Friday, June 30, 2006

Becoming an Episcopalian

It was from years of Christmases spent with my aunt and uncle that I came to be an Episcopalian. My aunt was my mother's older sister by three years. They were close in a way I never understood, being an only child. They had survived the depression as teenagers, had worked to put each other through trade schools, had double dated during the war. My aunt had sent the money for us to come by train to Portland, to help my mother rebuild her life there. She cosigned on the loan when my mom bought the little beauty shop in New Hampshire. She paid my way to camp in the summer. She and my uncle lived twenty miles away, and after the move, we went to their house for Christmas every year.

In addition to the love and loyalty, there existed a subterranean rivalry between the two sisters that was rarely spoken out loud. My aunt "married well". She hooked a doctor. My aunt was determined to rise above her station. She played bridge with the ladies, collected antiques, had a decorator furnish her house. I liked her style, which irritated my mother. My mom was much more down to earth, less fussy about things. The sisters shared a love of alcohol, though, and when they were in their cups the old animosities would surface. My mom took a perverse pleasure in reminding my aunt that she hadn't always been the doctor's wife.

Auntie Hon, as she was called, had immediately converted to my uncle's church... he was the cradle Episcopalian in the family, and every Christmas eve we all trooped out to midnight mass. My uncle loved the liturgy. He took great delight in my ability to memorize all the prayers. I took great delight in being able to recite everything at the right time and place, to kneel, stand and sit when I was supposed to. My mother suffered these midnight excursions with a wry humor. It wasn't that she didn't believe, she just wasn't into all the pomp and circumstance. "More hossin up and down than a three ring circus!" was one of her favorite descriptions of the Episcopal mass. There's a lot less of the kneeling/sitting/standing now. She might have liked it better.

My aunt was on the altar guild and took me along a few times to help her. I liked all that careful preparation and soaked up her instructions like a sponge. She'd be amused that I'm now the sacristan here at Melrose.

5 comments:

kpjara said...

Once again, I love to read your memories...it truly is like reading a favorite book!

I had to "look-up" the term sacristan and my question is: do you get to ring the bells?

Claire Joy said...

Yep. We have an old ship's bell just outside the chapel that we ring as a warning bell, then there's a handbell for Morning Prayer, the Angelus and the toll bell (for executions). We also have a Tibetan bowl we sometimes use for executions and as a drone for one of our chants.

Addie said...

executions? :)

I love reading about your memories and your church life, its so interesting....

Claire Joy said...

Yes, executions. We are part of For Whom the Bells Toll, a national initiative that has religious organizations toll their bells whenever there is an execution in our country.

cgssis said...

Tht reminds me of what my sister told me when I asked why she was thinking of joining an order. Since we had not been raised as Episcopalians, I couldn't relate to any of it. She told me of visiting a Catholic church with our maternal grandmother when she was quite small, and of how much she enjoyed the mass there. She tried several churches in her journey to the convent, but seems to have finally found what she was looking for.