As of tomorrow, my husband and I will have lived in Columbia for a whole month (!). We’re part of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and as you dear readers might know (or might not! or might not care one hoot!! which is just fine), there is an Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which comprises the lower part of this great state, and has been the subject and site of much upheaval in our denomination of late.
There are myriad articles and essays and sermons which deal with the facts of this unfolding situation; I cannot attempt to describe or summarize them in any authoritative or competitively-excellent way. Here I share, instead, a bit of my lament.
I don’t recall the first time I went to Charleston, but I know it was spring (very brilliant of me) and I know I was taken with St. Philip’s Church. Its steeple is brown and stony and majestic, its shadow is cool, its graveyard is full of wisdom. On my second or third visit, I discovered St. Michael’s Church, just a few blocks away from St. Philip’s, and stood breathless under its white outline. Old churches have always had a hold on me, and these two beautiful sacred spaces were no less gripping. Can you imagine the number of faithful people who have spent their lives praying in those pews, shuffling down those aisles, marking their births, marriages, friendships, and deaths by those walls and windows? Imagining the hundreds of years of prayers soaked into the stones and hanging in the air brings a reverent smile to my face. I close my eyes in the glow of God’s presence in these places, and how parishioners have learned of and experienced God in these spaces.
Two weeks ago, I went to Charleston again, for the first time in a year. It was a big year to have not-been in Charleston (the rupture I allude to above puts the future of these buildings in jeopardy). I teared up when my husband and I pulled into a parking spot near St. Michael’s. My hands caressed the white columns, mournful of the *(figurative–not literal, yet) brokenness in which this beautiful building sits. We walked to St. Philip’s Church, and I remembered my first visit–my enamored attitude with the building despite my ignorance of my call at the time.
God is bigger and more full and more perfect and more sovereign than could be overcome by the loss of these buildings–of course; I know that they are just things, just symbols to us of heaven and of God’s glory, meant to aid us in our worship. However, they’ve been important symbols for centuries–they were spared General Sherman’s fire!–and now they might fall. Their stark beauty, their noble shape–these sacred spaces stand as a challenge to the passing squabbles and divisive disagreements of our day; they survived the Civil War, for heaven’s sake! The brokenness in the Episcopal Church these days is not just a passing squabble or a disagreement, we’re struggling with what it means to love and what it means for Scripture to be authoritative. For at least two thousand years, we’ve been struggling with these things, as Christians, and there has been lots of collateral damage–plenty of lives, which are more important than any building.
But I really hope that these buildings can continue to stand as a witness to us little people of God’s glory, his power, his far-reaching love, and his desire that all may be made one body with him.