How I Came to
the Episcopal Church: Personal Reflections
In my twenties I left the
Church of Rome to become an atheist. It was a wonderful
experience that wiped the slate clean of all the
questioned beliefs, motional damage inflicted by
parochial schools, and especially guilt. In some ways
that was the beginning of my spiritual journey, though I
retained more from our sister sacramental church than I
realized at the time.
The phase of atheism soon
gave way to agnosticism, and I found a temporary home
in Unitarianism and also explored the religions of Asia.
At about the same time I began to explore esoteric
systems, particularly Theosophy and the Kabbalah. In
due course I studied for twenty years in an esoteric
school and eventually founded The Esoteric Quarterly
to provide a forum for the dissemination of serious
research in esoteric philosophy.
I never abandoned my love
for the aesthetics of sacramental worship. A love of
sacred ceremony—and especially a love of choral and
organ music—has remained with me throughout my
life. Even as an atheist or agnostic, I would listen to
Anglican Chant and on trips back to the United Kingdom I
would attend the Sung Eucharist on Sunday mornings at large churches or
cathedrals. Indeed the sacredness of
time-honored houses of worship has been a recurring experience.
My sense of spirituality and reverence for "the sacred"
steadily grew, though I was still not ready to commit
myself again to organized religion.
The pieces of the puzzle
fell into place during a trip to Europe in 2006. I had
profound spiritual experiences in the Lady Chapel at Ely
Cathedral and then at Mass at All Saints', Margaret
Street, London. Attendance at the latter was quite "by
accident," though a higher guiding hand was probably at
work. After the experience at All Saints', I knew that
Anglo-Catholicism was my rightful spiritual home.
Unfortunately, there was no Anglo-Catholic church where
I lived in the United States.
Despair of finding a
church was relieved when I bumped into Fr Richard
Shackleford, at the time serving as an interim priest at
a church in Kingsport. He understood my need. Although
he could not offer me what I wanted at his parish, he
pointed me to St Mary's Episcopal Church, Asheville,
North Carolina. It was sixty miles away, over a mountain
range; but a recently completed Interstate highway made
access feasible. A few weeks later I arrived on the
doorstep of St Mary's, a church that was founded in
the Anglo-Catholic tradition in 1914. (North Carolina
itself had roots in Anglo-Catholicism stretching back to
the 1840s.) I was welcomed into the parish by Fr Brent
Norris and, in due course, received into the Episcopal
Church by Bishop Porter Taylor of Western North
Carolina. The Sacramental
Church is my gift to St Mary's.
After several years I transferred my menbership to St John's Episcopal Church, Johnson City, Tennessee, where I remain actively involved.
Such are the joyful
workings of the Divine.