When I’m feeling orthodoxically cultural I return to the church of my childhood and early parenting years.
When I’m feeling desirous of joy and community, I tend to dance with the Episcopals.
Back in our early years in Pacific County, Washington (circa 2000) Lietta and I found ourselves yearning for some sort of church connection. I was no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but the yearning for a spiritual community was there.
We decided to visit St. John’s Episcopal Parish in South Bend as Episcopal was the church of Lietta’s mother, Joy Ellsworth who lived in University Place next to Tacoma.
We encountered a very small and aging community in an Episcopal building on a hillside overlooking the Willapa River as it flowed through South Bend, Washington on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
There were two priests serving the congregation, Dick Kindle and Gretchen Gunderson.
During the first service we participated in, one of them (I don’t remember which) told us we were welcome to receive communion when that time in the liturgy arrived. Aware that with the recent removal of my name from LDS Church records, I remember having no reluctance to receiving communion for the first time in my life. I was aware of coming face to face with a wafer and a chalice of wine and looked forward to it.
However, as the liturgy was presented to me for the first time I found myself caught up in the passages as Dick or Gretchen recited them. When the time came I realized that I was being invited to receive communion in a literal re-enactment of the Last Supper. The liturgy does that and by the time I stepped to the altar rail and knelt, I was in tears, caught up in the spirit of the thing and listening to the organist play communion music.
The LDS Church has a bread-and-water Sacrament Service that is not exactly the same thing. There is reverent kneeling by a male priesthood holder and a set prayer consisting of a small paragraph that is read and must be read correctly lest the Bishop ask you to try again. Then trays of bread and then water are passed to the congregation by male priesthood holders who carry them to the stand and then the pews. No music is played during the passing of the Sacrament. Only silence.
The communion was the recent I wanted to come back again and again. And we did. We learned that having already been baptized earlier in our lives, the Episcopal Church had no requirement that we be baptized Episcopals. Eventually we went to Aberdeen one Sunday where The Right Reverend Bishop Sanford (Sandy) Hampton placed his hands on the sides of our heads and intoned “Remember your baptism.” I was confirmed a member of the Episcopal Church
We were in fact the youngest active members of that St. Johns Parish and in short order were put to work involving Ladies Guild, Music and where I eventually became the Senior Warden while Lietta was the Vestry Secretary. I also shared organ duties and both Lietta and I went into a kind of training-to-ministry program as lay preachers.
By 2004 Lietta and I had become politically active for the first times in our lives. Lietta shortly became the Washington Coordinator for a national organization, Military Families Speak Out.
We attended a large rally in Seattle where I was nervous while Lietta had no compunctions about speaking to a crowd at the Seattle Center.
As military families go, Lietta Ruger said, she is as red, white and blue as any proud mother.
But how could she reconcile her loyalty to the armed forces with her disdain for the Iraq war?
For months, she kept silent — until her son-in law faced mortar attacks every night at his Baghdad compound. That’s when the Episcopal preacher in her came out.
Ruger, 53, of Bay Center, Pacific County, spoke out against the war on PBS’ “The NewsHour” with Jim Lehrer last fall and to her congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church in South Bend, Pacific County.
And again yesterday: On the second anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, she gave an impassioned speech explaining why she believes the war in Iraq is unjust, before a crowd of anti-war protesters at Seattle Center. Organizers put the number of participants at 5,000.
The Seattle protest, put together by the Church Council of Greater Seattle, Washington State Jobs with Justice and Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, was part of a worldwide movement designed to place pressure on the military and get attention from Washington, D.C.
After the Lehrer News hour team showed up in South Bend to interview Lietta and tape her sermon, we found ourselves sort of on the outs with the local congregation. They did not appreciate the political publicity and seemed to think it would lead to notoriety.
We eventually talked to the congregation advising them we would be absent on many Sundays and advised that we needed to give up our callings to serve. They were gracious about it but we both knew they were disappointed.
A few months later Lietta was in Crawford, Texas supporting Cindy Sheehan whose group maintained a vigil outside President Bush’s ranch waiting for the President to explain why Cindy’s son had to die.
After the vigil ended, Lietta participated in a speaking tour from St. Louis to Washington D.C.
Lietta on the Bring Them Home Now bus tourfrom Crawford, Texas to Washington DCAug 31 – Sept 24, 2005
Lietta speaking in Columbus, Ohio
Well, lost in the shuffle was any dancing with Episcopals until we moved to Spokane and fell in love with the St. Johns Cathedral. As Lietta had requested baptism and I requested re-baptism, we started having feet in both worlds. We attended an LDS ward in South Hill at the same time we were part of the congregation at St. Johns.
After moving to Coeur D’ Alene in 2018 we stayed home on Sundays until we decided to visit the Coeur D Alene LDS 2nd Ward. After a few weeks we thought we might visit the Episcopals in CDA, found St. Lukes online and attended for the first time early this year.
Ten minutes into the first service at St. Lukes … you guessed it. The liturgy was so familiar, the building reminded us of St Johns Parish in South Bend and we felt like we had come home.
So here we are a part of two spiritual communities. Each offers something unique which we both appreciate. In the LDS ward I find linkage to my culture and heritage (I have authored a historical novel about the Martin Handcart Company of which my mothers ancestors were members). At St Lukes, I find a more familiar and relaxed community that keeps us as busy as we’d like but is willing to respect things when we are unwilling to join in whatever is going on.
We are both studying in the Education for Ministry program which for me is the college level religion classes I had never been exposed to. The texts are informative, provocative and inspire enthusiastic commentaries from us with responses/rebuttals offered by some pretty cool folks.
I suspect that we will stand in two communities and perhaps seek others in different venues before we are satisfied.