November 17, 2004
The Beta version

The weekend involved more than buying a book. I'd been thinking about taking up Joe's offer to introduce me to his Quaker meeting. But I had a busy day Saturday and was very tired, which for introverts means I didn't feel like meeting a bunch of new people. And I also knew I was going to miss Centering Prayer this week, because last night I was busy with something else. So I postponed visiting the Quakers and decided to go to Centering Prayer at All Saints Beverly Hills, which holds a session between its two Sunday morning services. After that I stuck around for the service, because a large Episcopalian church seemed to be about the most undemanding church experience I could have.

So I was pretty much treating the church as a placeholder in the absence of a regular church. But I was impressed with what I saw. The service itself was beautiful and the choir sounded fantastic. (The church probably has a large number of professional or aspiring showbiz people, which would certainly help.) It also seems to be an extraordinarily organized church, especially compared to the previous ones I've been to. A booklet I picked up detailed a huge number of classes, support groups, and ministries, with dates and contact info for each.

What interested me most were the classes for people in my position, i.e. seekers and catechumens. They have an Alpha course, a Beta course (the sequel to Alpha), and a Covenant class, which explains what the baptismal covenant means for that church and helps you decide whether you want to take it. There was also a one-day seminar on church membership and introductions to the ministries and help in figuring out how best to donate your time.

This is so exactly the sort of thing that I needed at other churches, but never found, that I've been reconsidering my initial offhand attitude toward the church. And I was particularly interested in the Beta course. I took Alpha a year and a half ago at Christian Assembly and really liked it, but was frustrated that there was no follow-up. Moreover, my timing could not have been better: the first class is tonight. So I went ahead and registered for it. I assume that, as with Alpha, you respect the confidentiality of the other participants, so I won't be able to blog it in a lot of detail. But it will be interesting to see what happens.

Telford was praying especially hard on Saturday that I would find a church that has what I need and needs what I have, so when I told him about all this yesterday he started exulting that his prayers had been answered. I felt I should inject a note of caution.

"I'd ruled out becoming an Episcopalian, because their organization is such a mess," I said.

"It is a mess," he agreed. "But you should never rule out anything before God. I ruled out going to grad school!"

Nonetheless, he knew what I meant. The fact is, as I've watched the factional infighting in the Anglican Communion I haven't felt terribly sympathetic to either side. I know what Rob means when he says, "The authors arguing for homosexuality not being a sin convinced me it was. The authors arguing homosexuality was a sin convinced me it wasn’t." The reasons for that are complex and probably merit their own post, so I won't go into them here. But it has not inspired me to join one side or the other of a divided church.

Where does All Saints Beverly Hills fall in this fight? It has a support group to help gay men become monogamous, so it evidently does not believe homosexual sex is inherently sinful. However, it seems to be much less politicized than its sister church, All Saints Pasadena, the other big Episcopal church in the area that I know (and that Hugo attends). Looking through their flyers, the only reference I saw to influencing the government was a discussion group on the death penalty.

Another wrinkle developed the next day when I went to work. It turned out that one of my co-workers goes to AS Beverly Hills, and had seen me there. He's been going there for six years, his wife taught Sunday School for a while, and he spoke very highly of the church and its leadership. The interesting thing is, this guy is a very conservative Republican. I don't know him well so I don't know his views in detail, but this fact right away indicates how different AS Beverly Hills is from AS Pasadena, which I think has a force field that repels all Republicans within 100 yards of the church grounds.

What does this mean? It could mean that AS Beverly Hills, like the church I just left, doesn't stand for much of anything. Or it could mean that it's trying to define itself in some way apart from the political categories that other churches have so readily accepted. The latter seems possible, given how much teaching the church does; I mean, it spends the six weeks of its covenant course explaining something. I figure Beta is a good way to find out. Telford pointed out that the church's position on homosexuality is probably less important than its explanation of that position, and I know what he means. If they've decided this based upon a serious understanding of Scripture and tradition and why that part of it no longer applies, that speaks far better of them than if they rely on vague slogans like "Judge not," or "Jesus stood up for the marginalized," or "They were made that way," and so on.

I also have mixed feelings about the fact that someone from work goes to this church. This is the first time, in all my church travels, that such a thing has happened. I've kept the two parts of my life fiercely separate thus far. From the beginning, I've taken the policy that at church I will be completely honest, and not afraid to show how broken and conflicted I am. The way I see it, if I have to be fake at church then there's no point to it. But work is different. I have to put on my professional, competent face and not admit weakness. There are things about me I wouldn't want to get around. I don't exactly go around church telling everybody all about myself, but I don't particularly worry about what might get out.

But I know that such division is ultimately untenable. This may be another sign that I should leave my job. I just wish I knew where I should go ...

Posted by Camassia at November 17, 2004 10:58 AM | TrackBack

Doug Leblanc blogged about All Saints' rector Rev. Anderson a while back and it does sound like it's the kind of place that is trying to transcend political labels and focus on the Gospel:

I think you're very lucky if you find a parish that is strongly committed to teaching and formation. As a relatively new Christian I have had a very difficult time finding a church that is so committed. It's as if everyone assumes that we all already know what it means to be a Christian. Maybe it's a Lutheran thing.

Posted by: Lee on November 17, 2004 12:52 PM

If you don't like organized religion, the Episcopal Church is the perfect place to be;)

Posted by: dave paisley on November 17, 2004 02:44 PM

I've also attended All Saints BH, so you can't get away from me THAT easily! :)

Seriously, there is some social activism at the church but it's done with a strong sense of mission and Christian identity (versus some more religious institutions that tend to temper the "religious lingo"). All Saints BH has done ongoing work with the homeless, with people with HIV/AIDS, etc.

Politically it's an interesting mix: the Rev. Anderson is, my guess, a progressive evangelical. Hence, the Alpha and Beta classes while having a very open door to the gay and lesbian community. She preaches Christ while advocating for gay marriages.

Perhaps she's the wave of the future?

Glad you liked it. I have enjoyed the Centering Prayer, but I have to admit that I'm a low-church kind of guy. All Saints BH's service makes most Roman Catholic massess look like folk masses! I'm too protestant for all the smells and bells stuff; but plenty of others find it very spiritual and mystical and reassuring.

And don't worry about visiting the Quaker Meeting. Go to All Saints BH, for God's sake! Glad you found something of interest.

Posted by: Joe G. on November 19, 2004 08:40 AM
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