“One thing I have always admired about the Episcopal Church is that it not only keeps Christ in Christmas, it also keeps the Mass in Christmas. I also admire the fact that being Anglicans, its parishioners know how to conduct themselves in the Presence of Royalty.”
In an earlier post titled “A Summary of My Personal Spirituality and Pilgrimage” I described in detail how after more than forty years I was led with Mari from the Southern Baptist denomination of our childhood and young adulthood to the Episcopal Church in our middle age.
In fact, after attending Southern Baptist churches for decades, graduating from Ouachita Baptist College, teaching in Baptist junior colleges, and doing volunteer work as houseparents in the Arkansas Baptist Home for Children, in January 1986 we were confirmed in downtown Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa.
The reasons we made this change are many and complicated and in a way almost impossible to explain. Oversimplified, over a period of time we simply felt led to seek a more traditional, sacramental, and liturgical church and style of worship—but without giving up our lifelong evangelical heritage and foundation.
During the months that we spent studying, investigating, analyzing, and exploring this call we talked with several representatives of the Episcopal Church, including a Tulsa retired bishop, a Trinity priest, and others to whom we were directed for information and direction. One of those guides was a laywoman, a member of a charismatic Episcopal church in Tulsa
As Christmas approached, it was this Episcopal laywoman who noticed an article written by a Baptist minister in California who had published it in his church worship bulletin. She sent the article to us, and it spoke to us so clearly that it helped to confirm our growing conviction that we were indeed following what we believed to be the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives at that time.
Here is the text of that Christmas message by Walter Fishbaugh, then pastor of Cambridge Drive Baptist Church in Goleta, California. It was reprinted from his bulletin titled Blest. Regardless of your Christian background, affiliation, association, beliefs, or practices,we sincerely hope it speaks to you as it did to us Southern Baptists at that time more than twenty-five years ago.
Note: I have retyped the article just as it appeared in the photocopied version sent to us. The italics for emphasis were added by me.
A Baptist Pastor Finds Refreshment
in an Episcopal Christmas Service
“Once a year I need this hour of dignity, spiritual energy and calm authenticity.”
By Walter Fishbaugh
Christmas day finds me exhausted, totally drained, on “empty.” This happens to me every year, more or less. During the four weeks of Advent I use what resources I have to offer, trying too hard to package Christmas to make it important and believable and spiritually real to those souls in my care.
Now I not only know what is wrong with me, but also what to do about it. What I need comes from God. It takes an hour. I call it my “Episcopal fix”—the powerfully wonderful and marvelously healing televised service of Christmas worship from Washington Cathedral [our national cathedral]. This Baptist who has been trying so hard to package and present Christmas desperately needs this less-fevered perspective from a cooler and more confident tradition.
I need to see ivory candles thrust high in bold assertion by strong young men in white robes processing the great aisle. I need to hear those lay readers speak the ancient texts with such understanding and dignity that the words become indeed Word. I need the shrill voices of the choirboys whose choral praise entwines with the rich tonalities of a great organ into the lofty stone archways to resonate off the vaulted cornices and mortices, creating echoes of endlessness if not eternity.
I need to watch and hear the quietly sure clergy speaking from an ancient liturgy that carries the conviction of the ages in its calm authenticity—words and cadences so refined by the centuries that they are able to speak not to my surface, but to my very center. I need the deep scarlet and purple windows, the bold red velvet of the poinsettias like points of fire in the dark pine greenness. I need to hear a preacher who doesn’t try nearly as hard as I do, one who can be so thoughtfully reflective from the pulpit—and in so much less time.
And, surprisingly, I need to hear a chanted prayer whose tonal regularities evoke that special wonder of the unutterably excellent Thou toward Whom our praises and petitions ascend. I need the surging return of spiritual energy that comes through high worship. Not from it, but through it. It comes from God, the hem of whose garments we sometimes touch upon occasions of such need.
I follow Jesus in a Baptist style. I shall probably continue to do so. Most of the year it’s a good place for me to be. But on Christmas day, energy depleted, the last full measure of exertion having been spent, I turn with great gratitude to God through those who follow Jesus in the Episcopal style.
And annually I am renewed, healed, reassured, corrected. Suddenly I know Christmas does not need me. I and my displaced muscularity are not essential to it—indeed, may be offensive and hindering to it. Christmas can do very well, thank you, on its own. Within itself it carries all the God-given power and confirmation it needs.
Note: Mari and I are Baptists who discovered we needed all of this not once a year but once a week! For almost twenty years we found it in the traditional Episcopal worship services.
Now we find it in the traditional worship services of the Methodist Church of my Peacock ancestors which we joined after leaving Trinity Episcopal Church in Tulsa in order to be with our son Keiron and his family here in Sapulpa just before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.
As noted in my earlier post, “A Summary of My Personal Spirituality and Pilgrimage,” we will always love the Southern Baptist denomination of our childhood and youth, the Episcopal denomination of our middle years, and the Methodist denomination of our golden years. That’s why we always refer to ourselves as “Baptistcopalian Methodists.”
But wherever your personal spirituality and pilgrimage have taken you thus far in life, we sincerely wish you and your loved ones a joyous Merry Christmas!