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Fr. Michael on Judge Dickson’s Ruling
The Long and Winding Road
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One particular song, from the songbook of my life, has been running through my head the last twenty-four hours. "The Long and Winding Road" is a song by made famous by the Beatles. When issued as a single in May 1970 it became the group's 20th and last number-one hit in the United States. Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, said he came up with the title during one of his first visits to his property High Park Farm in Scotland. Based on other comments McCartney has made, the lyrics can be seen as McCartney expressing his anguish at the direction of his personal life.
“The Long and Winding Road” lyrics leave you feeling like a person who knows where he or she will end up, but nevertheless like one floundering on the journey. I’ve been ruminating on the first two verses particularly:
The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear, I've seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door
The wild and windy night that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears, crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way
Yesterday, South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson, tasked with the responsibility of enforcing the final judgment of the South Carolina Supreme Court issued in August 2017 to return diocesan property and 29 parishes to The Episcopal Church, issued an order that seems to be contrary to the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision. In his order, he ruled that the properties belong to each congregation, using the application of the neutral principles of law, contrary to the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling. Judge Dickson’s ruling, although not entirely surprising given the political influences which have and continue to plague this case, is disappointing to everyone associated with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, but most especially the members of St. Francis; a congregation which was chartered with language affirming that our diocese considered St. Francis was to be the ongoing continuing worshiping parish of Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church.
Our diocesan leadership has issued statements. “This is not a final decision; it is yet another step on a long journey to full reconciliation within our Diocese,” said Diocesan Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr. “While we are understandably disappointed that Judge Dickson has not enforced the Supreme Court’s decision as directed, we are hopeful that the South Carolina Supreme Court will hear the matter promptly and correct any errors that exist in today’s order,” said Tisdale.
In her statement, Archdeacon Callie Walpole said, “The news today is deflating to our deep desire to restore the Diocese of South Carolina and see our beloved diocese resurrected in newness of life—in both wholeness of health and fullness of being. But we do not lose heart, as our struggle is far from over.” Her statement ends with a scripture passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,
“Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”
I appreciate these comments from our leaders at this time; I really do. As a recovering attorney, I know all too well the burdens borne by our leadership and the uncertainty of litigation. As a priest, I also understand that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Galatians to speak to an issue that was dividing the Jews and the Gentiles in the early Christian Church. Paul urges the Galatians not to grow tired of doing good. Doing good is hard work, especially if someone begins to doubt whether it matters. Paul is urging the Galatians to keep living in a way that is consistent with what they believe.
Even so, I confess, I struggle. While the Spirit urges me to not lose heart, I am disheartened. It is so obvious to me, as I think it is to many, that Judge Dickson’s ruling is just the most recent play in the well thought out and executed plan of The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, to eschew the ruling of the highest court in our State and bring about a slow death by litigation to remnant congregations of the 29 parishes that the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled should be returned to parties affiliated with The Episcopal Church in August 2017. On June 11, 2018 the United States Supreme Court, the Court of last resort in our country, denied the breakaway groups appeal to review the property dispute between The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and breakaway group, which should have marked the closing of this painful chapter in our history.
This most recent development reminds me of another passage in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” Whether it is their interpretation of this last sentence which fuels the continuing anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions, I don’t know. At this time, I can only join with the sentiment of Father Marshall Huey, as expressed by him to the parishioners of Old St. Andrew’s Parish in the newsletter distributed the first week of September 2018:“I also hope and pray that God will open the door for true reconciliation and resolution of these deeply divisive issues between TEC and our Diocese.”
At times like these I turn to a variety of spiritual mentors for guidance and solace. The internationally renowned priest and author Henri Nouwen once wrote: “Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Richard Rohr has suggested that any revelation of God begins with the same warning: “do not be afraid”.
So, I will as Paul urged the Galatians, keep living in a way that is consistent with what I believe. I will do so praying the Prayer of Unknowing, authored by Thomas Merton, trusting that on this long and winding road, God will let me know the way.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen