October 10, 2011

The Baptist Bus Driver

Herb beckoned for my husband to come to the bus door.

My daughter found this book for me, Herb said. It is really amazing. I’m learning all kinds of new things.

Have you ever seen a book like this?

The words “Holy Scripture” scrolled across the hardcover. The book had seen some use, with nicks at the corners and a few dog-eared pages. On the inside flap was a publishing date from the early 1930s. It was part of the Episcopal Church's Teaching Series.

This book talks about Scripture in a whole new way, said Herb, a faithful Baptist. I’m gonna share it with my preacher. Then Herb went on his way, pulling the handle for the door, casting a look back at his young passengers, and easing into his morning school route. 

Episcopalians are hard to come by in Appalachia. We’ve got hordes of Baptists and Pentecostals, lots of United Methodists and a few non-denominational, mega-for-this-area-churches. Back in the hollers, a few places still handle snakes. By and large, these churches tend to be conservative, Scripture literalists. One well-known pastor even spent his entire sermon railing about this crazy (Episcopal) group that has a beer and Bible study at the local pub. What is this community coming to, he ranted, when people are talking about Jesus in a bar?

Against this backdrop, Herb the Baptist found new meaning and joy in a manual of Episcopal church teaching. 

Sometimes I think those of us in the Episcopal Church suffer from collective self-doubt. Our self-confidence is shaken, bombarded by depressing statistics of declining numbers and closing churches. And we start to wonder what we have to offer to the world. 

And then Herb the Baptist stumbles upon this Anglican understanding of Scripture and he sees God’s word in a new light. 

In so many communities, the Episcopal Church is the last place that welcomes questions, that acknowledges the difficulties inherent in being people of faith. The Episcopal Church is the only place where sinners of all sorts (and aren’t we all?) can come without condemnation and begin anew on a path of redemption and reconciliation. 

In this day and age, we have something important to offer to a broken world. It’s time to move from behind our closed doors and share the church’s teachings with the Herbs of the world, with our neighbors and friends and folks in our communities. 

Despite the grim prognosticators, we still have something to say. We just have to summon the courage to do it.