The Episcopal Church has developed a particular form of Christian spirituality that has emerged from its roots in Anglicanism and in the American experience. That spirit can be found in most parishes and dioceses of the church (but not all).
What follows is just one attempt to describe that spirituality.
A Christian spirituality Grounded in the love of God for humanity as seen in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Christian Life is life lived in Christ: “Christ in us and we in him.” Worship, doctrine, and action are the means by which we participate in the life of Christ’s Body, the Church; in her unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. They are the means by which we participate in the Church’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We are restored to unity as we are drawn into the prayer of Christ, the mind of Christ, and the work of Christ. In prayer, study, and work we become instruments of God’s holy mission.
A spirituality of beauty We tend to take delight in the natural rhythm of life. We rejoice in the beauty of creation and have a strong commitment to environmental protection. Our worship strives for good music, a sense of flow and grace, and poetry and drama. We seek beauty in our worship space using artists, live flowers, and real candles in creating an appropriate climate.
An adult spirituality We value personal responsibility and freedom in the process of shaping and living life as a Christian. Adults are invited to explore and experiment with the resources of Christian and Anglican spirituality to discover ways that best nurture them in the Christian life. We understand that what feeds one person may not feed another. We each work out our relationship with God, each other, creation, and self in unique ways. The adult Christian shapes a spiritual life that fits his or her personality and circumstances. Please note, this isn’t about whether children are included (they are) but about what kind of adults we hope children will become.
A world-embracing spirituality
Our tendency is to affirm life and this world. Those things in life that give us pleasure are understood as being fundamentally good. Fun, our bodies, material things, good food are all accepted as part of living a full life. Our call to faith is linked to hope and love rather than fear and guilt.
For most of us the Christian life is lived in the context of our family, friendships, work, and civic life. Those are the places in which the love of Christ may flow through us to offer light and hope in the world. We generally see that process as organic rather than planned. To the extent we have been touched by the love of God we will show that love in our daily life.
We see Christian faith as having political implications. Episcopalians have a long history of involvement in the civic life of communities and the nation. Individual Christians are called to both inform and act on their conscience. The church doesn’t usually ask its members to accept particular political views but it does ask members to consider in their thinking and decision-making what might be understood from the Scriptures, what the church has learned over the centuries (as seen in the Tradition and the contemporary councils of the church) and in their own Reason. As a church we take positions on public issues. While these positions are often on what is seen as the more liberal side of the political spectrum, they frequently exhibit an Anglican comprehensiveness in affirming the complexity of a situation.
Our way includes a concern for social justice and openness to new learning. For us this is grounded in a sense of the interdependence of all things. We are bound together: humanity, creation, and God in vibrant interaction.
Two early Anglican divines spoke to this understanding. Richard Hooker wrote, “God hath created nothing simply for itself, but each thing in all things, and of every thing each part in other have such interest, that in the whole world nothing is found whereunto any thing created can say, ‘I need thee not.'” And John Donne wrote, “When the Church baptizes a child, that action concerns me, for that child is thereby connected to that which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member … No man is an island, entire of itself; every many is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
A balanced, holistic spirituality We are moderate, seeking a balanced, reasonable approach to life. It is a life in which prayer, work, study, and play have a rhythm. We seek to take into account the whole of experience, ambiguity and all. We attend to the whole and the interdependence of its parts in how we live as people and parish communities. We are interested in the whole person — mind, body, and spirit — and the whole of faith, in all its complexity and with all its paradox.
Fredrica Thompsett expressed it this way: Anglicans “ground the Church in the created order as the sphere of God’s continuing operation.” Anglicans hold that the emotional, psychological, intellectual, physical, mystical, and spiritual dimensions of our humanity are all important in interpreting life and doing theology. Anglicans tend to retain an “overall tone of optimism about creation and humanity.”
An organic spirituality We understand individual spiritual development to be rooted in communal daily prayer that shapes our relationship to God. Decisions are made in the context of common prayer so the Holy Spirit fills and enfolds us. We are sacramental — “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” As Christ was the sacrament of God, the church is the sacrament of Christ in the world. Martin Thornton put it this way: “The prayer and life of each member is wholly dependent on the health of the total organism.” It’s a very radical statement about the holiness of the church.
This organic, systems view of life is expressed in other ways. Evelyn Underhill saw it in regard to our serving one another: “One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe, and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your…life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good.”
An open-minded spirituality Our way has stressed an open-minded, searching approach to faith. Engagement with God and the church is intended to open us to the mystery that is God. So doubt, questioning, exploration, and openness to new insights is a path to God and wholeness of life. This involves being open to what may be learned: from studying and praying the Scriptures, from the wisdom gained as the church has struggled with life’s issues in the past, from the councils of the church today, from the insights and views of other people, and from the application of our own reason and what we have learned from our experience.
We see value in comprehensiveness and ambiguity. Our way includes holding opposites in tension, appreciating paradoxical thinking, assuming that what appear to be irreconcilable differences may contain a balanced truth, allowing a certain messiness and grayness in our theological and ethical thinking. Living in this way means developing a tolerance of differences in thinking and practice. It also calls for a capacity to listen deeply and respectfully, to have courage in expressing one’s own understanding, to wait on God in silence and with patience. Our unity is not the unity of sameness of thought but a unity of trust in God and God’s wisdom. It’s the unity of the Eucharist and a shared life. This makes for a roomy church with space for many (as long as they will accept allowing space for others).
Copyright Robert A. Gallagher, 2011, 2008, and 2001. Used with permission. For more, see Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, 2008.