what I hear in church

The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, couldn’t trick me with promises of divinely ordained succession or sharply define anything that happened in any given sacrament. I appreciated the humility about what we could know and the sense of contingency. Everything could have been different, but this is how things turned out. The Book of Common Prayer was beautiful, its language homely in the most exalted meaning of the term. It was human-sized.

But alongside this humility, there was something else, a kind of stiff-necked quality — attractive at the human scale but less so when applied to the divine. Don’t trouble God, he’s busy and has other things to do; no hysterical weeping, no over-the-top saints, nothing to touch, nothing to consult. Mary, when she’s present, stays decently off to the side. Instead of reaching over the gap toward a God who reaches back to you, you quietly stay in your place.

And if you cross over some bright red line, that’s it. Your sins are yours to bear. There’s nothing else that can be done for you. Assessing what you’ve done and what to do about it are up to you. Up to you to figure out when you’d done enough. But you won’t ever do enough, and you’ll never be forgiven. And why, with all the advantages afforded to you, and with the harm you will always have done, should you be?

B. D. McClay. If that’s what I had learned in Anglican churches — that I shouldn’t trouble God, that there’s nothing to touch and nothing to consult, that I shouldn’t or can’t reach toward a God who reaches toward me (or maybe doesn’t), that if I crossed “some bright red line” my sins would be mine to bear, without the hope of forgiveness — then I might well be a Catholic too. Certainly I wouldn’t be an Anglican.

But when I go to church, I (with the rest of the congregation) ask for God’s forgiveness, and then the priest says these words to me:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with heartfelt repentance and true faith turn unto him: have mercy on you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And then that priest says to me the Comfortable Words, which conclude with this sentence from St. John: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.” And that’s what I count on.

To any churches out there that proclaimed the message that B. D. McClay heard, and that brought her so much pain: great is your sin.