On Buying Books
I'm an English teacher, so my usual strategy when I don't understand something is to find a way to read about it. The books below are available through the usual big-box and online bookstores. I bought several of them at the National Cathedral Bookstore (perhaps a little more expensive, but the profit went to a good cause). If you have to order anyhow, why not find a local, independent bookstore and order there. The price will be the same, you will support a local business, and you might end up having an interesting conversation with the owner.
The books below are arranged in the order I read them myself
The Episcopal Handbook (Morehouse, 2008)
- If you are unfamiliar with churches in general or uneasy with a liturgical church, you will appreciate this book.
This tiny handbook has dozens of two-page chapters that cover everything from surviving a baptism to bringing the right food to a potluck. It tells you how to receive communion and how to shake hands during the peace. It first caught my attention with the comment that "miters go on top of bishops," then explained that the pointy hats are supposed to remind us of the tongues of fire that descended on the apostles in the book of Acts. Fun to read, informative, and a great introduction to the Episcopal church.
Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church
by Robert Webber (Morehouse, 1985)
- I appreciated this book because I had a long history in the Evangelical church; Webber helped me to put words to some of my longings and to feel that a change of direction might be God's will for me.
Webber was a highly respected professor at Wheaton College (and a graduate of my seminary) when he began looking for something deeper in worship. First he started a house church, but eventually gravitated to the Episcopal Church. His academic specialty was worship, and the worship forms of our church attracted him very much. The book is quite autobiographical, and would be most interesting to people who are more familiar with non-liturgical churches.
Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship
by Christopher L. Webber and Frank Griswold (Morehouse, 1999)
- I read this book when I was ready for the history lesson. It gets complicated, but this book is a great help in sorting things out.
This is a more in-depth look at the history and beliefs. It had never dawned on me that when the Plymouth Colony was established in 1620, the ancestors of the modern Episcopal Church had been worshiping in Jamestown, Virginia, for thirteen years. It's a bit out of date now, but most of the material ages well. The book is unaware of the disputes concerning gay clergy, for example, but its discussion of female clergy really does cover some of the same ground.
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
by Barbara Brown Taylor (HarperCollins, 2009)
- Taylor isn't a teacher or preacher so much as a companion. I'm reading this one chapter by chapter at bedtime, almost like a devotional.
I would place this book in the Episcopalian DNA category. It's very autobiographical, very personal. Taylor writes to those who count themselves as "spiritual, but not religious." Here's the central idea that she teases out, chapter by chapter: If God really did create everything, then anything can serve as sort of a signpost pointing to him. Whether she's meditating on the lack of body hair in a stained glass picture of Jesus or on getting whacked in the head by a tree branch, Taylor continually finds fingerprints of God all over her world.