Remembering by Jeremiah Sierra on February 4, 2013
On a hill in Colorado there’s a little church surrounded by gravestones and grass and pine trees called St. Phillip in the field. My grandmother rests there now, as well as generations of my family. I’ve been to Colorado many times before and visited St. Phillip, but I did not know, until this recent visit, that my ancestors came over in a covered wagons and built the church 140 years ago.
It was a sad occasion, of course, burying my grandmother, but also a good and necessary one. Something like ten generations of our family, living and dead, gathered in the churchyard.
It was also good to feel connected to others, and to a particular place and history. These are things that the Anglican Church, with its own long history, offers: a link to the past and a connection to a community. There is a through line between us and the source of our faith, and while some of our history has been stupid and destructive, much more is beautiful or at least instructive.
While some churches eschew this history and tradition in an attempt to get back to the basics or attract new people (the spiritual but not religious crowd, perhaps), I think that when the Episcopal Church does this more often than not it comes off as false and forced. And in any case, connecting to something ancient and solid is something many of us crave.
What we are learning to do is to balance the tradition and innovation. We need to continue to find new ways to reveal the meaning of our rituals to newcomers and those who have simply lost the thread over time. We can draw from our rich and ancient tradition, as St. Lydia’s has with its simple and ancient form of Eucharist or as Trinity Wall Street does at its Sunday Compline. Both of these services connect to a long history and make it new.
And of course, we can remember that a lot of important events and thinking happened between Paul’s letters and now, and that we can use and learn from this history.
What can our ancestors teach us? What can we learn from the living and the dead gathered around us? At least that we are part of a holy community, a sacred and ancient practice.
Reprinted from Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) Vital Practices for leading congregations.