Saying the ‘I Believe’: Religion and Our Creeds
For this project, I interviewed the rector at my Episcopalian church. My goal with this project was to explore my own creed through my religion, and hopefully prompt others to do the same.
- How would you define the word “creed”?
- Does that definition change when you add the word “American”?
- What would you say is your personal creed? What organization’s creed do you most identify with?
- Has that changed over the course of your life?
- You say that you became a priest to have a place in people’s intimate and spiritual moments. Have you ever seen somebody or your own personal creed reflected in one of these moments?
- Do you think that the Episcopal Church has a specific creed of its own?
- In general, do you. think that people’s religion affects their creed?
- How heavily do the things we say in church relate/affect our creed, as the Episcopal church?
- Do the ministries we offer reflect that creed as well?
Interview (comments made by me are in brackets and italics)
Fiona Eggleston: How would you define the word creed?
Rev. Garner Garner: “The word creed, I believe, comes from the Latin word credo, which means ‘I believe’. In the Christian context, in the mass and the older services at church, we wouldn’t even call it the creed, we would call it the credo; which is to say we would stand up and say the ‘I believe’. So, I think of a creed as a foundational statement of belief. Not purely identifying things that we agree with or those things to which we would give our intellectual assent, but instead identifying statements about who we are. [Rev. Garner is claiming that a creed isn’t a perfect cut for everybody, but can be applied generally. I hadn’t really thought about a creed as a general statement, so his comment, which is repeated throughout the interview, made me think about what can actually be identified as a creed.] So when I recite a creed of one kind or another, I’m not just sort of saying ‘I agree with all of these things’, I’m identifying who I am and, most of the time, my place, my participation in a larger group. So whether it’s an organization, like a church, or a fraternity or sorority, or another organization that has a supposed creed, even if it’s not recited on a regular basis, it’s a statement of who we are. This is as much about identity as it is about belief. [He’s saying that creeds are more closely related to us as whole person and identity, rather than our specific, limited beliefs. What do you think?]”
FE: “So, does that definition really change when you add the word “American”?”
EG: “You know, in the simplest way it identifies a subset. It suggests that there is a ‘What is the statement of belief or statement of identity that is true for those who identify as American?’ I still don’t know what American Creed refers to. My imagination kind of wonders, kind of like, the American dream. Right, this sort of thing. [Do people’s variations of American creeds reflect or influence their American dreams?] Not everybody shares the same dream, but to some extent, part of our identity as participants in at least the dominant American culture is this sense of if you work hard, you can do something with your life. Opportunity awaits for you no matter what, it's kind of the American dream. And so I would sense then that an American creed then isn’t something that you must believe in order to be an American, but it’s a statement of identity and belief that arises out of a shared experience. So in terms of changing the definition, I don’t think so. I think it just clarifies the group or the part of what identity is meant, what it’s hoping to express through this particular thing.”
FE: “So, what would you say is your personal creed? What organization’s creed do you most identify with?”
EG: “As a member of the church, as a member of the clergy, the historic creeds of the church are important to me and they are foundational to my identity. And in particular, I think of the, what’s commonly called the Nicene Creed, as well as the Apostle’s Creed. [The text of these two creeds are included at the bottom of the document. Do they sound like something you’ve heard before in your place of worship? How so?] Those are probably the two credal statements that are most important to me and have the greatest reflection and bearing on my life. I think, are they my creed? Yeah, maybe not, like I don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘The Holy Spirit precedes from the Father and the Son’, thus that’s a foundation of my identity but the act of sharing a common identity and a common belief as expressed in the foundational Christian identity, which is ‘We believe in God, one God three persons, creator of all that is. A God who loves us and an expression of that love is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, the Son, who comes and lives and dies and is raised, in order that we might find freedom in life, and that God continues to interact with the created order, not just humanity, but all of creation in real, meaningful ways which we think of as the work of the holy spirit. And that God’s will for creation is justice and peace and perfection and all things will towards that’. But that’s what I think about in the morning, that foundational to my identity. I would say, I’m sure that there are other principles that are foundational to who I am that are not explicitly expressed in the Nicene or the Apostles Creed. I don't think any of them would be incongruous with the Christian faith, and in some ways directly related, and in some ways tangentially related. So the long answer to your question; What is my creed? And then you asked what organization or religious creed do I have. It’s easier for me to speak about my religious creedal identities. If you had said, ‘What is your creed?’ full stop, I might have gotten to the subject of Nicene or Apostles Creed. But I think I’m more likely to say, what do I believe? I believe that human life is sacred and has intrinsic value in relation to the one who has created us. And we are most able to fulfill our potential and honor the one who has made us through a life and a practice of indiscriminate and unconditional love. And I see in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus an expression of that love, but I would say even for someone who's areligious, that creedal identity of the power of love, the transformative power of unconditional love is this even, maybe even more primal than that.”
FE: “So that’s your creed now. Has it changed?”
EG: “It hasn’t changed in the sense that I reject an earlier creed, but I'm sure it's how I would express it. [Rev. Garner is saying that his current creed, he expresses it differently than he did when he was younger. That prompted me to think about my current creed, and how it might change during my life. Will I be like him, with only the basic way of how I state ist changing, or will I have a completely different set of ideals and beliefs?] And also the nature of the creed in my life has changed. If you'd asked me 20 years ago, when I was 20, what my creed would have been, I would have probably had a harder time articulating that in broad sense of intrinsic value of humanity and the importance of fulfilling our potential by participating in a system of unconditional love. Like, I’m not sure I would have gotten to that abstract place. I probably would have made a more clear and explicit appeal to religious identity. Hold on, let me think about where I was 20 years ago... Yeah, but I don’t think the foundation of it has changed. I think I have not come to the Christian faith at some point, I grew up with it in my life. How I articulate it, the implications of it have modulated, but it hasn’t really changed that much over time.”
FE: “I asked you before why you became a priest, and you said it was to have a place in people’s intimate and spiritual moments. Have you ever seen your own creed or someone else’s reflected in these moments?”
EG: “Let me think about that for a minute... Yes. Not very long ago at all, somebody called me, whom I had never met, and had no relationship with our church, no active relationship with our church. She had been a part of our church in the distant past, and she was just wrestling, she said ‘I need somebody to talk to about big things, like God and death and hope and forgiveness’. So I said, ‘Great, I’ll talk to you about that’. So we visited for a while and most of what I do, in this instance, is listen, ask a couple of questions to give somebody a chance to sort of speak, and tell me their story, and respond to it. [Have you ever talked to somebody about these issues? Would you, if you could?] But there was an opportunity for me to articulate that, you know, that I think love is powerful, love has the chance to transform relationships, and a lot of the questions that I was asked, a lot of the questions she was asking, were about ‘What does the church think about this, what does the church believe about this, what if you do this?’ and very, kind of, particular. For me to invite her, or anyone, to step back from the minutiae and the details and to look for a way to trust that God’s love is bigger than those questions, those answers and that different Christians have different ways of articulating it. But for the most part, what we’re saying is that God loves us. That was enough of an invitation for her to find some peace and some sense of belonging, not just in a particular congregation, but in her own relationship with God. Enough to where she comes to church now. I don’t celebrate that as a particular victory, the fact that she comes to our church, but the fact that someone who had questions was able to get enough of a sense of, not just curious questions, but the kind, like these issues were ‘I’m losing sleep over these issues’, this kind of ‘This is a struggle for me, I need to talk about this’. And that the response would be enough for her to find peace and participate in a community that is loving and accepting, is an example of a time when what I believe about humanity and God and our existence was reflected to me in her journey, it’s been small and short. So that’s one example. I think, you know, I don’t have a particular moment in mind. But you know when I meet with a family who is getting ready for a funeral, or maybe somebody who’s got a difficult diagnosis, or someone who is struggling with a relationship with, like, a spouse or a child or parent, I am able to enter those circumstances knowing that I don't have an answer, I can’t fix it, I can’t bring your dead loved one back to life, I can’t make your spouse not an alcoholic, I can’t give you medicine that will cure your diagnosis, but I know that when I enter those situations, even though I can’t fix it, that I bring a message, a story, news of hope and peace and promise that are bigger than them. [Having had this conversation, I am now much more open to approaching someone to talk about any issues I might have. And knowing that even if someone can’t fix a situation, providing comfort in the words of the Scripture is a better alternative than just stewing in my problems alone.] And that makes it possible for me to sit down and have those conversations. They don’t always hear that as a message of hope, but I think in every one of those conversations, what I believe really matters. The power of love, unconditional, universal love. I know that has the ability to transform those circumstances, which is why I’m able to have those moments.”
FE: “So, you’ve talked about the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed earlier. Do you think that the Episcopal Church has a specific creed of its own? Would you say that those are our official creeds?”
EG: “Yeah, you know some creeds, of course, are expressed as such. The Nicene Creed not only can you find the text, like the text has really been studied and written about. Like people, for seventeen hundred years, have been talking about that, and the words, and the ‘What does this mean?’, and does the Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son? So some creeds are very clearly defined. Probably most creeds are not clearly defined, and maybe the project would suggest to us that, actually, if it’s not written or expressed, clearly it doesn’t count as a creed. [Do you think that a creed must be expressed clearly as a creed to count as one? Why, or why not? I think that there needs to be a general consensus of ‘yes, this is a statement of belief’, but that’s just me.] But, I would say that the creed that drives one’s life or the direction of an organization might be written, but it might not. I would say, in the Episcopal Church, the historic creed, Apostles’ and Nicene Creed, also there’s a third one. The Athanasian Creed, which we don’t read very often, but for what it’s worth, there’s a third creed. Those creeds are central to our identity, and I think if you would ask Episcopalians, ‘What is the creed of the Episcopal Church?’, 99.7% of them would say the creeds we say in church, whether they knew the name or not. But I do think that there are other creeds, and things that are just distinctly Episcopalian. In terms of expressed credal statements, I think the Baptismal covenant, it might not be uniquely Episcopalian, but it is distinctly Episcopalian and it’s foundational to who we are. So, whenever we have a baptism or whenever we renew our Baptismal vows, part of the Baptismal covenant is the Apostles’ Creed, but then there are the question that follow, ‘Will you seek and serve Christ and all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you respect the dignity of every human being? When you fall into sin, will you repent and return to the Lord? Will you share the apostles’ teachings and the breaking of the bread?’ That appendage to the Apostles’ Creed, which together forms the Baptismal covenant, is in our theology as Episcopalians, kind of who we are. [This is the Baptismal covenant, or process, in the Episcopal church. If you have been baptized, does this sound similar, or completely different from your church’s process?] We are baptized members of the body of Christ. And what it means to be a baptized member of the body of Christ is to believe those things about Father, Son, and Spirit, and also to strive for those identities with God’s help. The answer is always ‘With God’s help’. So I would say that is a credal statement that is distinctly Episcopalian, but I would also say that there are other nonexpressed things, like our prayer book is not a creed in particular, but our prayer book is a statement of who we are. How we worship is who we are. I also think the canons of the church, which are the rules of the church, like the fact that if you said to me right now, ‘I really want to be a priest’, like I can’t make you a priest, that’s just not how we work. But that says something about who we are, it’s not just a rule, in the sense that we have to follow the rules and the proper procedures, but it's also because that we believe that ordainment, in this case, silly, perhaps, case, we believe that ordained ministry is an expression of who we are as the body of Christ and that our relationship with other Christians is defined in historic ways, in bishops and particular apostolic ministries. It’s because those things, so our canons, might not be a credal statement, but I do think that they are, by definition, distinctly Episcopalian. So, yes, the dominant credal identity of the church is something that we share with other Christians. I do think there are distinctly Episcopal statements of faith, like the Baptismal covenant, like the prayer book, like the canons.”
The rest of the interview was Rev. Garner discussing specific events and rites within our church, and how those events and rites build up the Episcopal creeds. His words made me review these things through the lens of “Does this match with my personal creed?”. It forced me to compare my creed with that of my church. Keeping this conversation in mind, I plan to go forward in my religious journey and pay more attention to the words and rituals within my church, and hopefully explore building my own creed and identity, and I invite you to do the same within your own religion and place of worship. The interview closed with me asking Rev. Garner if he had anything else to say or any thoughts or suggestions on this project.
FE: “That’s all the questions that I have prepared. Do you have anything you want to add or questions for me?”
EG: “How many people are you interviewing?”
FE: “Just you, I wanted to get a strictly Episcopalian standpoint.”
He then asked a few basic questions, such as when is my project due? (Tuesday, November 5th) How many people are doing this project? (Around 150) What class is it part of? (English)
EG: “Does thinking about and preparing for your project have any impact or influence on your understanding of your creed?”
FE: “Yes, before this, I didn’t really think about, what a fundamental belief that I had really was, but religion does play an important part, and my personal creed. And so, I’m still pretty young and I haven’t experienced a lot, and so I think talking to you, and kind of thinking about creed and religion is helping to influence and develop my own.”
EG: “Usually, when someone comes and talks to me about this they’re not interviewing me. Usually, they just come and say, ‘I need to understand what the church believes’, and so usually I would ask the questions and say ‘What do you think, what do you hear in church? When you’re with us, when you’re around other Episcopalians in an Episcopal setting, what are the buzzwords, what do you think we care about?’, and I would sort of guide that conversation. I’m fascinated with that. You’ve kind of given me a gift, to think about the ways in which the teachings and creeds of the church relate to an individual sense of belief. One of the other things, you probably know this. Have you been to Confirmation?”
FE: “Yes, last year.”
EG: You probably remember that in the Episcopal Church, one of the ways that we do things is that we don’t tell you what you’re supposed to think about things. We tell you a story, which is to say a Scriptual story or the church’s story, and then we ask you to figure it out in the community. Like we don’t leave people by themselves, usually, it doesn’t help to be isolated in trying to figure out what you believe. But, we spend a lot of time saying, ‘Well, what do you think about that?’, so I hope it’s been a fun project. I appreciate you including me.”
FE: “Of course, thank you so much for your time.”
Throughout the interview, Rev. Garner mentioned two creeds essential to Episcopalians: The Nicene Creed and Apostle’s Creed, which are both written below.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.