WALKING THROUGH A DESERT
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
The Episcopal Church diocese in South Carolina announced some good news today. In a small but important step, reconciliation and peace are at work replacing division, suffering, and animosity. Bishop vonRosenberg's fondest and noblest wish is for reconciliation to heal the broken and hurting world of the church. He has done everything in his power to promote such.
On Tuesday, September 16, he rejoiced at the return and reinstatement of a priest of the pre-schism diocese, the Rev. H. Dagnall Free, Jr. Free had abandoned the Episcopal Church in the schism of 2012 and had been released and removed as a priest in good standing in 2013. He had a comfortable position at St. John's on Johns Island, one of the schismatic parishes. Along the way, Free had a crisis of conscience: "part of what I had to learn is that you can't take anything for granted. God will teach you, and re-teach you." Admitting he had been wrong was no easy task: "It's been kind of like walking through a desert...but I think we're through that now." This married man with teenage children decided to do the right thing even though it would cost him his job, a job he had loved.
In June of 2013, the Standing Committee and Bishop vonRosenberg had no choice under the canons of the Episcopal Church but to remove the ordained clergy who had abandoned the Church. The list contained 103 priests and deacons of the pre-schism diocese who had left the Church. Rather than depose them, however, the bishop decided on release and removal which allowed an easier access for return to the Church. He left the door wide open. Bishop vonRosenberg has done and is doing everything possible to facilitate the restoration of orders to the 103.
On the other side, the independent diocese has done seemingly everything possible to prevent reconciliation. Before the schism, the old diocesan leadership created a monster image for the Church that was fictional but effective. Declaring himself the innocent victim of a corrupt and malevolent destructive force from off, Lawrence wrapped the old diocese around himself and went away with a solid two-thirds of it. The special convention on Nov. 17, 2012 passed a resolution proclaiming that God had made Lawrence the bishop of the diocese and only God could remove him. That is bonding to the max. Shortly thereafter, the independent diocese went to court to sue the Episcopal Church and tied in thirty-five parishes to the lawsuit. That would cement the parishes and their clergy to the Lawrence diocese for a very long time to come. In April of 2013, the standing committee of the independent diocese drew up a form letter for all the clergy to send back to Bishop vonRosenberg. The clergy were not to write their own responses. Then the circuit court trial in July brought the painful division all back as if anyone could have forgotten it. The exchanges in that courtroom were anything but reconciling.
Bishop vonRosenberg has an uphill struggle. He knows it. We all know it. But he has to do it. He has to try to heal a broken church even if it's just one little step at a time. He has to do the right thing.
The Rev. Mr. Free is a hero. What he has done is heroic. My definition of a hero is an ordinary person who goes to extraordinary lengths against the odds to do the right thing. We should all have the greatest admiration and respect for Fr. Free. He has sacrificed much to do the right thing.
The communicants and clergy of the independent diocese should know that they can come home. Home is where you go and they always take you in because you are family, no questions asked. The independent diocese told its people they were the Episcopal Church in the low country and they were in the Anglican Communion. Neither was true. Neither is true. In time, some people are beginning to realize the truth. There is only one Episcopal Church and it's the only legitimate part of the Anglican Communion around here. Home is where we all belong.
See the article about Fr. Free at www.episcopalchurchsc.org/2014-09-18-returning-priest-reinstated.html .
Comments? E-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210
Comments? E-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210