I met a young man at a car dealership yesterday, one of their finance and loan managers. He asked me what I did and I said I was an Episcopal Priest. He puzzled about that for a minute, and said he didn’t know what that was, and could I tell him more about what an Episcopal might be.
Where to start? “Do you know what Roman Catholics are?” “Oh, sure; I grew up in the Catholic Church. My dad even went to seminary when he was young.” “OK, Episcopalians are Catholics without the pope, and priests like me can be married, which works out well for my wife and children.”
“Gee, I wish I had known that. I used to be Catholic but now I’m Christian.”
I used to be Catholic but now I’m Christian? Where did that come from? It comes from various elements within more conservative evangelical churches who say of themselves that “we are Christians,” but “they are Roman Catholics.” Do they mean that Roman Catholics are not Christians? Sort of but not exactly. They would observe that Catholics worship Mary, bow down to idols, and believe the pope stands between you and Jesus, and let you draw your own conclusion by simply restating that “We are Christians but they are Roman Catholics.”
What about Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and such? Not very important in the scheme of things, and, for the most part, ignored. Which brings me back to something he said to me: “I wish I had known that.”
Why didn’t he know that? Why did he have absolutely no idea who or what an Episcopalian might be? I have no desire to pirate Roman Catholics away from their church, but it seems to me that those who have chosen to leave would find the Anglican traditions of the Episcopal Church to be a comfortably familiar setting for worship.
What we don’t offer is a secure fix on the one and only way to understand the bible, truth, or what is right and wrong in the world today. And that, according to my new friend, was something that appealed to him about his new “Christian” church home. Simple answers to hard questions made life less confusing and uncertain.
I’m not sure where to go with that, except to encourage denominational leaders to invest in more effective marketing through various forms of advertising and engagement with the media at all levels, and to be more vigorous in teaching adult Episcopalians what it means to be Episcopalians, a people who live with faithful certainty in an uncertain world.