Welcome to Carolina Grace: Strength in Weakness. We launched Carolina Grace back in 2009 as an effort to promote unity and provide a platform for the unhindered expression and exploration of theological thought. To write and speak of God is nothing short of the very worship of God. Additionally, we continue to offer essays chronicling our own history as Episcopalians in South Carolina. In Bishop William Alexander Guerry’s words, “We take a backward glance today to gain fresh courage for the future, and a deeper consecration to the great work to which God has called us.” That broad mission continues.
The theme for this issue is Strength in Weakness. Among such writings, you will also read stories that describe the turmoil and adversity surrounding the 2012 ecclesiastical division in our part of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. You will see hope and tremendous resourcefulness and perseverance, as well as an amazing capacity to adapt to constantly and dramatically changing circumstances, indeed, the hallmark of a flourishing spirit. While the weight of these sad divisions wrenches the heart, separation is nonetheless a reality of our current life. So much has been stripped away, though, it seems, somehow, that fresh strength has been given to forge ahead into a bright future, all the while daring to ‘speak what we feel,’ rather than perhaps ‘what we ought to say.’
I write this in the wake of the April 2016 visit of the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Dean of Canterbury to Charleston, and the dedication of Grace Church as Grace Church Cathedral. What struck me profoundly was that the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Reverend Dr. Robert Willis, wanted to see the Angel Oak on John’s Island. He even referenced it in his remarks during the dedication, saying: “Its branches are a good sign of organic unity as a Communion, a lovely image for me to take back home.”
As he presented the stone of the Canterbury Cross from Canterbury Cathedral to be placed into the walls of Grace, Dean Robert Willis offered these gracious words: “I hope it encourages you; it certainly encourages the Mother Church to give this stone cross into your hands today and feel that we ourselves are part of that great Angel Oak that is the Anglican Communion.”
The very next afternoon Dean Michael Wright gave me the privilege of introducing the Dean to the grand lady. We passed right by my home parish of St. John’s, located on Angel Oak Road. I mentioned that when I was a child sometimes Sunday school classes would consist of walks to the great tree and explained that the Angel Oak and ‘church’ had therefore always been synonymous for me. I pointed out the resurrection fern growing in her limbs, which, while imperceptible on such a stunning sunny day, would turn a vivid verdant hue after a good rain.
On yet the following day, I returned to St. John’s for the funeral of Frances Sinkler. The timing felt fortuitous, providential perhaps. It was my first time vesting and participating there since the diocesan division. The clergy could not have been more welcoming. Frances’ youngest daughter Caroline and I had grown up in St. John’s together. Her roots and my own run deep out there. Frances had been one of my Sunday school teachers. Caroline, with her characteristic fortitude wrapped with grace, had stated quite emphatically that in her mother’s church there is no across-the- aisle, no separation—that, for her mother, all are one.
Over the last several years I have boldly stated on occasion that we make our home in life wherever we go, that we are but pilgrims on this earth, our island home. I believe this. As we committed Frances’ body to the earth, the very same earth that provides nourishment to the great live oak so near, I found myself filled with hope and love of home. We were being given a moving glimpse of that place where there is no pain or grief, but life eternal, where we will know fully and see clearly that in God’s kingdom, all are truly one. I realized that, for me, no matter what, while home may be many places, it will also always be that beloved parish church whose people are as deeply rooted together as the roots of the Angel Oak.
If you ever find yourself struggling to believe in resurrection, the next time after a good rain, go and look into the limbs—the wide open arms of the great live oak—and there you will see it.
Leave it to Canterbury to lead us home!
Yours in Christ,
— Calhoun Walpole, Grace Church Cathedral, Charleston, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina