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calhoun

“I come to you today from Charleston, South Carolina…” A sermon from the Ven. Calhoun Walpole

6/21/2105

On Thursday, June 18th, Holy Trinity, Swanton held a Celebration of New Ministry, welcoming the Rev. Rob Spainhour as Rector.  The celebration fell on the day following the tragedy at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Ven. Calhoun Walpole of Charleston, South Carolina preached. The words of her wonderful sermon are printed below: 

calhoun

The Ven. Calhoun Walpole, the Rev. Rob Spainhour, and the Rt. Rev. Thomas Ely.

 

Installation of the Reverend Rob Spainhour

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

Swanton, Vermont

June 18th, 2015

Calhoun Walpole

I come to you today from Charleston, South Carolina…

It is so fitting that in this service in which Rob is instituted as your new rector, that the Collect prayed is a Good Friday Collect:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection/completion/wholeness by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord…

In the midst of life we are in death, to be certain–but at the same time–in the midst of death we are in life!

For we are a people of new birth, new life–especially when we might not even dream it possible–it is precisely then the that we are invited to believe this good news, our gospel story of resurrection.

Because our Lord Jesus Christ lives, we too shall live!

Do we believe this?!…

It would not serve you or me very well tonight for me to pretend that I am not speaking to you from a place of grief and shock. I am.

And the collective grief of a community and a church, and a state, and, yes, a nation.

But what do we say?

We say: “Yet even at the grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

In addition to preaching the good news to you tonight, I had been having a marvelous time in my own mind considering just what I might say to you all. I wanted to convey to you a bit of where Rob comes from–the land and people who formed him–and was looking forward to having a little bit of fun doing so.

I was going to say to you that while indeed we South Carolinians are a people at times consumed by conflict…I wanted to clarify things and remind you that conflict is a sign of life! So I suppose I wanted to make light of our conflict somehow and perhaps even–in what today feels like a perhaps warped way–maybe even feel a little superior for it…

But today the fair city of Charleston–now one of the top tourist destinations in the world–fair, lovely, beautifully preserved Charleston–a city that embraces the past while always keeping an eye ahead to the future–Charleston now joins the ranks of those cities that have endured a mass shooting–and this one in a black church by a young white man–and only 10 weeks after Walter Scott was gunned down by a white police officer not ten miles away from last night’s tragedy.

Listen to a few lines from a poem written after that event by a fifteen year old girl named Reese Fischer–a young woman from Charleston–she just happens to be a member of the Episcopal Church–you can go to Youtube to watch Reese reciting her poem in its entirety. It was published on the front page of the Charleston paper. She asks, referring to all who have lost their lives in senseless acts of hate and violence, saying:

They all hit the ground so many

have hit the ground

When will they ascend to a place

where their names are printed in gold,

their stories memorialized in marble

a history only our grandmothers had seen.

But you are tangible you are here.

you are five minutes outside my

classroom window,

your legacy stuck between teeth.

knotted in our throats, you are here,

their history is no longer hearsay,

you were on the ground

I saw you, I saw you on the ground.

Scott was on the ground.

Already I am hearing people begin to use the word “deranged” when they describe the young man who last night sat through an hour of bible study with a gracious people who welcomed him warmly into their church–their safe space–their sanctuary–their house of God–before he would open fire upon them.

Some might prefer to use the word “deranged” because that word might be more palatable than the word “hatred.” If we use the word “hate” then we may actually have to see ourselves in the young man who committed this act–and remember that we all share a common humanity–and that his humanity and our own are inextricably intertwined.

This is so hard for good people to do–people who see the world through wonderful incarnational spectacles–and I do not know how else to view the world—nor would I want to view it in any other way… I believe that as Christians how else can we look out onto the world but through the eyes of the incarnation–

God in Christ–Christ in us–Christ in you–Christ in me–Christ in friend–Christ in stranger…

So if we can say that this young man is deranged then–subconsciously–we do not have to examine our selves or our society–and denial can continue to reign–and the deep rootedness of our malady can continue unacknowledged–and healing continues to be deferred and delayed–and all the while eternity weeps and pleads and prays and begs.

When, in 1928, a priest of the Diocese of South Carolina walked into the Bishop’s office in Charleston one hot June day and shot the Bishop, William Alexander Guerry–Bishop Guerry would die five days later–the priest had been furious over the Bishop’s desire to include African-Americans into the life of the diocese–and he was furious because Bishop Guerry was supporting what would become Voorhees College, an historically black college, still today affiliated with the Episcopal Church–people in South Carolina then and generations afterwards–although most would forget in a very short while, for the story ceased to be told–but it would be said that the man that killed the Bishop was “deranged.”

It was easier to say that than to say that the priest indeed may very well have been deranged–but he was deranged in grand part because he was consumed and sickened by hate.

But the use of the word “deranged” enabled lowcountry society to sweep the story into the dustbin of history–and the story of the martyrdom of Bishop William Alexander Guerry is only just now being revived–with a play having been produced in Charleston last July at the Dock Street Theatre, written by our Chancellor Thomas Tisdale. (I discovered on Opening Night that I was the producer.)

Among his many other gifts, as you no doubt already know by now, your rector Rob is a healer and a reconciler.

I think sometimes the greatest healers and reconcilers come from lands and people for whom division and discord–and perhaps even violence–are a part of the lifeblood of the people.

South Carolina was the last state to outlaw dueling. Do y’all up here know what a duel is?…

In fact, at the Presbyterian Church on the island where Rob grew up, back in the nineteenth century, a special building was constructed for the meetings of the Session (their word of course for council or vestry.) It’s a tiny little structure–built intentionally so that that when quarrels broke out during meetings of the session, members were thus prevented from challenging one another to a duel–because the square footage simply did not allow for the ten paces required by law before one could draw his weapon and fire at the other.

Only those who know Good Friday can know Resurrection. We can get to Easter morning through no other way.

I dare say there is not any one of us who has not experienced Good Friday in some way or other in our own lives–or perhaps a series of Good Fridays.

So let me ask you:

In what specific ways might your own life be in need of resurrection? And–do you believe that resurrection to be possible?

And a second question: How can you yourself be an agent of resurrection?

How can you–collectively and individually–be purveyors of the good news of God in Christ–the Gospel–how can you incarnate resurrection in your own life and in your community?

In the lowcountry of South Carolina–and no doubt other places too–there is a fern that grows in the limbs of the live oak tree. It also may be spotted growing out of structures such as brick walls. it’s called the Resurrection Fern. During the absence of any rain the fern becomes dry and brittle looking. Its leaves lose their beautiful green color and it looks dead. But then–when the rains come–either a soft summer shower or a pounding storm–after the rain the fern is replenished and returns to it verdant hue.

Not only alive but vibrant and bright–much like your beautiful rolling hills and fields in this most special corner of God’s creation.

What appears dead becomes alive once more.

There are times in my own life when quite simply I need to see the Resurrection Fern–I need to be reminded that rebirth and new life and resurrection are all very real.

What appears dead becomes alive once again.

This holds true for an individual, a community, a church–big ‘C’ and little ‘c”–a nation, a world, and all of God’s creation.

Resurrection, my friends.

You and I are people of the Resurrection.

The world is dying for good news. People are dying for the good news.

People of God: You and Rob are together being called to an urgent task–You are being called together to extend your hands in love as you give good news to a world desperate to hear it.

Things which were being cast down are being raised up.

And that can refer to your own life, your community and mine, the Episcopal Church as a whole, the nation and the world–and all creation.

Friends, Dare to be people of the Resurrection.

Amen.

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