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Church ‘cannot, will not walk away’ from reconciling role in global conflict, Archbishop of Canterbury tells UN

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 2:26pm

[Episcopal News Service] Churches are the on the front line of mediation efforts across the world, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the United Nations Security Council on Aug. 29, in part because they are often “the only functioning institutions in a fragile or pre-conflict situation.”

He said that churches and other faith communities are “intimately present where there are conflicts; we cannot and will not walk away from them.” He cited the role of Sudanese Anglican Primate and Archbishop Justin Badi Arama in peace efforts in South Sudan.

Welby repeatedly stressed that mediation must take place within the context of reconciliation.

“Where mediation is about resolving conflict, reconciliation is the process of transforming violent conflict into non-violent co-existence where communities have come to terms with history and are learning to disagree well,” he said during a briefing that made him the first archbishop of Canterbury to address the Security Council. “Mediation by itself, however skilled, is like using a garden hose to put out a forest fire, when what you need is rain over the whole area to let new life grow and sustain itself.”

Reconciliation doesn’t come at the end of conflict, the archbishop said. “It must come out of framework that enables us to sustain peace and avoid conflict cycles from repeating in ever-increasing destructive force.”

Welby was the first briefer for the council’s “open debate” on “mediation and its role in conflict prevention.” United Kingdom Ambassador to the U.N. Karen Pierce invited Welby to participate. The debate is one of two big “discretionary events” being organized by the U.K. during its “rolling presidency” of the organization.

The archbishop has experience in international mediation and is a member of U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ High Level Advisory Board on Mediation. Guterres established the board in September 2017 as part of his call for a “surge in diplomacy for peace.”

The United Nations Security Council begins its Aug. 29 debate on mediation and its role in conflict prevention. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is the first person seated at the right end of the table. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

According to a U.N. background document, the questions for the council to consider during the Aug. 29 session included how it can more effectively support mediation as a means for settling disputes: how it, member states and the U. N. organization can adapt their approach to mediation to take account of the changing nature of conflict and the increase in the number and diversity of mediation actors on the ground; how it can find the most effective approach to building mediation capacity at all levels; and how all three entities more effectively can support and strengthen the meaningful participation of women in mediation and conflict resolution.

Welby told the Security Council that he represents a global church “in which the average member is a poor woman living in a conflict or post-conflict setting who has the aspirations of all vulnerable people – above all, a longing for peace.”

Guterres wants to strengthen the U.N.’s work in conflict prevention and mediation and the mediation advisory board is expected to allow the U.N. “to work more effectively with regional organizations, non-governmental groups and others involved in mediation around the world,” the U.N. said.

The secretary general asked in January 2017 (page 4 here) that the Security Council to make greater use of the options laid out in Chapter VI of the Charter of the United Nations on the “pacific settlement of disputes,” including mediation.

“War is becoming increasingly complex – and so is mediating peace,” Guterres said Aug. 29 as he opened the debate. “Conflicts around the world drag on for years and decades, holding back development and stunting opportunities. Comprehensive peace agreements are becoming more elusive and short-lived. Political will wanes; international attention drifts.”

The secretary general said that the U.N. must invest more in preventing conflicts and that must include “investment in mediation, peacebuilding and sustainable development.” That investment, he said, must be more inclusive of women and of entities beyond “political and military elites.

“That means working at the subnational and local levels to help build peace from the ground up. Local authorities, civil society, traditional and religious leaders all have critical roles to play.”

The secretary general issued a report on U.N. activities in support of mediation in June 2017.

Mossarat Qadeem, co-founder of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, addresses the United Nations Security Council Aug. 29 on the role of women in the international peace and security. Photo: Evan Schneider/UN Photo

Pakistani peace advocate Mossarat Qadeem, who followed Welby, echoed the call for including women mediators in the U.N.’s work. “We as women remain largely outside the door,” she said, perhaps because they have skills that others perceive as “soft.” She said women mediators often strategically choose to begin with “soft issues” as a way to move the parties into the harder ones.

She rejected the argument that women cannot be mediators in certain places because of cultural expectations about gender roles. It’s not about culture, she said, it’s about power. How much longer, she asked, can the world afford to reject the skills of “those of us who are working for peace on the front lines?”

The Security Council last considered mediation and the peaceful resolution of conflicts in an open debate on April 21, 2009. More background about the intent of the Aug. 29 open debate is here.

Jack Palmer-White, the Anglican Communion’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, left, speaks with the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church, before the Aug. 29 meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

The Anglican Communion has official observer status with the United Nations. Jack Palmer-White is the communion’s representative to the U.N. The Episcopal Church is a U.N. Economic and Social Council accredited non-governmental organization, or a member of the so-called “civil society” organizations that are engaged in advocacy and activist work.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

Pilgrimage to new ‘lynching memorial’ fosters racial understanding

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 11:43am

This April 28, 2018, photo shows pillars inscribed with the names of victims of lynching from southern states hang from the ceilings inside the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Photo: Evan Frost/AP

[Episcopal News Service — Montgomery, Alabama] A spiritual pilgrimage can lay bare old scars, change who you are and how you see other people. That’s what many members of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia, reported after experiencing the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the collective story of more than 4,400 people who were lynched in this country.

These 82 travelers also stopped at the Legacy Museum nearby, which connects slavery and racial terrorism to the mass incarceration in the United States. Their long-planned journey followed last month’s General Convention support for “Becoming Beloved Community,” the Episcopal Church’s interrelated resources for responding to racial injustice and organizing for reconciliation and healing. The convention passed resolutions tied to racial reconciliation, which is among the church’s three main priorities.

“I don’t think anything can fully prepare one for the atrocity that is part of our history,” the Rev. Angela Shepherd, St. Bartholomew’s rector, preached on Aug. 26 the morning after the pilgrimage, as participants continued to process the reality that between 1877 and 1950, more than 4,400 African-American men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned and beaten to death by white mobs

Facing that history, she and the pilgrimage participants believe, is a critical first step to countering the racial injustices embedded in our society today. Building this bridge is important at St. Bartholomew’s, which in April called Shepherd as its first female rector and first African-American rector. Located in DeKalb County, a fast-growing refugee and non-English speaking county that includes part of the city of Atlanta, St. Bartholomew’s 2017 profile described its membership as 96 percent white.

“We long for a more racially and ethnically diverse community, but have not yet made the necessary changes for that community to flourish,” the profile stated. “We are seeking new strategies.”

Barriers to the destination

This marker for DeKalb County, Georgia, where St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church is located, indicates that the most recent lynching happened less than a decade before the church opened its doors. Photo: Virginia Murray

Despite careful planning for the 340-mile round trip journey, the group from St. Bartholomew’s encountered barriers that for many symbolized the profound discomfort of spiritual change.

The departure was delayed while the chartered bus service located an approved driver. Near Tuskegee, Alabama, the bus broke down in the hot summer heat. Its replacement was a shuttle full of items belonging to another tour group. Transformation apparently had its own itinerary.

The 3-hour delay extended the travelers’ time for considering the history of racial violence along the Interstate 85 route, as researched and shared by trip organizers. Near the Newnan, Georgia, exit, the 1899 lynching of Sam Hose drew trainloads of Atlanta spectators who watched his burning and mutilation, with parts of his body taken as souvenirs. Near Lanett, Alabama, in 1912, four African-Americans were shot 300 times and left strung up beside a baptismal font outside a church.

Deaths by mob violence recall the crucifixion of Christ, a connection that the group had explored this summer by reading and discussing “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” by black liberation theologian James H. Cone.

As the travelers reached their destination, Shepherd read from the book’s closing exhortation, that Christians grasp the cross and lynching tree as blueprints for racial reconciliation.

“We were made brothers and sisters by the blood of the lynching tree, the blood of sexual union, and the blood of the cross of Jesus,” she read. “No gulf between blacks and whites is too great to overcome, for our beauty is more enduring than our brutality.”

Personal stories intertwine with past violence

Our common humanity was a message that gained momentum at the stark national memorial. No selfies are allowed, and the coffin-sized, rusting metal sculptures—each representing a county where lynching occurred, and stenciled with the names of those executed—are meant to inspire individual and communal commitment to a just and peaceful future.

“Your names were never lost, each name a holy word,” Elizabeth Alexander wrote in her poem “Invocation” posted at the memorial.

The six-acre memorial grew out of the conviction that lynching was the single most powerful way that Americans enforced racial inequalities after slavery ended. This sanctioned violence spurred the exodus of 6 million African-Americans (the Great Migration) that indelibly changed the United States economically, physically, demographically, spiritually.

The country’s first national memorial acknowledging victims of racial terror lynchings is based on research by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), led by public interest attorney Bryan Stevenson, a visionary public interest attorney, bestselling memoirist (“Just Mercy”) and MacArthur Foundation “genius” Award recipient. Stevenson has said that this work is driven by his Christian faith, nurtured in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

For some in the mostly white St. Bartholomew’s group, the memorial sculptures summoned personal history. Nora Robillard found 10 names inscribed on the one for Clarke County, Mississippi, “That’s where I was born,” she remarked.

Juliana Lancaster recognized a surname on the Spalding County, Georgia. memorial. “I think I found a relative,” she said.

“Fifteen unknown people in Texas died on my birthdate,” said Loren Williams. “I can’t believe I will celebrate another birthday without thinking about that.”

Meanwhile, Shepherd discovered familiar names on memorials for the counties in Kentucky and Tennessee where her family is rooted.

In DeKalb County, Georgia, St Bartholomew’s established itself as a longtime community leader in civil rights, AIDS outreach, LGBTQI issues, homelessness and other concerns starting in 1954. The memorial noted that the last of four lynchings documented in that county occurred in 1945.

“’The past is never dead. It’s not even past,’” said Williams, quoting William Faulkner.

“The fact that we went as a church, a community of faith, amplified, almost prism-like, the ferocity of getting as close as we possibly could to the evil reality of lynching,” trip organizer Scotty Greene added. “Our shared faith in Christ got us down that road to do that. For me, this pilgrimage was functioning as Ken Wilber described religion, ‘not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.’ As another pilgrim shared with me, I’ll never be the same.”

The August light amid these hanging memorials to lynching victims created a strong sense of the sacred, almost like being in church. Photo: John Agel

The memorial hinted at Christianity’s influence in the lives of victims and perpetrators. Biblical names dotted the sculptures: Amos, Emanuel, Caleb, Luke, Solomon, Ephraim, Isaac, Moses, Simon, Elijah, Abraham, Samuel and Mary. A minister from Hernando County, Florida., Arthur St. Clair, was lynched in 1877 for performing an interracial wedding.

“I found myself with tears in my eyes as I thought about how some must have felt abandoned by the law or even by God,” said pilgrimage participant Alexander Escobar. “In response I found myself saying, ‘I care.’”

We are more than the worst thing we have ever done

At the Legacy Museum, built at the riverfront where slave trading businesses once outnumbered Montgomery’s churches, the travelers learned how the elaborate narrative of white supremacy allows racial terrorism to flourish as a social custom outside the law.

While faith in God enabled many African-Americans to endure inhumane treatment, their oppressors often saw their domination as a God-given right.

“Lord, how come me [cq] here?” is a lyric to a spiritual sung by holograms of actors depicting chained slaves. As slavery gave way to a legal system that metes out excessive punishment to African-Americans, a newspaper reported a 14-year-old African-American boy was sentenced in 1944 to die in South Carolina’s electric chair. Because the boy was too short for his head to reach the electrodes, guards used a Bible as a booster seat.

These truths created a fresh, searing awareness among those on the pilgrimage.

“The stunning justification that ‘the other’ is not really a human being—and therefore deserves slavery, lynching, unfair prosecution, segregation, languishing imprisonment, legal killing—brings home to me the objectification of human beings in our society,” said Marilyn Hughes. “It hurts in my heart and it hurts our nation. And yet, there is still love enough for forgiveness and healing. This was my learning.”

“This memorial shows us how our country’s original sins—economic cruelty, slavery and genocide—are eating away at our social fabric like cancers,” said Ray Gangarosa, a pilgrimage participant. “As we observe, in real time, these echoes from our sordid past eroding our democratic institutions and those of other nations around the world, God is making it crystal clear that there is no cure, no redemption, no salvation for these sins but total excision.”

Many faith groups seeking reconciliation in Montgomery

The memorial and museum have hosted more than 100,000 visitors since opening in April.

“We are especially thrilled to be seeing great interest from church groups and faith communities, thousands of whom have already visited the sites,” said Sia Sanneh, an attorney with the Equal Justice Institute, in an email response for this story. “It has been moving to see so many faith groups honoring the lives lost during the era of racial terror, and we are also seeing faith groups interested both in confronting this difficult history and in better understanding the links between the history of racial injustice and our contemporary challenges.”

In downtown Montgomery, the pilgrimage rested at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where the Rev. Robert C. Wisnewski Jr., rector, (in blue shirt) explained its history as the home church of Confederacy president Jefferson Davis. Photo: Virginia Murray

St. John’s Episcopal Church in downtown Montgomery, known as the parish where Confederacy president Jefferson Davis worshipped, has hosted several groups in conjunction with their visits to the memorial and museum. St. Bartholomew’s was the latest one.

Its rector, the Rev. Robert C. Wisnewski Jr., related how Episcopalians of Montgomery built the church and installed a spectacular Tiffany stained glass window. Tourists enjoy seeing the Jefferson Davis Pew, architecture and history.

Wealth, in Montgomery and other cities across the Southern states, was acquired through free slave labor and protected by Jim Crow laws.

“I loved looking at the beautiful decor, but it reminded me of how easy it is to be lulled into ignoring the ugly foundation of our privilege,” said Virginia Murray of St. Bartholomew’s. “The rector’s informal talk to us also demonstrated the challenges the Episcopal Church has, to make a place for Episcopalians on all stages of the reconciliation process. Although my church building was erected after slavery ended, I am still voluntarily a member of a denomination that was complicit in slavery, lynching, etc.”

The pilgrimage’s return bus trip included a closing liturgy, partly drawn from “Seeing the Face of God in Each Other: Antiracism Training Manual” and led by the Rev. Beverley Elliott, St. Bartholomew’s senior associate for pastoral care and adult formation and learning.

“The old satanic foe of racism is still woven into the fabric of our lives,” she read.

“Although, without you, we are not equal to this foe, through your grace empower us to overcome the forces that break community,” the travelers answered

“You have created us as your own family. You have called us together,” she said. “The time is now for new beginnings.”

“May we do the work we must do in your church and world, while it is still day, before it is too late,” the travelers responded. “May we never tire, nor turn our back, nor believe our work is ever done. For each day we must begin anew.”

— Michelle Hiskey is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and member of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

Washington National Cathedral prepares to help family, nation honor McCain

Wed, 08/29/2018 - 10:18am

Sen. John McCain, who died Aug. 25 of brain cancer, served in the U.S. Senate from 1987 until his death. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 until he entered the Senate. Photo: Office of Sen. John McCain

[Episcopal News Service] Washington National Cathedral may be the site of state funerals and national memorial services and celebrations, but it is also a worshipping community whose members come to the cavernous building on the highest hill in Washington, D.C. to mark the significant moments of their lives. And that is why on Sept. 1 the morning’s funeral for Sen. John McCain will be followed that afternoon by a wedding. 

“This couple is actually having their reception in the back of the nave so we’re going to be moving in hundreds of chairs and moving out hundreds of chairs and then flipping it over again Saturday night for services on Sunday morning,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, cathedral dean, told Episcopal News Service in an interview.

It’s all hands on deck for the cathedral’s 80-plus employees as they prepare for McCain’s funeral, set for 10 a.m. local time, and the services that follow. “Some employees will be here all-night Friday night and well into Saturday night,” he said.

Sen. John McCain delivers remarks on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 2017. Photo: Office of Sen. John McCain

McCain’s funeral will no doubt be the largest such service held in the cathedral since former President Gerald R. Ford’s service in 2007, he said. The cathedral has been the setting for many presidential funerals and other services at times of national crises and natural disasters. There have been prayers for peace and services to remember the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the Space Shuttle disaster, Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake, among others.

McCain, who died Aug. 25 from brain cancer just before his 82nd birthday, was a long time Arizona senator who also spent years as a prisoner of war after being shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

It takes more than 80 people to stage a service such as the McCain funeral. More than 150 volunteers are being pressed into action, according to the dean.

“Just the Secret Service needs alone can be immense,” Hollerith said. “Shutting down streets, sweeping the buildings hours ahead, days ahead sometimes. It will involve 250 folks from the media. You’ve got lines of people outside with security getting guests in. It’s a ticketed, private event, only because the cathedral is only so large.”

Hollerith expects that as many as 2,500 people or more will attend.

Even at that scale, the dean said, the funeral is still a funeral just like any of the many done in the cathedral each year for the famous and not-so-famous. Just as in any congregation, some preparations can be done in advance, either by the family or by the person who wants to be “well-prepared,” in the dean’s words. Then, after the death of a loved one, the family works out the timing of the service. He did not say how much preplanning has gone into the McCain funeral.

“What happens here that you can’t prepare for are the logistics involved in a service like this because of who may attend, who may be involved in speaking and when the event will happen,” he said.

The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix devoted its front page to John McCain the day after his death. Photo: Newseum Front Pages

An order of service is not yet available for the funeral, which will be livestreamed. However, the McCain family has announced that that tributes will be offered by former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as by Henry Kissinger, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and by Meghan McCain, one of the senator’s daughters. The Rev. Edward A. Reese, S.J., president of St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco, California, will preach.

Hollerith, Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and the Rev. Jan Cope, cathedral provost, will also participate. The details of the service made public thus far are here.

The dean said that it is an honor for the cathedral to host such services. “It is an opportunity to honor a grieving family and to help a grieving nation,” he said. Hollerith added that it is also an opportunity to show the Episcopal Church at its best with powerful and comforting liturgy.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on Aug. 26 called McCain “a witness to the nobility of living not for self alone but for the ideals and values that make for a better world.”

The nation says good-bye and honors McCain

A series of ceremonies to mark the passing of McCain will begin Aug. 29 when his body will lie in state in the Arizona State Capitol. It would have been his 82nd birthday. A private service at 10 a.m. local time will be followed by six hours of public viewing. The next day, a memorial service is set for 10 a.m. at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

McCain’s body will then be flown to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., in preparation for lying in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Aug. 31. A ceremony will take place at approximately 11 a.m. ET and then a Capitol Hill Guard of Honor will preside as the public pay their respects between 2 and 8 p.m.

The cathedral service is the next day and McCain will be laid to rest Sept. 2 at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland, next to his Naval Academy classmate and lifelong friend, Admiral Chuck Larson, following a private service in the academy’s chapel.

Hints of the faith life of John McCain

McCain was baptized an Episcopalian and was the great-grandson of an Episcopal priest. However, for the last nearly 27 years he has worshipped at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

It appears that McCain never became a member of the church, which like all Baptist-affiliated churches, requires full-immersion baptism. Ten years ago, then-pastor Dan Yeary told the Baptist Global News website that he had “dialogued” McCain, then in his second bid to become president, about such a baptism. Episcopalians believe that a person who has been baptized at any age with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit does not need subsequent re-baptism.

McCain spent five and a half years as a POW in North Vietnam, a time that included torture and extended periods of isolation, some of it because he was the son of the admiral who commanded the war in the Pacific. In a 1973 essay for U.S. News and World Report, he wrote that he prayed not for “superhuman strength or for God to strike the North Vietnamese dead” but for “moral and physical courage, for guidance and wisdom to do the right thing.

“I asked for comfort when I was in pain, and sometimes I received relief. I was sustained in many times of trial.”

Then-President Richard Nixon greets John McCain upon returning home after his 1973 release from captivity in North Vietnam. Photo: Office of Sen. John McCain

In 2007, he told the Christian Science Monitor that “there were times when I didn’t pray for one more day or one more hour, but I prayed for one more minute. So, I have very little doubt that it was reliance on someone stronger than me that not only got me through but got me through honorably.”

The Monitor reported that McCain helped run what it called a “covert church.” Orson Swindle, who spent the last 20 months of his captivity with McCain said that every Sunday, after the midday meal was finished, the dishes were washed, and the guards had departed, the senior officer in the area would signal that it was time to pray together, by coughing in a way that signaled the letter “c” for church – one cough and then three coughs.

Swindle said the signal was the call for “a solid stream of thought among those of us there” during which the men in their separate cells silently said the Pledge of Allegiance, the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer, “and anything else you’d want to [say] in there that would get us some help – but not out loud. If we were heard talking, they would come in and start torturing us.”

Toward the end of the war, the North Vietnamese put the POWs together in a room and the prisoners were able to have organized Sunday church services. McCain said he became a chaplain “not because the senior ranking officer thought I was imbued with any particular extra brand of religion, but because I knew all of the words of the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.”

McCain said he conducted the services and gave a short talk. “We had a choir that was marvelous…. The guy who directed it happened to have been previously the director of the Air Force Academy choir,” he said.

George “Bud” Day, a fellow POW, told Religion News Service, that McCain “was a very good preacher, much to my surprise. He could remember all of the liturgy from the Episcopal services … word for word.”

The senator recalled the first Christmas the prisoners were allowed to have a service together. Some of the men had been held for seven years. The North Vietnamese handed McCain a King James Bible, a piece of paper] and a pencil. He jotted down bits of the nativity story from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He read parts of the story in between Christmas hymns.

“We got to the point where we talked about the birth of Christ, and then sang ‘Silent Night,’ and I still remember looking at the faces of those guys – skinny, worn out – but most of them, a lot of them, had tears down their faces,” McCain told the Monitor. “And they weren’t sorrow, they were happiness that for the first time in so many years we were able to worship together.”

In his book “Faith of My Fathers,” the senator said that service “was more scared to me than any service I had attended in the past, or any service I have attended since.”

McCain also recalled a Christmas Day when he was allowed to stand outside for 10 minutes in a courtyard. A guard came beside him and then drew a cross in the dirt with his sandal and stood there for a minute, looking at McCain silently. A few minutes later he rubbed it out and walked away, he recalled. This was the same guard who a few months earlier had come to his cell one night to loosen the ropes that held McCain’s arms behind his back in a painful position.

In an essay titled “The Moment I Came to Love My Enemy,” McCain called this guard his Good Samaritan and said that in that courtyard “for just that moment I forgot all my hatred for my enemies, and all the hatred most of them felt for me… I forgot about the war, and the terrible things that war does to you. I was just one Christian venerating the cross with a fellow Christian on Christmas morning.”

McCain also recounted the role of his faith and of communal worship during those years here.

Diocese of Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith told ENS that he knew McCain from two perspectives. As a policy maker, the senator met with Smith at least three times to discuss immigration, a controversial topic in the state. “He was very down to earth and receptive and wanted to hear what we thought,” Smith said. “he was a good listener.”

Once, on the spur of the moment, Smith invited McCain to come to an interfaith meeting on immigration south of Phoenix. For a man whose schedule was often made months ahead, the senator was free that afternoon and came.

“He was very well-loved and respected in Arizona, even though some people disagreed with him,” Smith said. “I disagreed with him on a lot of things, but people admired his character and his forthrightness.”

Smith recalled McCain’s sometimes-changing stance on immigration, but he also recounted a story that McCain told to explain why he eventually favored amnesty of immigrants. The senator had gone to a naturalization ceremony and had seen empty seats in the front row with combat boots in front of each chair. They represented soldiers who had died in action while they were in the process of becoming United States citizens. “That was the thing that pushed him over,” Smith said. “He said, if these young men were willing to give their lives for this country, why aren’t we making them citizens.”

The soldiers were posthumously made citizens, Smith said.

Smith also knew McCain by way of the senator’s aunt, his mother’s identical twin sister, who was a parishioner of his at St. James’ Church in Los Angeles. He would remind McCain of that connection, Smith said, and that led to swapping of stories.

McCain attended Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. While at the school, McCain was influenced by English teacher and football coach William Ravenel. “I worshipped him,” said McCain, according to Robert Timberg’s “John McCain: An American Odyssey.” “He saw something in me that others did not. And he took a very personal interest in me and we spent a good deal of time together. He had a very important influence on my life.”

Diocese of California Bishop Marc Andrus recalled on Aug. 27 that he heard McCain speak twice at Episcopal High School while Andrus was the school’s chaplain. As a student, the senator said he was not happy about the school’s compulsory chapel services.

“During those daily services that I imagine not only bored but frustrated McCain, something unexpected happened: he memorized prayers, parts of psalms, and other spiritual resources that he says sustained him and others during his almost six years of imprisonment in Vietnam during the Vietnam War,” Andrus wrote.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

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