Yesterday I went to All Saints Pasadena to attend church with my mother in law. All Saints is an Episcopal parish that is pretty successful and aggressively on the left side of the denomination. I was left with three impressions.
#1 - The left of the church seems to be interested more in the pomp of the service - I grew up in a series of parishes in California that were, even for then, conservative. This service had a lot of people vested and involved. That may be a very good thing but it is different from the parish I attend. The rationale might well be that this is a way to get more people involved. I noticed the same thing when I attended Grace Cathedral for the ordination of my nephew as a deacon.
#2 - The sermon yesterday was interesting but, from my perspective, a bit unbalanced. The Priest yesterday discussed the role of Mary Magdalene in the church. She admitted that when she was given the role in an Easter presentation, she felt a bit demoted. But she made a strong case that even though Mary Magdalene came from low circumstance she could be a participant in the key work of the faith - that Christianity is an inclusive faith. Where I thought her remarks were, at least, a bit unbalanced was in her commentary about the Rome of the time. She tried to make the case that Rome of the time was brutal and non-inclusive. (That is true.) But she also tried to make the case that because of those limitations that we could possibly diminish the breadth of contributions from the Romans. I understand the case, but I disagree with it. One can understand the truly horrible conditions that prevailed in Rome at the time of Christ and yet appreciate the superb contributions made by the civilization. The Aztec civilization was as brutal or more than the Roman one, but I continue to marvel at the advances made in astronomy by them. Churchill's admonition about democracies fits here - "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." The Roman system of government/ or criminal justice/ or food safety/ or almost anything else does not stand up to today's standards but it did stand up to the comparative systems of the time.
#3 - What are the appropriate limits of Christian action? In the announcements phase of the service, one of the officiants urged all of the people there to sign a petition to the Interior Secretary and to write to the California Senate Appropriations Committee - to take action against hydraulic fracturing. (The process by which fluids are injected into rocks with petroleum resources to extract oil and gas.) California has, in my opinion, severely restricted the availability of petroleum by a series of restrictions on exploration and development. As a result, we have some of the highest prices for gas in the country. I doubt the Priest has any technical background to understand the process of fracking. And I found her dogmatic interjection on two public policy measures to be curious. One of the key themes which I believe has turned off many people to the left side of protestant denominations has been the extensions which many make into the political realm. There are clearly places where one's faith an politics should intertwine - but in this case I think the extension to policies on fracking is a bit of a stretch.
That being said, All Saints is a vibrant parish with a lot of active parishioners.