Becoming Episcopalian

Last Sunday I was confirmed in the Episcopalian Church.  This feels like a major statement considering that I’m a lifelong Presbyterian but I’ve never been particularly exclusive denominationally, finding truth and beauty in nearly every expression of the faith that I’ve been exposed to.  When I was in college and succumbing to alcoholism and drug addiction, I would emerge from a long dissolute run, sweating a liquor cabinet of fumes, overcome with despair and self-contempt and return to the Presbyterian church of my childhood, confessing as I went.  In those days I didn’t know what the cure was, I just knew it had to be spiritual in nature because nothing in this world could help me, so I began with penance, thinking that if I was sorry enough–and I certainly was sorry, I would be released from my bondage after an appropriate and severe punishment.  But the Presbyterians were entirely too forgiving so I marched over and joined the Baptist church, submitting to full immersion, hoping the cure was in the water level.  I credit my time with the Baptists for introducing me to in depth bible study and expository teaching.  Ultimately it was many years before I understood that only the Lord could relieve my suffering and that my part was to simply let Him.  Simple, yes.  Easy, no.  I had to come to the end of my own ways and means, my own self-will, and then sit in the ruins of my own making for awhile.  In the years of my recovery the Lord has taught me a great deal about life and faith and, in particular, community  through the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I have deep relationships among my family and friends but am a person who tends to solitude and even more so as I age.  The awareness that my solitude has become isolation usually occurs at the grocery store where I have animated discussions with myself over what I came for or what else I might need and get sidelong glances from the people around me, clearly puzzled (or maybe alarmed…) by the absence of a telephone.  In AA I discovered the beauty of coming together with a diverse group of people around a common purpose, to get and stay sober.  There the playing field is level and we are all “friends among friends and workers among workers” according to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  So it is with the body of Christ where our Lord calls us to devote ourselves.  Nashville is considered a belt buckle in the Bible Belt but I have a number of friends who don’t go to church, saying that they can’t find one.  It’s impossible to walk more than a block or two here without trespassing on church property so what they are really saying is that they can’t find one that suits them.  I get that.  People are difficult.  I am difficult.  But we are exhorted to live out our faith in the community of fellow believers and I would add, fellow believers not of our own choosing.  Rich Mullins used to say that the church was the hope of the gospel.  I too have a strong sense of calling in regards to church membership and I believe that in my years here the Lord has led me to three churches.  One church seemed an obvious fit for me–and it was.  I was loved, taught, tolerated, befriended and included there and continue to feel connected even though I have been elsewhere for many years.  The second church was, on the surface, not an obvious fit.  My son, Henry was invited to go to their kids club on a Wednesday night, loved it and asked if we could start attending.  We visited the following Sunday, which was Missions Sunday-not one of your more compelling worship events. We were different from the majority of the members there, in lifestyle, in politics, in income, in dress and thirty minutes into the service my husband looked at me and said “You have got to be kidding me.  No way”.  At the same time I had an overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit, telling me “This is the place”.  So, with numerous fits and starts, we began attending and over time it became apparent to all of us what an oddly perfect fit it was.  We had great friends, great teaching, great pastoring and, we were (mostly) appreciated for our differences.  It was the first church that my nice Jewish husband became comfortable in. It was the place where my son was so deeply mentored by the older young men in the youth program that he decided to become a discipleship group leader himself and has consistently grown and thrived in his faith–even as a teenager.  It was also the place where I led worship once with Steve Winwood (who was also attending there with his family) and had the nearly out of body experience of hearing him play organ with his characteristic double Leslies on my favorite hymn Come Thou Fount.  I was constantly reminded of the foolishness of judging a book by its cover but even in the people who were decidedly “other” from us in every way I understood the  multi-facets and vibrancy those differences brought to the whole.  Our likemindedness is Christ and we are His ridiculous priesthood.

Over the last few years my theology has begun to change and though I am mostly reformed, I am not entirely sold out on the Westminster Confession.   My friend Bill speaks of knowing the truth verses being known by the Truth.   Knowledge is important but if knowledge trumps experience, it is empty and didactic.  At this stage of my life I can honestly fit my faith into one short verse from Colossians: Christ is all and in all (3:11) or, as Brennan Manning puts it, “There is only Christ and He is everything”.  My desire is less for information and more for formation, less like Martha, more like Mary.  To that end, the beauty and repetition of the Episcopalian liturgy which is built on the scripture, the common worship, the symbolic gestures and the centerpiece of  communion have given me a rich experience of worship and a place for practice, regardless of my spiritual fitness at any given time.  I’m attaching a piece I wrote for my church newsletter after attending the membership class that elaborates a bit more on my decision to receive confirmation.  I’m also attaching a demo of a song that I wrote around the Colossians verse called Everything.  We are nearing the home stretch on the new album and have added another gospel song: Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed On Jesus.   And that is just another way of saying there is only Christ and He is everything.

Anglicanism 101

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65 comments to Becoming Episcopalian

  • kev

    Thanks for the compelling honesty about how much Jesus means to us…
    It is true that He alone is the fulfillment of all that God has for us in Himself…
    kev

  • Bob

    Thanks, Ashley! Great honesty. I too have landed in the same place. And the new song is truly moving!

  • Welcome to the Anglican world, Ashley! I’m so excited to hear the story of your journey, as it’s somewhat similar to mine as far as the “churchgoing.” … And I’m excited to have you as part of “the fold” of the Episcopal Church 🙂 I consider myself a “cross-pollinator,” as I grew up in the liturgical tradition, but have found Christ through the deep and wide scripture focus of the evangelical churches. I find that I can leave neither! God has used the expository preaching and opportunities for study and fellowhip to deepen my relationship with him, but I still love … and need… the beautiful liturgy and need the charismatic element of the Episcopal/Anglican church, which has taken me to another meadow as well, through the healing ministry. I’ll just keep cross-pollinating because Christ is in all places and all expressions. HE has something to show me wherever I go!

  • Rick Mills

    Thoroughly enjoyed your story. I was raised Anglican. Since making a personal decision for Christ at 20 years of age, I have belonged to the same non denominational fellowship ever since. Will always be thankful for the Word spoken, my confirmation and opportunities within the Anglican church.

    I concur… I did not make it, no it is making me, it’s the very truth of God, not the invention of any man.

    Everything.

    • Thanks for the Rich reminder Rick–I love that particular line. So many of us are made up of different denominational and nondenominational threads and that, to me, reflects more of the beauty and diversity of the body

  • JohnD

    Thanks for sharing this. One of the things that has surprised me as I age is how my spiritual growth has gone through different phases when it comes to corporate worship. I grew up Baptist, but consider myself a “free-agent”. In nearly 20 years of marriage, my wife and I have attended just about every Christian denomination. Interestingly, after she lost her mom just over a year ago she surprisingly felt comfort in the Catholic church. I reluctantly started attending with her, not having found a church in our town that particularly drew me in (a reference to your friends who “can’t find a church”). Now, even though I don’t consider myself to be a Catholic, I am experiencing a bit of a personal spiritual revival that on the surface doesn’t look like it would be related to the Catholic church, but seems to coincide with me submitting to where God has me through my wife.

    That’s a lot of words to simply say, “Thanks for the post. I hear ya.”

    • Hi John–your story is a perfect illustration of not pre-judging–so glad that you and Megan (Meghan?) have found a place of comfort and revival respectively–I have many Catholic friends and have been deeply met in Catholic worship before. I am meeting a friend in Fredericksburg between retreats @ LL next week–any recommendations on restaurants and shops? I love that town!! Hope to see you two again soon.

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Ashley! While the internet has many downfalls, it shines in making it possible to walk out our faith as a GREATLY extended family! I’m with you, sister! (and Brennan) “There is only Christ and He is everything”.

    love in Jesus, from Colorado Springs
    Sharon

    • Hi Sharon–I agree about the internet–and I have dragged my feet the whole way but Rose’s urging has been ultimately a gift to me–connecting me to so many different members of the faith. I was just in Winter Park and crossed the Continental Divide for the first time–wow–no, WOW. Colorado is just stunning.

  • Ashley….absolutely beautiful blog! You’ve sung in my church (Grace Christian Fellowship in Largo, FL) a number of times, and although we are an independent Reformed church (of the Baptist leaning) I understand and agree wholeheartedly with your comments about why you are where you are – God bless you and your family for being honest and faithful – faithful to the Lord and to His Church. Nice song too!
    Randy

  • Great Song from the greatest living blues singer!

    I’d like to get an MP3 copy of “Everything” for my new Internet radio staiton.

    I’m just now putting my new station and website together:
    http://www.wix.com/christofthenations1/1

    May God keep you and yours. And may he keep using you mightily.

    • Hi Bobby–that recording is not exactly right but I’ll definitely send one when we do get it right. Also–Rose has set up free access for radio stations to download material from the sight–email her: rose@ashleycleveland.com and she’ll give you the password. You can get any existing material and also have it for when the new disc is done.

  • Ashley,
    Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. It is touching and beautiful. I too attend the Episcopal Church and part of the reason I stay is because it is a refuge for me, consistent and solid. No matter my mood or what kind of week I have had, or what kind of craziness I have been through, the liturgy and the Eucharist are always there for me to come back to. Welcome!
    I cannot thank you enough for your gift of song! Your music has been a blessing to me.

    God Bless you Ashley!

    Jay

  • I can certainly relate to aspects of your journey to find a church home. I miss the group fellowship and comradery of others. Currently, I’m teaching in a Catholic school that does afford some benefits to knowing others of faith. However finding a church that fits even if it’s an odd fit has been difficult and after so many unfriendly experiences it’s hard to get motivated. I listen to the Lord and He will encourage me to attend somewhere when it’s right. I know that I have to get out there first. Thank you for sharing your experiences it has made me think about it again.
    Blessings to you,
    Celeste

    • Hi Celeste–I know the Lord will lead you to the church home he has for you–I’ve had many desert years but they seem to end when I least expect it and lead to new experiences of faith and the body that are revival to me.
      Thanks for writing.

  • Kathrine Page

    Hi Ashley. I ditto what all the others have said about your beautifully written faith journey. Congratulations on joining the Episcopalian Church. I also consider myself reformed, but especially in the Reformed tradition–love the Heidelberg Catechism. It’s first question is: “what is my only comfort in life and in death?” Knowing Jesus’ love and atonement and that I belong to him gives me hope and comfort especially through difficult times.
    I listen to your music all the time and it never ceases to bless my day.
    May God continue to supply you with endless inspiration.
    My best.
    Kathrine

  • Craig Johnson

    I was able to see Ashley led worship in at Christ Community in Franklin, TN many years ago. I wonder what church it was where her and Steve Winwood sang? The Colossians verse she shared is so rich, yet simple. It has become a foundational verse for my daily walk and is something worth every Christian to study. Thank you for music that connects with my life in a profound way.

  • Charlene

    Ashley, Your music is moving and your new song powerful. Your beautifully written sharing of your journey touched me. I relate to the feelings of not knowing where the answer could be found and was one of those who was ‘looking for a church’. I found one that suited me for a time where I could retain ‘self’. There was no answer there. Only in Christ did I find the answer. I’ve traveled through a couple of different denominations, being taught and blessed by each. Bless you for sharing and peace be with you on your journey.

  • Patricia Condre

    Dear Ashley,
    Interesting journey that you have taken. I don’t belong to an Anglican Church, but last month our Senior Pastor received his Doctorate from the Anglican Church. He said that he was embarrassed because his daughters were laughing at all the men in funny hats (their father included). But he did discover that the hat was functional in blocking the glare from his mostly bald head. Last Sunday, our other Pastor included that story of Robert Robinson, the writer of Come Thou Fount. Although, he did not tell the story with as much flair like you tell it. I have come to appreciate the liturgy as well. I know many people argue that it’s just rote repetition. But the more I study it, it is all based on scripture. I just starting experiencing the benefits of a 12-step program. Should have done it sooner, but I guess better late than never. I’ve been listing the Second Skin a lot lately. I must ask, do most of the songs come from your experience from AA, because they sure sound like it? Can’t wait to hear some more of your new material!!

    • Love the funny hat line–I’ve thought about being trained to distribute the elements so that I could see how it felt to wear a priestly vestment…I am so tactile. Second Skin is a lot about recovery–and recovery is, for me, a lot about faith and the gospel so it all relates. Thanks for listening.

  • Dear Ashley,

    WOW. Once again, my friend, you bless me with your honesty and sincere seeking which has now led you to the Episcopal church….LOVE the Brennan Manning quote, and the new song is rocking! But what I love the most (and you’ve got to find a way to use it in a song…if you don’t, I will…) is the wonderful phrase “we are His ridiculous priesthood.” Ain’t that the truth??

    God is smiling all over you, pal….press on….pax,

    Tricia

    • Honey Child!!! or honey chili…
      Miss seeing you–hope all is well and come back to the guitar town soon. You’re welcome to the phrase–seems like I’ve already said something to that effect in a song–more than once… Lots of love sister

  • Mark Morrison

    Hi Ashley,
    Thank you so much for sharing your walk in recovery and faith. AA also has brought me closer to Jesus and my faith. It was via the Steps that I was enabled to accept forgiveness and thereby also desire to extend that forgiveness to others. These days I more and more strive to find the Christ in everyone. We were so delighted to have you sing for us and worship with us at Palmer Episcopal in Houston. Glad your journey has led you to join us at the Lord’s Table. “God don’t never change.”

    • Hi Mark–
      Now Palmer–I have to say–our recent rich experience there definitely contributed to my enthusiasm about confirmation. Hope your lovely expression of the body of Christ in Houston continues to thrive and ditto about AA.

  • Susan Preece

    Sweet Ashley….so bold and beautiful! Thank you, thank you for sharing yourself and allowing God to shine through you. Even in my toughest times, you bring me great joy…mostly in your music, but also in your words that point me to our source of strength and hope, I thank my God for every remembrance of you!

  • James Bond

    The demo “Everything” is so profound. As I write with tears in my eyes. Thanks for reminding me,”There is only Christ and He is everything”.

    Peace,
    007

  • Fred Morgan

    Hi Ashley,

    It was both interesting and encouraging reading your blog about your confirmation into the Anglican Church. And yes, it is a “major statement”. So thanks for sharing your thoughts about what the Lord is doing in your life. It’s usually through your music, but this time you’ve chosen to open up your personal life. Not easy, so it is appreciated.

    May you continue to enjoy the peace and contentment of Jesus as He draws you to himself in your new church.

    And, as always, I’m looking forward to the new music.

    It would be great to see you, until then take care,
    Fred

  • Ashley;
    What a joy it is to read about this part of your journey! I walked a similar path to find my way into the Liturgical tradition. The words that we say together always give me a “place to stand” even when I feel like I don’t even want to be there! If I can even for a few seconds, drive my self-absorbed thoughts aside, at every turn the Liturgy drives me back to “Grace”.

    There were a couple of books that for me, were essential in putting my journey into the Episcopal/Liturgical tradition in perspective. Both are by Thomas Howard. “Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament” and “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail”.

    We’ve had the opportunity to talk in the past about how much your music and your honesty is woven into the fabric of Patti’s and my life. We wish you and Kenny much joy and peace and continued growth as you walk the “Canterbury Trail”.
    Syd Rodocker

    • Hey Syd–read the text before yours–great minds think alike! I’ll order the Thomas Howard book and also the other one. I love your description of a “place to stand” –or often in my case, sag…
      Hope you and Patti are doing well–love seeing you guys here and there.

  • Hi Ashley,

    Have you come across the late Robert Webber’s book ‘Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail’? It might make sense of a spiritual journey that has led you to Anglicanism. I’m not Anglican – in fact, I’m a Methodist minister – but there is much in that book to chew on.

  • Hey Ashley
    Shucks you are of a strong mind! I love how you described “expressing faith” as different religions. I never thought of it that way. It just seemed trivial, the differences that is.

    I am really looking forward to meeting you. And oh by the way I know nothing about music theory. I only know I’m called to sing.

  • Norm Watson

    Hi Ashley I must have listened to your album Big Town several hundred times in the 90’s loved it I have never been a spiritual person but in the last couple years I have learned a lot about a number of different religions and now spirituality is a very big part of my life. I got out your Cd and listened to it a few times today the songs are still great but I have so much more of an appreciation for the lyrics now than I did then. Music is such a great way to convey the concept of God to people who may not actively have him in their lives. Peter Gabriel is another artist with very spiritual lyrics espessially the song “In Your Eyes” I posted my thoughts about it on this website http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=742 I was just wondering if you cared to share any thoughts you may have of this song or another artists in popular music with a spiritual message Thanks I’m looking forward to reading more of your blogs

  • Connie

    I appreciate your openess in sharing your personal spiritual journey with us. It helps me see thru your eyes the struggles that you have had are similar to many of our own. Your music has touched me like no other . Your words have lifted my spirits and seen me thru some tough times. I feel as if I can step into another world when I listen to your soulful hymns. I introduced my ladies class to one of your cds and they were truly blessed by it. My husband and I try to catch you everytime you are in town, so many times I have lost count. We are anxiously awaiting your new releases and the blessings they will have on us. I pray God will continue to use you and your music to reach lost souls.
    In Him,
    Connie

  • Ashley:
    Thanks for such a revealing look into your journey. You give voice to one of the most avoided topics of the Evangelical faith. Our denominational and social barriers too often reveal our insecurity, and make us inaccessible to those who are searching and broken.
    Blessings to you as you continue your walk with such wonderful company.

  • Bill Jacobsen

    Ashley, Love your thoughtful post and I’m glad you have found a home with a place of worship that fits your need for solitude and a tactile experience. I also believe deeply in The Word and The Table as key elements of a worship gathering centered around Christ. Life is such a journey and we keep learning and growing all the time as we realize “Christ is all and in all.” Thanks again for all the ways you have touched my life with your music, your example, your faithfulness, and the sharing of your heart. May God bless, sustain, and guide you, Kenny, and your family every step along the path.

  • Carol

    Ashley, your song puts words to my concerns of what has happened to the Commercialized, Political Church movement which ive drifted away from. These past few months have been too disillusioning for me to watch the doublestandards..surely Yeshua will prevail ultimately but i dont have the strengh to wait another 10 years while life is blowing up around me. I hold onto the Word & Worship, yet have not found a safe place with those of integrity. You are a gift & God keeps using your authentic revolutionary spirt.

    • Hi Carol–my devotion today reminded me to lay up treasure in heaven–for the very reasons you outline above and all the sorrow in the world as well. I asked God what it looks like to lay up treasure in heaven. I’m not sure but I think it begins with total disillusionment with what’s going on down here. May your light shine bright today and every day in 2012

  • Brian Chaput

    Hi Ashley,
    I have also been a fan since Big Town and have loved every record since. While I have pretty much become agnostic I still feel a sense of peace when I play your music, as well as Julie Miller, Margaret Becker and Jennifer Knapp – her latest release “Letting Go” speaks to me personally as a gay man. I do understand though your desire to be in a fellowship based on the liturgy and not what I consider the glitz and shallowness that has become of the greater evangelical community.

    • Hi Brian–thanks so much for coming to the site and reading the blog–the women you mention are all faves of mine as well–especially Julie–there’s something about the way she writes that cracks me open every time.

  • So, Ashley, after bumping into you the other day, I thought I’d google you (amazing now many new verbs technology has given us) and here I am. I had to read about your being Episcopalian because I’m one (as you know), such as I am.

    The first thing that snagged me into what appeared to be a pious little cross-dressing group of priests with Monty Python clothing was the fact that when I bent my knee for communion, a WOMAN served me the Cup. That was it for me. Finally, I thought, a place where there is no male, no female. (You’ll find it interesting that it was Janet Harris).

    Thing is, fitting in anywhere is a stretch for me, and as you have written, for yourself as well. But at least in the Episcopal Church, you’ve got time-honored creeds and prayers that can be disconnected from the person reciting them up front. Detachment has its benefits. When the person up front is reading the prayer, he’s not extemporaneously quivering the words “And Lord we just wanna pray for Ashley Cleveland” and then suggesting just how badly you need those prayers… I like that.

    Of course, I like the fact that no one’s disturbed by the gay couples sitting in their midst (one of them is probably a hell of a tenor, after all), and they serve drinks at their fellowship events without even thinking about it (I realize this may be a minus for you, but you get my meaning- it’s not the most legalistic place you’ve ever bent your knee in).

    Then again, their hymns are absolutely impossible to harmonize with. But “Of The Father’s Love Begotten” is my favorite sacred Christmas song, akin to a chant and who knows how many beats to a measure?

    Having been a preacher’s kid, I managed to pack 90 years of church attendance into my first 30 years of life. I am one of those Christmas and Easter types, I guess. And this past Christmas, sitting with my daughters at St B’s, and moved at the sound of my daughters reciting the creeds and prayers, crossing themselves, passing the peace… sweeter than honey. 100 years from now, long after “contemporary” worship has faded back into hibernation, those creeds and prayers will be uttered by people all over God’s green earth, tugging our ear lobes on high. We’ll strain from Heaven and hear that sound and whisper a Kyrie back down to this little ball of clay.

    And that’s why I am an Episcopalian.

  • Tom Grossheider

    Thank you Ashley, you write so well. Everything, and also Enough.

  • Anna

    Ashley, I can totally relate to your love of the beauty of the Episcopalian liturgy. I was confirmed when I was in college a million years ago, but after graduation returned to my evangelical roots.

    But Ashley, here’s the thing: lovely and deep as the Gospel truths are in the Episcopalian Church, isn’t this the same church that has a homosexual bishop, and that condones same-sex marriage and that ok’s actively gay clergy? I don’t wanna accuse, but to raise the issue, if its true.

    If it is true, I’m wondering how you, a Bible-believing Jesus follower can find fellowship there? It may be like other churches, where the main head-honchos have ok-ed something but the local churches don’t follow along (like, say, the UCC), but even so, wouldn’t you want to be yoked to a total truth church?

    Ashley, you’re all about truth and that’s only one reason why you resonate so with me. God has used you as an unknowing therapy agent in some of my roughest, bleakest years. I thank you so much for shining the Light.

  • Kerry

    Hi Ashley,
    It feels strange calling you by your first name but even though you are well known and I certainly am not I feel like we could be friends. I wasn’t going to comment because this is an older post but the last comment is from a few days ago so maybe you are still following it. That persons comments are their own. I wanted to say I was raised Roman Catholic and when I go to a Catholic mass and a Catholic church I feel like I am home. But I also have attended and enjoyed many churches. I would like to be a bridge between denominations but I am not sure the world is ready for that yet. Now I cannot attend services due to an illness that gives me severe vertigo so I am trying to learn to how to use the internet to create a full spiritual life. They give communion at the hospital I work at but I have been too chicken to go to the chapel to receive so I guess that is my first challenge. Thank you for bringing this subject up. I have heard too much about separation of denominations and not enough about us all belonging to the body. St Peter’s church was created so long ago who among us really knows how it was intended to be. As for me if a church has a good pastor or priest teaching the truth and is welcoming especially to strangers and provides opportunity for spiritual growth and service I am not too hung up on what sign is on the door.
    Kerry

  • I am late to the blog but I love “everything” (the song). The premise reminds me of my favorite non-Biblical quote which comes from Dietrich Bonhoffer, German theologian and martyr: “All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions.” Can you dig it?

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