A year or so ago, I ran into a Roman, as in Catholic and not nationality, priest on a subway car. I don’t see Roman Catholic priests in clericals very often, so I wondered whether he might be an Episcopalian or perhaps a Lutheran. We talked a bit and have gotten together a couple of times, one being yesterday. When I was showing him around St. Paul’s, he mentioned the confessional booth we have in the back of the nave. It hasn’t been used in a long time, primarily because when someone wants to confess it is usually done face-to-face these days.
I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about wanting to return to using the booth for a type of confession in a kind of way that may resonate with young folks who do not have a history or tradition of confession.
In Christianity Today (August, 2008 edition), there is an article of an Evangelical pastor and his church and the decision that several of them made to decide together to actually live out Leviticus for a month. Now, they didn’t live the judgments – what was to be done if a law was actually broken. If they did, they would end up in prison – can’t go around killing children when they talk back to their parents. The outcome and what they experienced and learned is interesting.
The pastor wrote the following about a fellow participant in the experiment, which coming from an American-Evangelical is of interest to me. The following quote gets to the growing use of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer by American-Evangelicals/Reformed Christians (and I’m sure to the chagrin of many older American-Evangelical leaders that consider anything touched by the heretical Episcopal Church to be anathema). It also gets to the point about the sense I have concerning confession. Anyway, he wrote:
“For the participants in the Levitical experience, its power for personal transformation was unexpected and perhaps the most rewarding aspect. One wrote, ‘I had a hard time with Leviticus month. For about 30 days and 18 hours, I groused and complained… Early in the month I had been reading through the sacrificial section and was convinced that the modern-day, post-Jesus equivalent is confession. This is something I knew about from my Catholic days, but it had never been part of my life. I was not interested in doing this again – but the way I was not wanting to made me think that I really ought to. So I looked up the Episcopal liturgy, made arrangements with an accommodating confessor, took a very deep breath, and jumped in.’ [Emphasis mine. I will assume he went to an Episcopal priest as his confessor, since it was the Episcopal liturgy of “Reconciliation of a Penitent” that he referred to, but perhaps not.]
“‘I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was not what I was expecting. This was Large. This was a Major Life Event. I spent hours dredging up the muck in my life and preparing my list – and then it was all washed away. Gone. I was walking on air. And all of a sudden I knew that I was in a really good place and I did not want to muck it up anymore. Okay God, I prayed, this is fantastic. I want to stay here. Whaddya want me to do?’ Needless to say, reading through Leviticus again looked so different in light of grace.” (p. 33)
I do think there is a whole bunch of people who would find confession an incredible experience, if they could get beyond their self-consciousness, fear, lack of trust in a confessor, or who knows what. It is a practice that I have been anticipating for a while now, but I just haven’t gotten to it. I should. While I know that God has already forgiven me my sins as I confess to Him, a confessor is one who can confirm when I still doubt that God has truly forgiven me, restored me, and makes me able to freely forgive those who “sin against me.”