Greg Garrett: Unabashedly Episcopalian: An Interview with Bishop Andrew Doyle

Taken with permission from Greg's blog at

As many of my readers know, when I came back to the Church after many years on its fringes, it was, to the surprise of myself and my family, as an Episcopalian. I didn't know anything at all about the tradition, and didn't choose it consciously. I just happened to be rescued by a group of Christ-followers who happened to be Episcopalian, and there I stuck.

It was a lucky rescue-if any such rescues can be called simple luck-because I discovered many things about the Anglican and Episcopal tradition that permitted me for the first time to live an authentically Christian life. I found it to be a tradition that valued the intellect and the creative spark, to care about the beauty of worship and the life of those outside the sanctuary. In the process of exploring my vocation, attending an Episcopal seminary, and being considered for the Episcopal priesthood, I met Andrew Doyle, who had served as a priest, was Canon to the Ordinary (the special assistant to the bishop of an Episcopal diocese), and then, a couple of years ago, became one of the youngest bishops in the Episcopal Church when the priests and people of the Diocese of Texas elected him the Ninth Bishop of Texas.

Although he is now my bishop (which is a little intimidating), Andy has remained a friend I talk to about our shared passions: writing, art, family, and the Church. When in September the bishop published an accessible and engaging guide to Christian faith through an Episcopal lens, [Unabashedly Episcopalian](, I recommended it to others, and asked Andy if we could talk about the gifts of the Episcopal Church. The book is already into its second printing, and is the subject of the conversation that follows. You can learn more about Bishop Doyle by following him on Twitter at @texasbishop, or by checking out his weekly podcast and Bible study blog at

You tell a personal story about being the Episcopal campus minister to Texas A&M University in 1999 at the time of the bonfire tragedy there. That came at a time of great challenge for you, and represented another great challenge. What did you learn from that experience, and how did it shift who you were spiritually?

I learned the importance of friends, family, and a support system. I quickly got into intentional spiritual direction, I got into a directed clergy group, and I began a journey toward developing a rule of life. I found that I needed to be in community. I know it sounds funny coming from a person who works in a church, but working in a church can be one of the loneliest places to do ministry. I hadn't realized how isolated I had become. It reminds me of the story of Jacob, who wrestles with God in the wilderness and in the end is named "Israel" and becomes community (Genesis 32 and then in 35). In these moments of wrestling with God, one may also discover that God's love and care are already surrounding you in others. In some ways I think that time helped me experience and believe some of the things I knew intellectually and theologically. It is one thing to say we believe in the resurrection. It is quite another to experience it.

You're the son of a priest, a baptized and confirmed Episcopalian, and if anyone can write well about the gifts of the Episcopal Church, you can and do. As you look back at our tradition and at its work in your life, what would you say are the great gifts of the Episcopal way of being a follower of Christ?

Thank you for those kind words. Our intentionality. I think we work hard to do our best to be a good church. I only wish more people in our churches would see that in one another. I think we wrestle with what it means to be faithful. We are tied to tradition but we want our tradition to live. We love God and we love people. We as Episcopalians are always at our weakest when we only love God or only love people. We are at our best when we choose to live together, struggle with our competing ideas, and choose to work together to make the world better tomorrow than it is today.

I grew up with a father who was an "old school high churchman." What I mean by that is my father loved the beauty and richness of the liturgy with all of its art, poetry, and music. He saw liturgy as an almost baroque combination of art for the senses (at least that is how I describe his fascination). But my father believed this beauty was ultimately so that the people could be drawn in toward God, and that this beauty was most of all for the poor, the day laborer, the paycheck-to-paycheck family; for them, this beauty was transformational. So my father was a high churchman, but he believed the liturgy was the place from which the work with the poor and those in need emanated. In some way, I think the Episcopal Church hums when it is doing this very thing. It is doing liturgy well, it is worshiping and loving God, it is telling others about the story of God, and it is making a difference in the community in which it is planted.

You make the Baptismal Covenant a central part of the book, and I agree that it ought to be a central part of our way of understanding who we are. How does that covenant repeated by people entering the faith and people in the pews help us understand how and what we are?

Rumor is that the baptismal covenant was a document that was created on the eve of prayer book revision in a room filled with liturgy nerds who felt we could do better. In the dark hours of the night they wrote out the covenant. It turns out that is sometimes how the Holy Spirit works . . . in a small room with friends gathered for a common cause, no time, pen and paper, along with a lot of creative space. I think the covenant has shaped us more than we know. I was confirmed in 1978, and I learned the prayer book backward and forward as the foundation for my own faith. I think in part that is what comes out in the book.

Painting with a wide brush here, I would say that the Protestant churches depend solely on scripture and confessionals. The Roman Church solely on its teaching of the faith. Somehow, we as Anglicans have this book of worship, the Book of Common Prayer, which is the community's struggle with the scripture, creeds, and faith of the church. It is the place where we go when we are joyful and when we are sorrowful. It is the place we go to find words when there are none. It is the place where we find questions as well as answers. So, our Book of Common Prayer itself is this shaping tool for those who choose to follow Jesus in the Episcopal Tradition.

Key to our Book of Common Prayer is the baptismal service. That is a huge shift in this edition and when that occurred, it meant that we placed a lot of focus on the Baptismal Covenant as a key document. I say all of this because I don't think it helps us understand how and what we are, so much as it helps us understand where we are. The Covenant helps us find ourselves in the midst of relationship with God and with one another. It locates our spiritual journey in the midst of the spiritual journey of a whole community of faithful people who believe in salvation history. It moves us along toward our final destination by engaging our internal GPS; so it is we find ourselves in relationships with God, God's creation, other human beings, and with power. In all, it helps us discover that we come from love, move through the world in love, and are always in the process of returning to love.

Episcopalians have traditionally been bad at evangelizing, perhaps as a response to the way they've seen other traditions carry it out, perhaps because for much of its history the Episcopal Church has been a bastion of money and power and so didn't feel inclined to invite others in, but in recent years, the national church, like almost every denomination, has been in decline. You've made evangelism a priority in your episcopate, and devote a lot of space to it in the new book. What does evangelism mean to you, and how could we all do it better and more authentically?

I believe that the work of the church is evangelism and mission. Evangelism is sharing the Good News of Salvation through God in Christ Jesus with the world around us. Mission is doing that Gospel work through deeds. As Episcopalians we do both; it is not an either/or proposition. It is the very work of the church to help people come to God.

William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, stated that evangelism is "the presentation of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in such ways that persons may be led to him as Savior, and follow him as Lord within the fellowship of his Church." We are to do this work and bring people into the fellowship of God's Church, and for us that is the Episcopal Church. This is our work.

But let me say a few things that are important to understand. Episcopalians understand that we come to experience God as savior and to follow him through our own life experiences and stories. Episcopalians believe that it is in Christian fellowship that we come to know Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and that such stories are translated and interpreted through the eyes of worship and scripture. What Temple seemed to fail to understand is that we as Anglicans and Episcopalians don't help people meet Jesus and then invite them to church; it is the opposite. We invite them to church, where we present and engage them in the telling of stories, the worship of God, and through fellowship, we discover our salvation.

I believe Episcopalians love God. Episcopalians love their church. Episcopalians would be happy to have people come to their church. In fact, Episcopalians don't mind telling you about their church.

So for Episcopalians, evangelism happens when we do fellowship outside the church and are ready to respond when we are asked about our church. In order for us to succeed at this essential work of our church, we have to leave our buildings and start to have mixers. That is, we need to host parties, events, dinners, and other fun things. We need to use our social capital to get our church friends together with our non-church friends. This is the first thing we have to do. I recently looked online to see what it said about mixers. When the question was posed, "What should I expect from a mixer?" this answer received the most votes, and it is written by Adam G:

A mixer is the same thing as a cocktail party. Make sure to bring business cards, show up looking hot and noticeable, and make sure you talk to everybody. Don't just single out the important people, because they can forget you even after an hour of chatting, while you may miss a small fish that is ready to make a move. The idea should be short and sweet. Be memorable but also spread the love. . . . Also, don't drink alcohol, if you get hammered, no one will respect you, much less your business ideas. Drink water and don't eat anything at the party. It may seem rude to turn away waiters, but the risk of having food stuck in your teeth is too great.

This is great advice! Episcopalians have to leave the building to mix with people in our communities, get to know them, and "spread the love."

Now here is the hard part and yet the necessary part of evangelism for Episcopalians. We need to be ready to talk about our church and not stumble around looking for something to say . . . "uhhhhhhhhh." This is not an acceptable answer for why we love our church. I know a church that is trying to get it down to three things. What are the three things you like about your church? Go. Name three things. Write them down. Memorize them. Make sure they are the best three things you can think of. Then, pick up some business cards from the church office. (Or maybe your church has some MOO cards to hand out; these have the address and website info for the church and service times). Now you are ready to go.

I think the biggest challenge is that we are unprepared. Episcopalians have to be prepared to talk about their church and be ready to give people information about their church. So I would say get out there, mix it up, spread the love, share what you like best, and give them an invitation card.

I know from our previous conversations that you feel that the brokenness of the Church is one of the great hindrances to inviting people to be a part of it. We've had big fights over human sexuality in recent years, and you sought a compromise in relation to recognizing gay unions that was written up by TIME magazine and I talked about one Sunday on BBC Radio. Could you describe that idea, and how you came to the point of deciding it was the right thing for the Diocese of Texas?

This is probably too small a space to fully convey my thinking on this so I want to recommend to those interested the following text: There is a great sermon on grace, a paper on my thinking, and a study guide to help you think about the issue.

But here is my deal: I believe the "right thing" for the church is to be focused on spreading the Good News of Salvation and the uniqueness of God in Christ Jesus to the world through evangelism and mission. That's it. It is the right thing, it is the only thing, it is the primary thing. Everything else comes after that. Moreover, every priest and every congregation are serving and ministering within a local context of church and culture and need tools to respond to their own mission fields. Some need to be able to bless relationships, others need the freedom and safety to not have to bless same-sex partners. My responsibility as a Bishop and as a leader is to focus on the main thing, to keep the main thing the main thing, and help people live together doing the main thing-evangelism and mission.

When you were ordained, you were one of the youngest bishops in the Episcopal Church, and you've become known for employing social media and other generationally-significant approaches to forming community. In Unabashedly Episcopalian, you argue that we need to get out of our churches, take our act on the road, and you talked about doing that a second ago. What are some other ways that Jesus people can do that in ways that feel to you authentically Christian?

I believe that God is out there in the world right now doing miraculous things, and that television, art, film, poetry, music, and theater all are revealing God. So, I think Jesus people need to use social media, in all of its various forms, to tell the story of God as it is intersecting and being revealed in the images of our day. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, and websites are all places were others are now safely congregating from the safety of their own home, the privacy of their laptop. Jesus people and Episcopalians are challenged to be unabashedly who we are and to translate, interpret, and reveal God's hand at work in the world about us. This is our work.

I would add this, though. We need to be authentically Christian, but more than that, we need to be authentically Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or whatever brand you happen to be. People are not interested in Bob's Christian Idea for the Day. We have to return to the rootedness of our traditions. We must tie ourselves onto a great rope as if we are entering the holy of holies, and wrestle with and tell others about our unique Christian witness from whatever limb of the family tree we come. We are a more credible, more authentic voice when we are linked to the ancient faith of our ancestors. Moreover, when it comes time for us to stand together against evil and oppression, the Christian voice has strength and power when the very best Episcopalian, the most rooted Roman Catholic, the audacious Methodist, the Jew, the Muslim stand together with our traditions behind us and say, "No, no more."

So be who you are! Claim it! Mix it up, and share the love.

Greg Garrett's column, "Faithful Citizenship," is published every Thursday on the Progressive Christian portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.