One thing that scared me away from the chaplaincy program at seminary was the requirement of having the support of a specific denomination. I lived under the “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” banner at the time, so the thought of having to align myself with a “religious” label abhorred me.
My academic adviser said something very wise: “You can’t force yourself to find your people. It has to happen naturally.” Just like the cliched love advice that “The One” will enter your life when you least expect it, I discovered the Anglican church under similar circumstances. In fact, I discovered it completely by accident, when my car started to break down. I pulled into the parking lot of an Anglican Church and sat in the service while waiting for AAA. You could say that this chance meeting was perhaps divinely orchestrated.
Like the Catholic church, one aspect I find comforting in Anglican Land is that no matter where you go for worship, the service format is the same. Anglicans all over the world are reading from the same Book of Common Prayer and reciting the same Nicene Creed.
The sermon content may differ from church to church, but the sermon isn’t the focal point of the service: communal acts of worship are. That’s the biggest difference I have found from the evangelical-style services I participated in for most of my adult life. In the Anglican church, the focus isn’t on one pastor and his funny jokes, cute family pictures, and creative PowerPoint slides. In the Anglican church, I get to be a full participant rather than an audience member.
The format of the service – the call-and-response participation of the congregation, the catalogue of prayers, the inclusion of ritual – is similar to the flow of synagogue, where I spent my childhood. The similarities between the two faiths, but with respect for differences in creed, is why I find more comfort there than in Messianic synagogues.
As a former member of mainstream, non-denominational churches, I understand the criticism of liturgical traditions. It’s easy for the ritual to become rote, or perhaps a replacement for genuine communication with God. “Going through the motions,” as they say, can be unhealthy, but from a Jewish perspective, I was taught the opposite: “going through the motions” of ritual is what you do when you want a wayward faith to come back.
Ritual doesn’t have to become a replacement for God, but rather, a way to reconnect. There is a predictability to it, which may be dull for some, but it’s quite fitting for my OCD and type A personality. Knowing what to expect helps set my mind from the mundane to the sacred. Reflecting on “prescription prayers” help me better understand what I believe, and why I believe it. When I have no words of my own, but only grumblings that the Holy Spirit can understand, the liturgies from saints of past and present help carry me along.