07 October 2005


Some of us just walked back to our apartments from a workshop on leading the Daily Office worships here at the seminary campus. It brought a lot to my mind about my orientation experience upon arrival here this Fall. I am currently being steeped in the very dark tea called Episcopal Church Culture.

We use so many terms that are disorienting to non-Epsicopalians or to really new ones (those who haven't been Episcopalian for ten years). We dabble in the Latin and the Greek; we borrow from Eastern and Western traditions, and, if you please, we like our terms old and fussy. It gives us a certain sanctified feeling. (I should give a nod to the ancients: It isn't just old for old's sake. So much of the old has incredible value, right? For example, as the incense rises through the santuary and your prayers go up mingling with it, you are using your nose to pray as well as your lips. But this post will not be an arrangement of ancient images meant to praise the Church. I want to focus not on how orienting our culture can be, but how disorienting.)

When my fellow first year students and I arrived in Berkeley for our upper-level enculturation process to begin, none of us knew exactly what version of the culture we would receive here, or how it would complement what we brought with us. Some of us came from Emerging Churches, some of us from Anglo-Catholic parishes, and some from evangelical community churches. There is such a wide variety of backgrounds we carry, it is hard to believe we start assuming much in common at all!

And yet, I did feel throughout orientation and our first weeks of classes that I was below average in the enculturation department. I am exploring whether I was made to feel this way by those around me, or whether I put this pressure on myself. I found some of my classmates were well-versed in liturgies called the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and could recognize a maniple if they saw one, but I sure as heck wasn't one of them. And some were unaware of the complete breadth of christological theology terms (Donatist, Montanist, Marcionist, Gnostic, Arian, Docetist, Monophysitic) floating through Christian history -- but I learned these a long time ago. In my first few worship classes I felt smacked by the Latin and Greek flying through the room without explanation or translation. Others felt completely at ease and wondered when we were going to get on with it.

How might our orientation experience reflect more deliberatley upon the complete sprawl of Episcopal knowledge represented in each incoming class, and how could we help each other learn and find needed information? Our Moving and Thriving on Holy Hill guide was helpful to enculturate to Berkeley, but what about the culture of our own Church? I find ECUSA much more complex a village! Are we unsure how to take a group of 40 students and poll what they know and don't know and point them in the right direction? Do the current students and faculty care to guide the new students (and one another) as they go? I have started imagining liturgical terms handouts in the orientation booklets, and an evening session set aside for those who've never spoken "Liturgy" in their lives. I envision more discussions initiated by instructors concerning how to articulate the history of heresy to our congregations. My model for this is my Greek instructor, who often integrates practical homiletic points and theological nuances with our text translations in a way that makes Intro to Greek a lot more than memorizing definite articles.

Something Understood pointed out simply that if you don't know something, just ask. Of course; this is not a 4 year Summer Camp where we are spoon-fed each theological bit we must digest. Yet I wonder -- what might be the pastoral posture of a seminary in these matters? In graduate studies, we acclimate to a new place and a new discipline. The classroom, to a great extant, holds the keys to the culture of the subject at hand. In seminary, though, it is a more complex assimilation of thought histories, practice histories, ethos histories, and the expectation upon us that when we depart our seminary experience, we will be the keepers of the theology, worship, and ethos for everyone else! If we think our student body experiences are broad and various, imagine our future congregations!

So, SU brilliantly suggested we compile something ourselves as a gift to the community and its future members. I feel called to contribute to this process and invite any ideas to be posted or emailed to me. For any of those in seminary or who were once in seminary, what was particularly disorienting to you? What did your seminary not explain well? What were you forced to learn on your own? I hope that out of this collaboration will come a group of happy, relaxed first year students next year. :)

My thought in motion right now is the awareness that as a cradle Epsicopalian, I did not expect to know so little about my own tradition. Others who are newer to the church than I have amassed lists of resources and teachable spirits so that when questions arise it is not an unexpected feeling -- they know what to do. I anticipate, though, that other cradlers and old-timers will still have many questions, and I'd love to anticipate some for future students' peace of mind.


Blogger CJA said...

I have found myself a little surprised, myself, at the lack of familiarity that some of us have with different aspects of the Episcopal Chruch and the Anglican Tradition. Maybe it's because I'm a history and liturgy nerd. I mean, it's nothing against the other people in the class at all; I'm just wondering where we begin on this project, and how far back we need to go to reach a point where everybody is on the same plane. And how do we do it without writing a book?

11:27 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

Although I'm a a fluent speaker of Episcopalese I actually try not to use it, even when I'm on Holy Hill. I find that most of the laity don't use this kind of language even when they're in church, so I see this kind of code-talking as subtly encouraging clericalism. The longer I've been at CDSP the more I wonder whether all this talk about "ministry of the baptized" is exactly that: talk. Instead of making us learn Episcopalese so that we can function at seminary, why not just use plain language whenever possible so that when we go out into our communities people will know what we're talking about? Some things, like "maniple," have only one name (unless we want to be utilitarian and call it what it is - the priestly napkin), but to use the term "narthex" when we could just as easily call it the foyer or the entrance or whatever would certainly be more newcomer-friendly.

12:24 PM  
Blogger stephen clark said...

I am interested in your reflections about the use of language. As a parish priest in Australia, let me assure you the issues are similar.
Most of us who lived through the liturgical reforms of the 60s and 70s discovered sooner or later that the promised "relevance" of modrn langauage would be nothing of the sort.
We replaced the Prayer Book of 1662 with its dreamy language, for the banal language of the 20th Century.
Don't get me wrong I think we had to make the move, but the "modern" language was no more comprehensible to the ordinary Fred (or Jo as you might say in your country).
Do you know, too, the story of the New Guinea Missionaries who were faced with translating the words lamb and sheep to a culture that had never seen such animals...some wanted to say "behold the pig of God"...doesn't quite work for us. A related issue but not quite the same

12:22 AM  
Blogger J. F. Miller said...

Karen wrote:Instead of making us learn Episcopalese so that we can function at seminary, why not just use plain language whenever possible so that when we go out into our communities people will know what we're talking about?

What about "academicese?" having come to seminary without a Lib. Arts degree I found my self lost in s completely new language of post-modern literary academics. words like hermeneutic, meta-narrative and critique still give this former physicist hives.

To answer the original question, I had to pull together two things on my own. The first was all the material covered in the 300 and 400 level Lit classes that I copiously avoided in undergrad. The second was the secular history from 100BCE to 400CE that occupied a 1 hour class in World History 204. (I still have the course syllabus to prove it.)

On the other hand I can still solve the Schrödinger Equation for the hydrogen atom by hand and I'm condensed that this will in some way provide me with some new insight into eco-feminist meta-narratives if use the write post-modern critique. < scratch scratch >

3:18 PM  
Blogger bythesea said...

Has anyone mentioned the various Episcopal dictionaries and glossaries that are out there (book form and online)? See Links below.

I understand it can be frustrating, but maybe think of it as part of the "tradition" or of understanding the "culture" of the Anglican/Episcopal Church. I think I go more for becoming immersed in the culture and learning about it so you can navigate it, explain it to others and guide them through it, rather than water it down. And don't let anyone fool you, any parish or denomination is going to have its culture and certain terms that have meaning for them.

By the way, I'm a Senior and I don't recall ever using or hearing the word "maniple" I had to look that one up. And yes, some of my classmates had more knowledge than others (one especially who's like a walking history book). That could feel a bit daunting at times. I was a cradle Episcopalian, but spent a large part of my life out of the church and only back about 5 years when I entered seminary. For me it wasn't the "terms" so much as classmates who'd been reading history and theology for years before we got here, where I'd just been trying to make it through the Bible, work out my faith and learn about my denomination, and then go through discernment. Most things besides the most basic in the topics of Church History or Theology was brand new info for me. But that's okay, I'm slowly learning, and I have a whole lifetime to learn. In the meantime I bring other knowledge, experience and gifts that God uses as well.

I don't know if there's ever going to be a way to equalize things for entering classes because God will continue to call a variety of people with a range of knowledge and experience.

Peace! A Senior Episcopal Seminarian.




Some info you can find online - some are just glossaries, others have links to various resources:














10:41 AM  

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