Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Exceptionally Special Day in the Life of Ambassador Chuck

What is this "Ambassador Chuck" business? People such as the wonderful folk I met Sunday at St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square in DC might seriously ask that question. For a humorous look at one of my alternative identities, do check out The Vulcan Ambassador Chuck E-mails.

Now I will move on to more serious matters.

I attended St. John's this morning rather than my usual parish, St. Mark's because our Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori would be appearing at a forum and giving the sermon. Life long Episcopalian that I am, I could not miss this opportunity to see and hear a woman about whom I had heard so many good things.

When I walked in the door of St. John's, I perceived that St. John's had some differences with St. Mark's as well as some more important similarities. People were dressed more formally. But everyone welcomed me warmly and openly. Dress matters far less than a warm welcome from good people. I will say, though, I was glad I had worn a suit and tie. I had some friendly chats with members of the congregation. I remember impressing two nice young women with my tale of finishing the Marine Corps Marathon back in 1996.

When I walked into the forum, I met briefly our Presiding Bishop. I asked her why -- in I hope a friendly manner -- why she had switched from being an oceanographer to an Episcopal priest. I handed her a business card at the same time with an invitation on following up in more detail at a later time. She briefly but friendlily replied that she was still working that out. I was impressed that she told a complete stranger that much.

The forum began at 10. One priest had gone around the congregation passing out cards for people to write questions on. The forum took on the following form. First, Katherine delivered a short talk. During the talk she mentioned how others were impressed by Episcopalians. She reported that people said about us "They use their ears. They also use their brains." We Episcopalians think a great deal more than most people. I will say this is one thing that has kept me an active Episcopalian through my life. Katherine also told us how we were warm and welcoming. We are truly open to the other, We are now working -- in multiple ways -- with other denominations. Our Presiding Bishop sees this as the future of our church and, indeed, of Christianity in general. I think along the same sort of line. She made an interesting comment about the Roman Catholic Church. She noted that there was more cooperation between local Episcopalian and Roman Catholic parishes working together on projects of importance to their communities than there was between the leaders of both churches. She recommended continuing in that manner for local Episcopalians. In the past few decades especially our society has grown more authoritarian -- with negative effects in everything from finance to space exploration to education and more. Too often people with a little bit of power over others think "How can we get people to think more like ourselves?" and too little "How can we use our knowledge to help others?" Or -- even more insidiously -- "How we can control others?" There are times when authoritarian control is appropriate. But all too often such control is presented as the best solution. This leads to all sorts of problems -- which said leadership then blames on someone else.

The Episcopal Church is active in many parts of the world. Katherine mentioned Honduras as one place among many where our church is making a real difference. I suspect Marco Caceres of St. Mark's could give us a good look at how our church is helping in Honduras. He has spoken eloquently about how open and welcoming our church is compared with the Roman Catholic.

The service that followed was also warm and welcoming -- if different from St. Mark's. The music was, as I have come to expect, the typical wonderful Episcopalian hymns and more. The last hymn of the day was particularly touching to me. It was a 20th Century hymn -- and about the positive impacts of science and technology upon our world.

After church I joined people from St. John's at their weekly luncheon. It was not only a good meal, but a great opportunity to get to know the people of S. John's better.

All in all, my experience at St. John's was truly wonderful.

What did I do the rest of the day?

First I stopped by St. Mark's. There I had a brief conversation with our brew master, Rick Weber. I shared a bit of the morning's experience with him.

Then I headed off to Paulos' place for the monthly New Members Open House organized by Metro Washington Mensa. This was a truly rare time when I showed up at a Mensa event wearing a suit and tie. I told them about the morning -- and hearing a religious leader speak openly about the importance of the mind. People were happy to hear that. I also mentioned sitting in the President's Pew at St. John's. That, of course, was just a fortunate coincidence. The party was, again, a good time. I enjoyed seeing some old friends.

After that I made the trek back home.