Change your religion but not your passion.
Like millions of Americans, Ellen has moved through a wide range of religious experiences in her life. Born into a New York Jewish family, she moved through Christian Fundamentalism, home churches and even a period of secular inactivity. Today, she’s active in a diverse Episcopal Church.
“What are you?”
When someone asks me that question about my religious affiliation, I remember something a friend told me back while I was involved in a house church in New York. That day I was very upset about something that had happened, and my friend Bob told me: “Never let anybody put you into a box.” I have tried to live my life that way—by not putting myself into a box and not putting anyone else into a box. The problem is that as soon as we’re stuck in a mental box, or we put other people in a box—whether it’s a professional, theological, spiritual, sexual or political box—then that’s how you’re defined in another person’s mind. And you’re never going to get back out of that box, in most cases. You’re stuck. If you do that to other people, then it’s hard to be fully accepting.
I was born Jewish. Now, I say I’m an Episcopalian. I don’t say I’m “Christian”—that word describes a particular box for most people. Sometimes I do have fun with these ways of defining myself. In church, I remember someone saying that, spiritually speaking, “We’re all ‘adopted.’ ” I said, “No, you might be ‘adopted.’ I was chosen!”
It’s important to be aware of these boxes, because thereare a lot of people eager to push others into them for their own purposes. Back in the 1980s, when I was working for NBC News, I went back and forth to Los Angeles each year. Once, a friend invited me to visit a church on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. It turned out to be this nondenominational church with a rock band on stage and, soon, people around me were speaking in tongues.
At that point I was sliding down in my chair, trying to be invisible, because I didn’t want to be around these people. But the whole thing works on you. At the end, the minister on stage asked, “Does anybody here want to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?” And, my hand went up! I always want to deny that I actually raised my hand, but it happened. My hand went up!
The next thing I knew, I was taken someplace where people were praying and talking to us about starting Bible studies and I was already saying to myself: It’s going to be OK. I’m going back to New York soon. It’s going to be OK. My church now, St. John’s Episcopal, is the perfect church for me. Here, everyone is accepted. Everyone is welcome. We have a sign that says “You are welcome” and at this church, we mean it. There are people who drive long distances to attend this church.
Read the stories from the Women of WISDOM:
This story about religious change is from Friendship & Faith, a book that delves into the decisions and experiences about faith and friendship shared by a group of Detroit-area women. This particular story how to change religions and the obstacles faced is by Ellen Ehrlich, a woman of WISDOM.