Episcopalians get a bad rap.
They’re supposedly stiff, stodgy, stilted, unimaginative traditionalists with no capacity for creativity, no inclination toward innovation, no tolerance of new ideas.
Well, they’re wrong about us.
Look at George Washington. He was an Episcopalian, and he made some pretty jazzy moves to outfox Cornwallis and win the war. Look at Robin Williams. He was anything but a stiff, stodgy, stilted, unimaginative traditionalist. Fred Astaire. Barbara Bush. Would you have called Barbara Bush stodgy? I mean, to her face.
Here in my chosen hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts, our Episcopal Church is blessed to have a non-stiff, quite imaginative priest, the Rev. Bradford Duff Clark, who parties by the name of Brad. Brad is the ever-exploring mastermind behind such Ascension Church quirks as “PJ Day” (wear your pajamas to church), a day for bringing your pets and livestock to church (I would have drawn the line at rodents, but no, Brad is a liberal), and an assortment of other oddities.
So when coronavirus sent everyone home, and Ascension Church canceled its public services (like most other churches did), Brad took this past weekend’s services to Facebook Live (as a few other churches did). Which is how I found myself at home at 10:15 on Sunday morning in my bathrobe, lounging in my favorite over-stuffed chair, a cup of French vanilla decaf on the side table, and dialing up the church’s Facebook page on my phone.
Of course it wasn’t quite the same as driving from my antique house on Planet Outer Linebrook into the center of town and being there with all the other supposedly stiff, stodgy, stilted, unimaginative traditionalists. But it was pretty great to be there virtually, with the enormous stained-glass Jesus in the background, just like always, his arms outstretched by his sides, either saying “Welcome, my child” or “What in the world were you thinking?”, I can never be sure.
The camera stayed in a fixed position — no “live action-cam” following this or that worshiper dancing in the aisles. Yes, we’re an energetic bunch, but not quite that way. Let’s call this something more along the lines of quiet energy.
On the whole, it was almost like the real thing: There was Brad, in his non-party vestments, leading us through the liturgy; and Scripture readings by Ted Flaherty, our junior warden (not that we’re a prison, supervised by wardens, but who knows what churches were like back in the day, when Episcopalians assigned these names?). Dr. Frank Corbinprovided music, with solos by the remarkable John Petre-Baumer. Just about everything an Episcopalian could possibly want in a Sunday morning, except for snacks afterward in St. Matthew’s Parlor, and hugs from friends.
Oh, and the Eucharist. Sometimes known as “communion.” It was not feasible for Brad to thrust a wafer of bread through the screen into our hands — let alone a sip of wine, which has been banned anyway by the Diocese of Massachusetts till further notice. I feel sure that the brains at Apple are working on CommunionCam, however — the wafer pops out from a slot that used to be there for DVDs, remember? — and when that’s available, I’m going to be an early adopter.
Mostly doing church via Facebook Live was great because I never had to get anywhere close to my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. Those black dress shoes are still gathering dust in my closet. If Jesus came for the common man, then church in your bathrobe makes total sense.
The online service wrapped up a little before 11 a.m., and I tapped the little X in the corner of the window with a sigh of satisfaction. Just about that time, my 18-year-old daughter emerged from her bedroom.
“I just went to church!” I reported cheerfully.
She looked me over, blinking sleepily.
“Was it PJ Day?”