As many of you know, I came to St. Mark’s through the choir. While studying music in college, I found a Craigslist post advertising the section leader position. The idea of getting paid to make music was pretty foreign to me, but I thought I could use the experience, even if I didn’t get paid, so I signed up for an audition. Although I didn’t get the staff position (and in retrospect, I wasn’t a strong enough musician to deserve it), I did find a small but vibrant church choir that sang challenging music and pushed my sightreading levels way beyond what was expected in school.
At first, I was a skeptic. After experiencing the incense at my first service, I considered quitting right then – I am a lifelong sufferer of allergies and I worried that the smoke would affect my breathing. Yet, as time went on, I continued with the choir. My sightreading improved tremendously, and I gained confidence in myself as a musician. Eventually, I developed my skills enough to be hired, first as a substitute and then as a permanent section leader. Although I still had much to learn, it was exhilarating to make music and even supplement my student budget. I developed friendships with the other choir members, and began to really enjoy the liturgy and spirituality I found at St. Mark’s every week.
Shortly after returning to Hawaiʻi after two years away while Steven pursued graduate school, I attended a service at St. Mark’s. It was the first time I had come just to sit in the pews and enjoy the worship, without also singing, and the first time I seriously considered religion for myself. I was raised in a completely secular family, where religion was an old-fashioned thing that caused people to hate gays and start holy wars, not something for modern, progressive people. Yet, as I sat in those pews, breathing in the incense and listening to the music, I felt changed and renewed. After that, Mike approached me to rejoin the choir, and I happily returned to my post in the loft, grateful for a chance to really sing after being away.
Once I returned to regular attendance, I became increasingly curious about what, exactly, I was witnessing every week. I read article after article about Anglican theology – I researched every aspect of the liturgy I didn’t understand. The more I dug into it, the more I realized that Anglicanism was a dynamic, grounded, and beautiful tradition. I learned about the history of the early church, from which our modern rituals arose. I became entranced by the magnitude of the Eucharist – not simply a flavorless wafer and a sip of wine, but a shared experience throughout ages, every Christian coming together to create a unified body, connected in the shared goal of resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.
At this point, there was only one logical step. I approached Fr. Paul and joined the catechumenate class, seeking to be baptized. My theology has always been heavily influenced by my attitudes and upbringing. I am fiercely progressive and coldly academic. If I was a character in Star Trek, I’d most certainly be a vulcan. But throughout the catechumenate process, and my continued worship journey, I’ve learned that religion can fit in perfectly with progressivism and science. I’ve learned that the central tenets of the Bible – love others, always ask questions and seek answers, look after those with the fewest resources – those tenets are exactly how I try to live my life.
My spiritual journey is far from over, but St. Mark’s has served as a beacon of light as I strive to understand my place in the world, and to be the best I can be. I’ve been to many churches, mostly to sing, but I’ve always felt overwhelmed, as if everyone there already knows everything there is to know about God. St. Mark’s offered a rare respite, a more introverted approach, giving each individual the space to seek God from where they are, and to build in the practice of spirituality. I’ve learned that belief is not about what you do on Sunday mornings, but a way of life, a constant framework from which we view our reality. I’ve learned that there is equal value in personal prayer and communal worship. And mostly, I’ve learned that spirituality isn’t so different from music. The more you practice it, the better you get.
Erin Richardson Severin