Be a Light for Someone in Darkness…

What I know about the Advent/Christmas season from 34 years of parish ministry and pastoral care is that many people are hurting this time of year. This is a particular kind of hurting that is related to loss in one’s life, and especially that of loved ones that are no longer physically present. The sights, smells and sounds of Christmas, coupled with the expectation of being merry and joyful can be a real emotional challenge to someone experiencing loss. All of us have been that person who has experienced loss at one point or another in our lives that was particularly magnified at Christmastime. And, for some individuals their loss is so great that every year at Christmas their pain reemerges.

This past week, I attended the “Blue Christmas” Eucharist at Grace Church Cathedral here in Charleston. This is a service that many churches offer this time of year for those experiencing the pain of loss during this season. I was first exposed to the power of such a service when I was the rector of St. John’s in Versailles, Kentucky. I attended this service at Grace not so much for myself, but to consciously be present in support of the many attending. The power of this service is that all come together in community around the Lord’s Table with the shared bond of grief and faith. There is always a time in this service where candles are lit in remembrance—a time that light breaks into the darkness.

Holy Scripture is filled with references of light that represent both God the Father and God the Son. And, within this Advent/Christmas season we are especially flooded with such images. On Christmas Eve we shall hear again the powerful words of the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” I believe that whether or not we are one experiencing loss at this time, the power of the light of God in His Son Jesus overcoming darkness offers us new hope. And, if you are not one experiencing the pain that another feels, perhaps God is urging you to be a light for them as well. Can you help light another’s darkness?

The power of light and darkness, and our responsibility to be a light for Christ, came to me in a new way during our time in Germany last week for the “Weihnachtsmarkt,” the Christmas Market. Each day in Germany the sun rose at 8:15am and set by 4:15pm—just eight hours of daylight in the midst of very cold temperatures. What struck me though, was how as the darkness converged upon the city of Rothenburg, the lights of the season took hold upon all both magically and in holiness. I reflected upon how those lights overcame the early and sudden darkness in a way that brought all together in a spirit of love, peace, and joy. And, I imagined anew how we as individuals could be that same kind of light for others when they are overcome with sadness, grief, and darkness. This is something that I have tried to be for others in my ministry, need still to be both more intentional and better at, and invite you to strive with me in this challenge.

May the Light of Christ this season shine brightly for you, and through you be a light to those in darkness…

The Christian Response in this time of Political Turmoil…A Veteran’s Day Reflection

I am greatly discouraged by where we find ourselves as the nation and people of America. For the first time in my life I am worried about the future of our Democracy. We are entering both an historic and very painful time for our country, as public hearings begin this week in the Impeachment Inquiry of the President. All indications are pointing toward a vote on Articles of Impeachment in the House, and an upcoming trial in the Senate. And this will be only the third time for such an action, provided in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers, in our nation’s 243-year history.

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What is most disturbing though is how fractured we have become as people of: “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I believe that the advent of 24-hour cable news and the power of social media, have not worked to strengthen our union, but rather continues to divide us. We seek out “our tribe,” our people so to speak, that reassure us in our thinking, with little regard for getting to the facts and truth. And, when facts and truth are constantly distorted, ignored, and purely subjective, well, we are terribly lost.

You and I have witnessed the awful vitriol on social media. Recently, I came across a person that had responded harshly to a priest colleague of mine that had put up a theological/political post. I wrote an honest and direct response to this unknown person who had attacked my friend, posted it, and then thought better of engaging his anger and quickly deleted it. Somehow though, that person still saw it and immediately wrote back an incredibly harsh and vulgar response. I was sad about the whole episode, sad for him and his hostility, but deeply saddened by the thought of “what have we become?” Is this the America for which our Veterans served, fought, and sacrificed? My response back to his attack was simply, “God’s peace and love.”

However, I am not so sure that God’s peace and love in these times will be enough. Certainly, we are going to have to try harder as individuals and with one another. We are going to have to appeal to our better angels. Each of us have both political leanings and strong opinions on this impeachment. So, what are we to do?

Perhaps, above all else we should return to positions of love and mutual respect, even in the midst of our grave differences. Maybe we should diligently seek out the truth, and be open to respectful dialogue with those with whom we differ. There will be many unwilling to do this; however, I am counting on that there will be enough of us. And maybe, just maybe, in love and peace we should be in constant prayer for this time, one another, and for our Democracy; that, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…”

Did I do enough? Let that question go…

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The questions that seem to plague each individual at some point in life are, “Did I do enough…Could I have done more, or something differently?” Certainly, this has been a constant theme of conversations that individuals have brought to me as their priest about one or more events in their lives. And, it is as well a question that I focused upon in my pursuit of a Doctorate in Psychology, because it constantly challenged both my ministry and personal life.

Every aspect of our life’s journey and story often has buried within these chapters, a pervasive guilt that we did not do enough, or the right thing to affect the outcome of some event, relationship, or difficult time. Does that resonate with your life’s experience and journey?

Each day, I am awakened by my dog Jack as he jumps into the bed and starts licking my face, before scooting under the covers. Recently, in a dream-like state of mind I for a moment thought that it was my former dog, Maggie, that was licking me and urging me to get up. But, of course it was my new “best friend,” Jack. Later that morning, I wondered what that was all about; and, it came to me that I still grieved her death. But even more, it raised the deep feelings for me about the events leading up to my father’s death last year, and that grief.

Perhaps though, that experience for me was pointing to an even much larger and deeper truth for each of us and our struggles to come to terms with the events of our lives that have pained and affected us deeply. Maybe so much so, that you found yourself bringing to God your pervasive sense of guilt and questions of what you could have done differently to affect the outcome.

I have sat in my office listening to many who have struggled with and questioned what they could have done differently to save their marriage. In the middle of the night, I have stood at the bedside with the wife of a parishioner who had just shot himself in the head, asking me how she could have missed the signs that led to this tragic act. And, I have listened to a corporate executive near tears, trying to figure out how he could have avoided being told that after all those years of dedicated work and service, he was no longer needed.

Did I do enough…Could I have done more, or something differently? Although these are among the natural questions that arise, none of them are helpful, or life-giving. Let these questions go; give them to God, and ask how can I in a healthy and holy way move forward? Give yourself the time needed. Trust and know that you did the best that you could in that time, with what you then knew and were able to handle.

Finally, when possible reach out to others in just such a place and be a listening ear and caring soul for them. And remember, that to give real care means our willingness to help another in taking their brokenness into the gateway of hope. 20th century Psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl, wrote: “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

Claiming Jesus: Just not the American One

The first Bible that I received as a gift, and still have in my library, was from my parents on Christmas Day, 1967.  It was “The Children’s Bible,” one that I continue to treasure with my late mother’s inscription.  Here, was where my first visual images of Jesus from that children’s picture bible was that of a blonde haired, blue eyed Savior.  And, quite naturally that took hold in my young consciousness. Of course, as a first century Jew and Aramean, his resemblance would have been that of a brown skinned, dark eyed, brown haired person of color. And, I find it deeply troubling that the former Jesus, the one created in the image of white America, continues to be upheld in 21st century America and in so many churches.

Why I find it so disturbing is not so much in the false continuance of this European looking Jesus, although that’s troubling, but rather in the ongoing false narrative of what exactly Christ taught, lived, and that for which He died.  QBBG9992You see, Jesus was and is in fact the antithesis of what so much of American culture and religion have neatly packaged him up to be; the nice and comfortable Christ. Jesus was radical in his teachings, whom he loved, whom he forgave and accepted, and with whom he sat at table and broke bread.

Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “Let no one deceive you in any way…” That was written within the first century of the newly forming Christian Church, where we already see the grave concerns that Christ’s teachings would most certainly come up against attempts of distortion and adaptations to the desires of culture and those in authority.

This year, more than others, I was deeply moved on All Saints’ Sunday when I stood up to read the words of Jesus from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. So much so, that my eyes teared up. Jesus is gathered with his disciples, when he suddenly looks them in the eyes and begins speaking: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…But woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now…Woe to you who are laughing now…” What is it that Jesus is getting at in these powerful words to his disciples?

Jesus is not so much putting down the rich, those with full bellies, or those who have laughter, but rather he is attacking their often casual and comfortable indifference to those who are not those things and as such suffer. Christ was addressing this great sin of first century Palestine, and one that would be both ongoing and universal. Today, this is sadly so very prevalent amongst those in office in our nation’s capital, within our institutions, and the populace; and, I believe that is why this gospel brought those unanticipated tears.

Jesus ends that talk to his disciples with these words: “But I say to you that listen, Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Are we doing that as individuals, as a Church, and as the nation of America? This week we honor all of our veterans who served and fought for our country; what kind of nation were they risking their lives for and dedicating their service? You see, ifwe want to claim Jesus as individuals and as a nation, then it needs to be the Jesus of Holy Scripture, and not the one that we have conveniently created in some other image.

Jesus was never a single-issue Savior, except perhaps for his call to die on the cross for the sins of the world and the salvation of our souls. In fact, most of the single issues that many Christians claim to be that of Christ’s are never even mentioned by him in the gospels. Rather, what Jesus consistently lived and taught was that all are the beloved of God, and that when we claim him as Lord we do not get to pick and choose where we accept and apply his teachings. By Jesus’ standards we are called to serve and love all; especially, if we are in a position of means to do so by our wealth, full bellies, and happy lives. When Jesus says that we should do to others as we would have them do to us, he is not commenting that this would be nice, but rather stating that this is required when we claim Him to be ours.

If you claim Christianity and you are not deeply troubled by the present state of our nation, well you should be. Imagine Jesus being nice and comfortable with the kind of language, discourse, and behavior that we see and hear everyday on our national news. Imagine Jesus being okay with children being detained and separated from their parents at the border. Imagine what Jesus would have to say about the kind of greed that keeps our citizens from affordable healthcare, prescription drugs, food and housing. Finally, if you see the above as political rather than issues of faith, perhaps you should revisit which Jesus you claim and follow. May we together claim the Jesus of the gospels…

 

Time to Say Goodbye: Why Holy and Healthy Goodbyes are So Important…

Have you ever missed or been denied the opportunity to say a proper goodbye? I have spoken with many for whom this is true, and listened to the emotional and spiritual difficulties that ensued as a result. And, it is an experience with which I can personally relate.

I remember one of the last times I visited with my mother as she was dying of cancer. As I drove away from my parents’ home in Bluffton, South Carolina, I had to pull the car over to the side of the road just minutes away from their house. I was uncontrollably grieving the inevitable loss of my mother, but as well the possibility that I would not be with her when she died. The grief was so powerful that I thought I was about to be very ill. You see, in addition to my mother’s impending death, I was afraid that we had not yet had a proper and holy farewell. Now, as it turned out, I was fortunate and blessed to be with my mother alongside my father at the moment of her death. We had that proper goodbye, which enabled and empowered me to move forward in both a healthy and holy way. Yet, what about those times when we are not given that chance by fate or circumstances?

Music has always spoken so powerfully to me, and especially in just such times. And, it was Andrea Bocelli’s, “Time to Say Goodbye,” that did so in 2006 when my mother died. A portion of the words are this: “It’s time to say goodbye. When you are distant, dream on the horizon…And I do, I know that you are with me, with me. You my moon, you are here with me.  My sun, you are here with me…With me, with me, with me.”

What are those times, those places, or those with whom you did not have that chance to say goodbye? Those experiences can be very hard with which to come to terms. I have fortunately only experienced this once, yet as you know if you have been there, is one too many.

This past week, I was reminded of this time more than once. One, was with an individual who was struggling in her present work situation. I shared my experience with her of being denied the opportunity for a proper and holy leaving, within a church of all places. I tried to tell her with both understanding and compassion. that if she had control of her leaving and goodbye, then she should strive to make it a good one.

However, the truth is that most times we are not in control of those times and goodbyes. And so, I invite you to let go of any thoughts that you could have done it differently. Instead, rest in the knowledge that you did the best you knew how in that time. And, take that very difficult experience and use it for good in helping others have loving and holy goodbyes. God understands what you have been through, loves you, and calls you to move forward…

September 11th; 18 years Later

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was still at our home watching the Today Show when the north tower of the World Trade Center was struck at 8:46 AM. It was thought to be an accident of perhaps a small plane, so I headed to Trinity Cathedral where I was Dean. Right after I got up to my office, the south tower was hit at 9:03 AM, and our world and my ministry changed in an instant and forever.

Because we were the Cathedral and across the street from the State House, we immediately had to focus on our response to the city and its people struggling to make sense of it all, and grieving the tremendous loss of lives. A prayer service later that day was hurriedly put together by me and the staff, as well as a major 9-11 memorial service for the entire city that Friday—some 700 attended, including the Governor, Mayor, State Representatives, and Religious leaders of all denominations and faiths. I asked my friend, Jim Sonnenfeld of Hootie and the Blowfish to sing a tribute, and he agreed.

And it was a month later, on the coast of South Carolina, that I could finally catch my breath and consider what had just happened to us as a nation, church, and the people of God.

As I walked the beach at high tide for the first time following September 11th, it became painfully clear that the faith that I had known, as well as the God who had called me to be a priest, was in that ocean under my feet in a different way. The question that confronted me, and indeed all of us was whether or not we were willing to engage the spiritual life in a meaningful way, even in the most difficult of times. Were we willing to seek God, serve God’s people, and be all that God desired for us even when we were up against incredible odds? I learned that day that my answer, as well as the answer of so many, was a resounding YES.

So let us give thanks for the heroes of 9-11, and remember with tears and pray for the 2,977 souls that perished that day…

Hurricane Dorian, the Bahamas, and Where was God?

What was your week like? For those of us living in the path of Hurricane Dorian it was a quite disorienting one. It was really difficult to even remember the day of the week, as all of our focus was on the various models from both here and Europe as to where and when this hurricane might reach us in all of its ferocity. Then, as we waited here in the states for Dorian, we were horrified and deeply saddened for the independent Commonwealth and people of the Bahamas who endured an unprecedented hurricane that sat on top of them for days, with at times 185-mile an hour winds. As we cleaned up outside of our home in Charleston, I kept reminding myself of how this was nothing for us. The first images of that nation were even worse than we could have ever imagined. And I did not imagine, but instead sadly wondered “where was God” for those beautiful people, the Bahamians?

The question of where God in the midst of natural disasters is and evil perpetrated by humanity has daunted me throughout my life and ministry. It has of course been front and center for Christian theologians and the Church as well. How can God, if the Divine is all powerful and in control allow such things to happen to innocent men, women, and children? This is a struggle for you isn’t it? I heard someone say in a coastal city of South Carolina, that the day before the hurricane was expected to reach them, they all prayed that God would spare them; and, in that place the hurricane did indeed cause very little damage. Well, to be fair I prayed similar words for my family, our homes, and church, yet does that mean God listened to me but not others? Somehow, I do not think so.

34-years of pastoral experiences in priesthood and 59-years of life experiences have together taught me that evil happens mostly indiscriminately. I have ministered to families who lost a very young child, a daughter who just gave birth to their grandchild, and a man who in the middle of his life saw no better option than suicide. Personally, I watched my wife lose both of her parents just several years into our marriage, lost my mother to a horrible cancer, and have like so many others endured the unthinkable in the Church. And you too have had similar experiences, and like me have questioned: “where is God in the midst of this apparent evil?”

I am so very grateful for my theological studies under Dr. Richard Carpenter, Dr. Alan Jones, and Dr. Philip Turner at the General Theological Seminary. Yes, they gave me an academic understanding of the nature of evil, but more than that they gave me the tools that enabled me to minister effectively to others. I share with you at a fundamental level my understanding of all these years of study and ministry, and it comes down to this simple, yet profound statement and belief: God did not cause your suffering and pain. More than that, do not ever let anyone tell you that somehow it was part of God’s plan.

Whether or not you choose to believe it literally, or as a biblical story that teaches a truth, the Genesis passage of how evil entered the world is an all important one. God, in God’s infinite love for humanity has given us freedom to choose—what theologians as St. Augustine have called “free will.” And, when first humanity chose wrongly, sin entered the world. This sin or evil manifested itself in two ways: as natural evil—like hurricanes, earthquakes, and draught: and, human evil—like what we are presently experiencing in these mass shootings, or any action of one person that harms another.

Hurricane Dorian reminded me once again that although God is all powerful and in control, God is not in the heavens pushing every button or pulling every string. In God’s infinite love for humanity we and the universe have been given free will. That is both an incredible gift, and at times a struggle for you and me in our faith as we seek to understand how terrible things can happen both in our lives and within the lives of others. Yet, that is our faith—the ability to believe in things unseen, yet know to be true; and, the courage to not only move forward in the most difficult of times personally, but also to be ever-present for those in need whom we are called to serve in their suffering. And, I believe that all of this is both hope-filled and Good News…

When God Doesn’t Answer

Throughout my adult life and as a priest, one of the places that I have returned to again and again to be close to God is the ocean’s coast. And more than being close to God, what I most desire in those solo walks at the ocean’s edge is to hear the voice of the Lord above the surf, within the cries of the seagulls, in the puffy white cumulus clouds, and in the sun’s reflection upon the crashing waves.

This week, I returned once again. Here in Charleston, South Carolina my place for such a needed walk is often on the Isle of Palms. I walked on Tuesday for about an hour and a half, to and from a place where few people go, and the vastness of the ocean and shoreline remind one of a bygone time when there were no houses and that was all that existed. As I walked, I prayed the words of the young Samuel over and over again: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10)

Now, I was not asking for anything specific, rather it was an attempt to seek and understand more fully what it was that God wants and expects from me at this point in my life and priesthood. What is God’s call…what does God want for and of me at this point in my life? Have you ever prayed such a prayer? You see, both my blessing and perhaps my curse on this thing we call the “Christian Spiritual Journey,” is a constant restlessness and desire to be doing more. There is a Collect, a prayer within The Episcopal Church that reads, “Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may be enabled to live according to your will.” (Collect for 9 Pentecost)

When I was the Dean of Trinity Cathedral, a parishioner and dear friend named Walter shared with me while we were at his home on the coast of South Carolina, how long walks along that coast talking to God was his greatest solace in one of the darkest periods of his life. He had been a very successful businessman, who suddenly lost almost everything when the economy took a drastic downturn. Walter would walk for hours along that beach putting his life in the hands of God and seeking the face of God. In time, he completely recovered from that period with great success. I was blessed to be at Walter’s bedside at the time of his death. Praying with this generous soul and holding his hand as he passed into eternal life, I knew with certainty that he now came face to face with the God he sought and prayed to you on those many walks along the ocean’s shore.

I suspect that many, if not all of you, have perhaps in this way or in one that is unique and special to you, actively sought God’s words and direction for your life. When you are attentive to, and serious about the Christian Spiritual Journey, then this is both a natural proclivity and activity in your life. And you know as well, that hearing clearly those words of our Lord can more often than not, be quite challenging and frustrating.

I wish that I could tell you that I heard God’s voice that day. Yet, I did not. This was as well the same day that one of America’s great novelists, and a favorite of mine, Toni Morrison died. On that walk, her words did though come to me as a revelatory prayer as I looked out at the expanse and beauty of God’s creation in that sandy beach and aqua blue ocean: “You are my shaper and my world as well. It is done. No need to choose.” Yes, God and Jesus are my life.

You see, God is always with you—even in the apparent silence, and in everything that you are going through. Although I did not specifically hear God’s voice on that walk on the beach, I was once again powerfully reminded in both the ocean’s sounds and in the silence, of how when we know God as “God-with-us,” we claim and live into an intimate relationship with our creator.

And, I believe that above all else, what God is asking of you is this intimate relationship. God is always with you, and what God is asking of you is an acknowledgment of this reality and truth. Like me, you may not hear the voice of God. Yet, even in the silence God is present. God is with you, loves you fully for who you are, and will lead you into his will…

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A Dog’s Love, God’s Love, and What it is to Follow…

My beloved companion and dog Maggie is now heading into her 13th year of life. We have had her for six and a half-years of that life, as we adopted her at age six from a shelter in Lexington, Kentucky.  Maggie, a mix of black Labrador Retriever and Rhodesian Ridgeback, has been the perfect dog and companion. The best ever!  She is very smart, was very strong, and totally loving and loyal. Maggie came into my life when I really needed her. If you have been fortunate enough to have such a companion dog, then you know. Want to know what God’s unconditional love is like…then look to this kind of dog. Which, dog by the way, is God spelled backwards. Coincidence, well maybe?

Throughout her years with me, Maggie has followed me everywhere I go. When I would ride the mower on our farm in Versailles, Kentucky, Maggie would spend the day out there with me as we made sure those 11 acres were mowed, in good shape, and that the horses were well cared for, fed, and happy.  I often miss those bluegrass Kentucky days, but more than that I miss the fact that Maggie is no longer that healthy, young, and vibrant gal that used to run alongside me in the pastures. Maggie followed me wherever I would go, and that is not so easy for her these days.

“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have their nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” This exchange in the passage from the 9th chapter of Luke’s Gospel between Jesus and another, is both profound and emotional. We hear in the words of Jesus a kind of sadness that he cannot find that place of home and peace. And we hear of an individual, so taken with Jesus, that he will follow him wherever he goes. And I believe from my personal Christian journey, as well as listening to the stories of so many in my ministry, that this is a somewhat universal experience; wanting to follow Jesus and yet like Jesus, not ever finding that place of rest and peace we so desire. So, what are we to do in the midst of it all?  Following Jesus can be tough stuff.

We, as Saint Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Galatians, are to love like Jesus. “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5) You see, the only way that we will ever find true rest and peace in this life, the only way that we may authentically follow Jesus, is to love our neighbor as ourselves…to love like Jesus. Perhaps, our Lord could never find rest because he himself was the source of that peace and rest.  Jesus was carrying forth the monumental task and mission to bring others to an understanding of that love of God, which had the effect of bringing individuals like you and me to want to follow.  And that began over 2000 years ago!

In that same Letter to the Church in Galatia, Saint Paul writes: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” And again, I am emotionally reminded of my dog Maggie, and I am theologically reminded of the call to always follow Jesus in just this way and without conditions… Maggie

An Episcopal Bishop and Hero: Remembering +William Alexander Guerry of South Carolina

untitledWhat would you be willing to do for your faith in Jesus Christ? Are you willing to be at risk for your Christian faith? Would you be willing to sacrifice: popularity, friendships, security, and perhaps even your very life in the Name of Christ Jesus? These are very difficult questions to honestly consider, and ones that I believe get at the essential being of the man, Christian, priest and bishop for whom we remember on this Feast Day in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina to honor, celebrate, and remember—+William Alexander Guerry.

Always a good idea for self-examination for the church and each of us individually.  In the 21st century it is so easy for us to communicate via the tools of social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, and the written word are all at our disposal. Yet, perhaps you, like me, at times find yourself not speaking out as a Christian for fear of alienating family, friends, and even strangers. This seems to be especially true in this very polarized time and nation in which we are now living. There is even almost half of our nation’s population that does not exercise their democratic right to vote in the election of our nation’s leaders.  Apathy and discouragement of course play a part, yet, Jesus calls and encourages each of us to represent his morality, his teachings, and his love in all spheres of our lives.

Listen to these words of +Bishop Guerry in the early 1900’s: “If the Church is to be truly national and American, she must be the Church of God for all people. She must concern herself with the life of the people. Everything that makes for civic improvement or social betterment or industrial peace must be included in the saving power of the Gospel she is sent to preach. Nothing which in any way concerns the bodily, mental or spiritual welfare of any of God’s children can be foreign to her interest or lie outside of the sphere of her influence or the field of her labors. In a word, the Church of God in this age must realize as never before that she has a mission to perform to society as well as to the individual.”  (From an article in The Churchman, July 18, 1914) These would be powerful and timely words if they were written by a bishop in 2019, but imagine them being spoken by the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina in 1914…105 years-ago.

I rarely post anything with even the hint of politics on social media.  But a couple of weeks ago, I did so from a Gospel perspective.  A former parishioner from several parishes ago commented on the post: ” Stick to the Bible, not politics.”  I wanted to respond, “read the words of Jesus, and imagine where Christ would stand on the question at hand.”  And then, I remembered +Bishop Guerry, and how costly proclaiming the faith and truth of Christ Jesus can be.  Indeed, what I experienced was nothing at all in comparison.

William Guerry, a native of South Carolina, in the same year that he wrote those words in “The Churchman,” proposed the election of a black suffragan bishop for South Carolina to be responsible for the ministry to black Episcopalians, and guarantee that all people, regardless of their race were part of the community of Jesus Christ in this diocese. The community of faith I presently serve, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, knows all too well that the bishop’s attempt failed, and that it was not until 1967 that our Saint Mark’s was accepted as a full member of The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, more than 100 years after our founding on Easter Day, 1865.

Bishop Guerry though never wavered in his striving for unity and full inclusion of all races, especially African Americans, in the Body of Christ. And it was this very commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that would cost him his life in 1928, when he was shot in his office at St. Philip’s Church, Charleston, by a priest who had previously attacked the bishop’s position on seeking to install a black suffragan bishop and advancing racial equality in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. “The priest who shot the bishop had written that the bishop, given his way, would root out the principle of white supremacy in the south.”

From the 12th chapter of Luke’s Gospel: Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known…And I tell you, that everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God. (Luke 12) We are called to be witnesses to God’s uncovering that which has been covered up. We are called to tell and name some of the terrible secrets—light being shed in these dark places. Do we embrace the life, teachings, compassion, and love of Christ in such a way that it informs what we say, how we act, and what we stand up for in American society and the world? What would Jesus do and what would Jesus not do should be filters through which we live, act, and advocate. Are we in 2019 in the Church willing to embrace the wider circle of diversity, which will change what we look like and how we have always done things in the past?

Can we look to the example of +Bishop William Alexander Guerry, and live boldly for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…