One Faith, Many Traditions
I get this question a lot from people who are trying out the Episcopal Church for the first time: "Are all Episcopal Churches like this one? What can I expect from other parishes?" The answer, at least at its simplest, is that though you will most likely find a Book of Common Prayer in the pew racks, and similarities in the worship practice, styles and traditions will vary greatly. Like fingerprints, each parish has its own patterns that are unique to it. We all share one faith, but in diversity we offer many traditions. You may recognize the red, white and blue "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" sign out front...but be ready to embrace what lies within, even when it might not conform to your expectations of what "Episcopal" worship and organization should look like.
That perspective, as a priest who has served numerous congregations, puts a spin on today's readings. Particularly in Mark, as the Pharisees are criticizing Jesus and his follower for not washing their hands enough, we get a glimpse not only into Pharisaic practices of the day that exceeded what is asked of Israel under the Torah...we also get a sense of the outrage people can experience when confronted with a faith that seems similar enough but that fails to conform to their long-held traditions. While manners might make the person, expectations that your manners will be my manners will be their manners will get us into all kinds of hurt. Certainty that my practice, and the assumptions that flow from them, are the best or right to the exclusion of the other? Sadly, I don't think that is of God. Not at all.
Take the Syrophoenician woman, challenging Jesus himself to expand the horizons of just who is to be embraced by his kingdom teaching. She has a sick daughter, and yet by the fact that she is an alien the question is raised over whether she has any right to presume upon the attentions of the Rabbi. Short answer? She does...through her position that even dogs have the right to the crumbs under the dinner table.
Challenging to us...to set down the prejudicial assumptions we make about each other and about who/which community is right in its practice.
I am not arguing for a devil-may-care relativism here...far from it. What I am advocating for is a mindful awareness that while we might profess a faith in God, and seek ways to become communities of practice around that faith...one tradition is not "more right" than any other. We only fail when we insist that ours is right over and against another's manner and use that certainty to denigrate or exclude.