Episcopal Church. And a wonderful release from the mire of male hierarchy, and the exclusion of people like my son.
I’m saddened that my church let me down. It would have been easier to keep the blinders on and stay put. But one needs to be authentic in beliefs and actions.
It didn’t take Jeff and me long at Saint Anne’s to form new friendships and immerse in the community. Not everyone thinks the same way but everyone is accepted and welcome at the table.