Rev’d. Cara Rockhill (she/her) is a coffee drinking, rescue dog loving, baseball fan (Go Nationals!), originally from Maryland. Her understanding of Scripture was honed at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and her appreciation and performance of liturgy was taught at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.
Rev’d. Cara was called as Priest-in-Charge by the Parish of St. Paul in February 2021. Prior to this, she has served at churches in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts, and was also honored to serve at the Missioner for Young Adults and Vicar of the Cathedral of St. John for the Diocese of Rhode Island. Cara is also a recovering defense attorney who is still baffled by Boston traffic and the lack of turn signals used in this otherwise wonderful state to live in.
As part of Rev’d. Cara’s work, she authored a series of “Christianity 101” questions & responses. We’re including several of them here, so you can get to know more about her approach to God and the Episcopal Church.
What is Christianity?
Good question. And one that I think a lot of people would answer very differently. But generally speaking, Christianity is the religion founded around the teachings of a man named Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Palestinian Jew. A Christian is a person who identifies as a believer, follower, and/or worshiper of Jesus.
The term Christian comes from the belief that Jesus was the Messiah – one sent from God. The Greek for messiah is Christ. So Jesus of Nazareth was the Christos – the Christ. Christianity is the religion based on his life and teachings. His life and teachings are captured in the New Testament, which can be found in the Bible.
There are a lot of different ways of being a Christian. Some ways are closer to the original intent of what Christ taught, and some ways follow the words of Christ literally. However, Jesus was very clear on a couple of teachings (which is saying something because most of what Christ taught was in parables): love God; love yourself; love your neighbor as you love yourself; take care of those in need.
What is God?
This is probably the most complicated question to answer (which is saying something, because there are A LOT of complicated questions in religion). God is often depicted as really resembling Santa Clause: an old white man with a beard who lives in the sky.
However, God is not a man, nor white, and does not have a beard. At least, I don’t think so.
I tend to describe God as an amorphous ball of light and love. No distinct shape. No beard. Just Energy. God is the energy that created, sustains, and provides the life force that powers all. This energy is experienced as love. It is love at the core of everything. That love may be covered up, or even occasionally removed to pursue other interests, but God is love.
And love powers all.
Who is/was Jesus?
Jesus was a First Century Jewish man, living in the region now disputed between Israel and Palestine. Many, myself included, consider Jesus to have been a Palestinian man. However, this is not universally accepted as a fact. So, Jesus was a Jewish man, who lived in the first century, born in Bethlehem, which is now in Palestine, and at the time the region was under Roman occupation. Jesus had dark skin, deeply tan or black. He had a beard. He was Middle Eastern.
Often, Jesus is depicted in pictures as looking like a white guy from Michigan, often with blue eyes and blond or occasionally brown hair, cut in a way that resembles a mullet. However, by all accounts, Jesus was an average looking Middle Eastern, Jewish man. He had dark skin, dark eyes, and almost certainly a beard.
And Jesus was a good guy. He really was. He was an incredible teacher and spiritual leader. We don’t have many specifics on Jesus, but it was common for roaming spiritual leaders or teachers at the time to be called “Rabbi”. We also know that Jesus taught a way of life that brought meaning to the lives of many who met him, learned from him, and for many who continue to learn from him today.
Jesus stood up to oppressors and called out injustice. Jesus was so political, and such a threat to the established political order and power structure, that the ruling elite had him executed.
His birthday is celebrated in December, but more than likely he was born sometime in the Spring. Jesus was a refugee early in life, as his parents fled Israel to avoid political persecution and he was born during that time.
Jesus’s ministry is captured in the Gospels, which are 4 different depictions of the same stories, written from different points of view and with different goals. There are independent sources of information that confirm a man named Jesus lived, that he was a rabble rouser, had a following, and was executed as a criminal by the state.
Jesus was very important and influential, and his followers were also important and influential. So much so that for a long time, the years were told in terms of “Before Christ” (BC) and “After Death” (AD). However, time is now told using the terms “Common Era” (CE) and “Before Common Era” (BCE).
What is the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit, formerly known as the Holy Ghost, is the continuing presence of God on earth. Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit, but the idea was also part of the Jewish tradition at the time.
The Holy Spirit is hard to explain, but if you’ve ever felt a warm gust of wind out of nowhere that seems to be trying to convey a message, I would argue that’s the Holy Spirit. Or if you’ve suddenly had just the right words to say, or have remembered to call an old friend at just the right moment, I would offer that is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is God, but not in a body (like Jesus), nor is it a ball of energy (like God). It’s one third of the Holy Trinity (the God type, not the delicious ingredients of carrot, onion, and celery, or carrot, onion, and bell peppers if you’re in Creole country).
What is the Trinity?
God comes in three forms, commonly said as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” But, I think this is confusing and misleading. Because: A) God is not an older white man; and, B) it makes it seem as though there are three distinct celestial beings.
Instead, I prefer this explanation, which is based on my understanding of something Catholic theologian, Rev. Thomas Weinandy, wrote: God is the speaker, Christ the word, Spirit the breath.
God is all of these things, at once, because God is not limited to a human body and to our human understanding of time and space.
God is an amorphous ball of energy, that once became fully human in the being of Jesus of Nazareth, and continues to float around bringing love in the form of the Holy Spirit.
What is Church?
Church is another of those things that can be difficult to define because so many people define it differently. So I went to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for a definition. It defines church as: 1. “[a] building for public, especially Christian worship.” And as: 2. “[t]he company of al Christians regarded as a spiritual body.” Church can also refer to a denomination (a denomination being a specific branch of Christianity).
At it’s best, I think Church is best defined somewhere in definition 2, as a community of people gathered together. Church tends to be regarded as a building or a place (just think about it, when you say “I’m going to church” do you mean a building or a service or something else?). But really, church can be or happen anywhere.
Originally, the Christian Church was a place where the earliest believers in Christ and the way of life he taught would gather together to learn together, support one another, break bread together, and find a way to figure out together what their place is in this world.
If you’re interested in how we’re trying to live into this definition of church, please click here (redirect to why be part of church here?).
Why go to Church?
Another great question that can be difficult to answer. Church can be really good at helping grow in a relationship with God. Christian Churches are best at helping grow in an individual relationship with Christ. Church can help in your spiritual journey. And it also allows you an opportunity to be in community.
When church is what I believe it can be, it offers people an opportunity to best learn and understand their place in this world. A world that these days seems really confusing and like it’s about to start spinning out of control. Church should be a place where a community of people gathers together to learn together, to confront difficult topics, and to grow in faith – whatever their faith may be.
If any of that sounds appealing to you, church might be a good place for you. If you’re interested in exploring or growing in a relationship with Christ, the Christian Church is probably a place for you. If you’re interested in tackling difficult questions, understanding your place in this world, hopefully exploring a relationship with God through Christ (if ever you’re ready), while also helping to make our city a better place, this church is a great place for you.
What is the Episcopal Church?
I might be a bit biased (because I’m an Episcopal Priest), but simply put, the Episcopal Church is the best denomination. There is a wide range of beliefs that fall under the umbrella of the Episcopal Church, from highly liberal to moderately conservative. There are also a wide range of worship styles from very high church (called anglo-catholic because it’s a Catholic style worship with the belief system of the Episcopal church) to low church with guitars and priests in jeans.
Episcopal comes from the Greek word for “overseer”. The structure of the denomination is based on Bishops, who are overseers of the churches and people in the geographic region they oversee (called a diocese). It’s basically a family tree, with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the top, and the branches are the Bishops of each of the Anglican denominations (Anglican being Latin for English – the Church of England).
The Episcopal Church was born following the American Revolution, when we really couldn’t be the Church of England anymore. At the top of our branch is the Presiding Bishop. Currently, its Bishop Michael Curry. If you watched the latest Royal Wedding, you might recognize him. The Episcopal Church is broken up into different Dioceses, which tend to correlate with major metropolitan areas, and states. Our church is within the Diocese of Massachusetts, with Bishop Alan Gates at the top.
The Episcopal Church is interesting in that we are (generally speaking) the more liberal arm of the Anglican tree, but the belief system is one that leaves space for all kinds of beliefs, from more traditional (or conservative) to more open and liberal. This is true of worship style and beliefs. And this is reflected in the people who generally fill Episcopal Churches on Sundays.
Why are there so many types of Churches?
The best way I can think to answer this is to think about hats. There are a lot of different hat styles and sizes. Each person has their own hat style preference (and some don’t like hats at all) and their own size (I tend to prefer a baseball cap with a rounded brim).
Church is the same way, I think. There are a lot of different styles and sizes. Big, small, Bible Study only, loud, soft, traditional, evangelical, meditative, and a whole lot more. The beauty of there being a lot of different style churches (click here to find out more about our style at the Cathedral) is you can choose the style that best suits you and your needs.
If you’re interested in going to church, make sure you take the time to figure out what size and style is best for you. And it’s ok if your style changes. What’s important is to find a community you want to be part of, and an environment where you feel safe and able to engage and learn more about yourself, your faith, and develop or deepen your relationship with God. In the Episcopal Church we develop and deepen our relationship with God through the teachings of Christ.