Thursday, August 31, 2017

Turnings (II): the Light of Christ Shines in our Newest Christian

Sunday, August 27, 2017, marked a series of milestones for this Curmudgeon, his wife, his family, and the Christian community of which we are all a part.

First of all, it started the countdown to next Sunday, September 3, which will mark the 45th anniversary of our marriage, conducted in 1972 by the 29th rector of my home parish of Holy Trinity, the Rev. Donald Royer (of blessed memory).

In 1972, we were both living in Hawaii, but that State mandated by law (according to a statute passed at the instance of missionaries in the 19th century) that a wife must take her husband's name upon marriage. My beloved partner-to-be wanted to keep her own family name after marriage, and I had no  legal ground upon which to justify Hawaii's law. (Hawaii had been the first State in the Union to adopt an Equal Rights Amendment to its Constitution. In 1974, two years after we had married, my firm was successful in a lawsuit to have the 19th-century statute declared unconstitutional.)

Without waiting for the law to take its time in Hawaii, I was able to advise my bride that she could legally keep her own name if we held the wedding in my home town, in California. And that was how the Rev. Donald Royer came to marry us in Nevada City in 1972.

(Many years later, after he had retired to Arizona, we encountered Fr. Royer while he was on a return visit to our area. To our wonder and surprise, he blessed us again, and told us that he had kept us in his daily prayers ever since joining us in matrimony. We were overwhelmed by the grace that he witnessed to us by his steadfast confidence in the union he had asked God to bless so long ago, and his faith in our marriage gave us a new determination to live up to his [and God's] expectations.)

This next Sunday, then, we will offer our prayers and thanksgiving for the soul of that blessed man of God, who had the discernment to set us upon our path, and then to encourage us anew as we approached midstream in our partnership -- now a full family, with four very remarkable children who deserved no less than our utmost. Our earthly blessing (but not reward) is to have watched over them and their spouses as they in turn generated six adorable and marvelous grandchildren, with the prospect of more to come.

Second of all, it marked the last Sunday on which the 32nd rector of Holy Trinity, the Rev. Canon Christopher Seal, conducted services there, after serving the longest term (23 years) of any of his predecessors. (The first service at Trinity was held by Bishop William Kip, the first Bishop of California, in April 1853.)

Although the course the national Episcopal Church (USA) has taken since my baptism has left me with no alternative but to withdraw from its ranks, I cannot so abruptly bid good-bye to the parish in which I grew up and was married. My ties there today are still linked by my relationships with both Fr. Seal and the priest-in-charge who replaces him. I appreciate their own affirmations of the traditions in which I firmly believe, even if they are not as free as I am to criticize where the leadership of ECUSA is taking that body in recent years.

Given my slog through the long and desultory church wars whose details I have chronicled on this blog, and given the sorry state of California's judicial system, I am the first to recognize that my local parish would gain little, and would lose much, were it to attempt to buck ECUSA at the national or  diocesan level. At the same time, I am not convinced that I have done all that I could to bring the crucial issues to my parish's attention. And now that I have withdrawn from its membership, I have even less of a voice than beforehand in suggesting how it might still prove to be Christ's witness in this most secular world.

I was struck, however, during his last services by the fact that Trinity's rector of 23 years would no longer, from this week forward, have any voice or vote in the affairs of the parish that he has served so well and so faithfully. Canon law prohibits his participation in its affairs, or even so much as his attending a service, for a period of time after his resignation.

I cannot speak for Fr. Seal, but I imagine he must be feeling at this point a little bit of the same sort of canonical exile (albeit one required by diocesan, and not national, canons) into which the national Church's apostasy from faith and doctrine has forced me. The feeling is not so much one of regret, as it is of powerlessness to be able to affect the future course of our long-standing parish. It is as though we both, from different perspectives, have faithfully constructed and contributed over the years to a (hopefully) seaworthy vessel that now must make its own way across troubled waters, without our being able to say anything to advise (or correct) its course.

And that reflection brings me to my third and main point of this post. For facts on the ground have a way of overwhelming hopes and intentions in the abstract.

Thirty-one years ago, when my wife gave birth to our daughter Myfanwy, we had little intimation of how beautifully she and her life would evolve before our eyes. Still less did we have any clue that her future husband would come from a local family that was intimately connected with ours, leading to the G. K. Chesterton-inspired wedding that was chronicled in this post.

Well, last Sunday in Trinity Church, that marriage resulted in the baptism and christening of their first child, Indiana Douglas (or "Indy", for short), as one of Father Seal's last liturgical acts in that parish to which we all are so bound by history and tradition. It was a magical moment, as I hope these photographs of the event will convey in some small part to you.

First, here we all are -- priest, infant, parents, grandparents and godparents -- gathered around Trinity's historical baptismal font, which dates almost back to the days of Bishop Kip:

And here is Fr. Seal, Indy and his mother, with the adults well launched on their baptismal purpose, but with Indiana perhaps not quite certain yet what to make of the ceremonial apparatus in front of him:

Next comes actual baptism with water, which (of course) catches Indy by surprise:

Now the ceremony gets more serious, as Indy receives Fr. Seal's anointment of chrism on his forehead. "First water on my head, and now this? What is going on here?"

But wait -- Fr. Seal lights Indy's baptismal candle, as everyone else (except Indy) takes note:

My, what can this be?

And then! -- Indy's indelible reaction after he is presented with the Light of Christ:

This one moment last Sunday morning crystallized for me the glorious irrelevancy of all our denominational differences. Indy -- a one-year-old infant -- was immediately drawn excitedly to the light of Christ that the candle Father Seal gave him represented. This was exactly as Our Lord described, in Matthew 18:1-4:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Apart from heresy (about the dangers of which Jesus went on to warn us, in the verses next following those just quoted), human denominational disputes pale into insignificance when compared to the simple and accepting faith of a child. We have much still to learn from them, and it was sheer joy to be reminded of that reality in my old parish church last Sunday.


  1. On the same Sunday, I was blessed in that I was able to attend the baptism of my 9th and youngest great-grandchild, Steele Barret Paul, 4 months old. As I fade, it is so hopeful to see my descendants budding and blooming.

  2. What a lovely story, Mr. Haley! May God's blessings be with Indy his whole life long.

  3. AH, thank you for sharing this beautiful, moving and precious experience. Happy 45th Wedding Anniversary to you and your bride. This meaningful spiritual system of Christ moved me to write the following ideas here.

    Christ’s Holy Church: Not just a building, but bound by His Body and Blood

    Human spirits are called to Holy and Sacred worship, gathering together to glorify the one resurrected Christ. The one Holy and perfect Sacrifice offered for humankind, giving the lost and weary souls an eternal rest from an eternal hell.

    Marriage is a Holy Sacrament that is ordained by God. The unified Church is His bride, His helper, and His always faithful (Semper Fidelis!) reliable companion.

    (The Latin motto, Semper Fidelis, is that of the U.S. Marines - this commentator is married to a Marine and we celebrated our 25th anniversary last week escaping Harveycane as my husband put it.)

    Christ's true bride will never divide herself from her Holy Husband because civil arguments are settled with God’s great commandments in mind: to Love God first, and to Love thy Neighbor as Thyself.

    God knows that humans will have trouble in their lives and that children are naturally drawn to His Holy Spirit. God wants His children to shine their lights in this dark world. He knows human hearts; He binds humans by His love and mercy to build His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” together as brothers and sisters.

    Children are truth seekers and tellers, and they're innocent until they are trained otherwise. Christ's true followers are, together His faithful bride and individually His faithful children, bound by His Holy Body and Blood.

    AH, God bless you and your family now and always!