The sweet melody of a church organ floated out of the St. Alban’s Episcopal Church’s doors on the morning of Sunday Sept. 26, propped wide open to welcome both regular attendees and newcomers.
There were three services offered this Sunday: 8 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 3:33 p.m. I entered the church for the first time at 10:15 a.m., greeted warmly by the priest, Reverend James Devin Rodgers, who stood outside as people trickled in to attend the Holy Eucharist Rite. As I entered, I was handed a booklet of the prayers and songs to be sung that day.
Rodgers said that he has been involved in the Episcopal faith since 2008 and has been a priest at St. Alban’s for about three years after having previously been a priest at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, California.
“I wanted to be a priest from the time I was a little kid,” Rodgers said.
“I enjoyed church services and the way they connected people to God and to one another.”
He explained that the Episcopal church is unique from other churches in that it is dedicated to welcoming all people, no matter their background or identity.
“You can be an ordained priest whether you’re a man, a woman, gay, straight or trans,” he said. “We believe that all people are created in the image of God as the Bible tells us, and as such we have to protect, love and care for all those that God creates and loves.”
Despite not being Episcopal myself and never having attended an Episcopal church service, I felt welcomed and comfortable within the space. The small number of attendees as well as the greetings from the priest himself added to the hospitable atmosphere of the church.
I was baptized as Catholic and have attended many masses over the years. Thus, I found it interesting to compare this Episcopal service to the Catholic mass I was more familiar with.
Upon entry, I was instantly struck by the lack of a crucifix, a representation of Jesus nailed to the cross, at the front of the church–a fixture typically present in Catholic churches. Additionally, I noted that there were very few images of Mary around the church. There were two statues on either side of the front door, one of Joseph and one of Mary. However, compared to most Catholic churches, there was significantly less iconography of Mary throughout.
The service began with Rodgers making his way to the front of the church with a procession, carrying a cross with them. The group of approximately 30 rose to sing the entrance hymn, “The Word of God,” followed by an opening acclamation.
From then, the service progressed to the first reading, Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22. The second reading was James 5:13-20, and the gospel Mark 9:38-50. Out of these three readings, I enjoyed the second the most. In it, it is advised that one should “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” I found this take on the power of prayer to be interesting and motivational. As someone who doesn’t regularly attend church, the idea of prayer holding such strength was a new, intriguing concept to ponder.
The priest’s homily was, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the service. Rodgers began with an anecdote about his father struggling to teach him how to change car oil, garnering many laughs from the congregation. However, he smoothly tied it in with the idea of traditions being passed through families and how that passage can be a language of love–the same love that Christ bestows onto each and every one of us. I found the most powerful part of the homily to be when Rodgers explained that our hands are the hands of Christ, advising us to look down at our own hands and use them for good.
As I exited the service, several members of the parish once again welcomed me to St. Alban’s, and Rodgers thanked me for coming. As a newcomer to the church, I was pleasantly surprised at how I was received just as warmly as the other attendees.
Rodgers said that St. Alban’s is dedicated to welcoming and accepting all, reflected in the church’s motto.
“We have a slogan at the church,” he explained. “God loves you… no exceptions.”