St. Michael’s reopens with message of reconciliation in “sermon duet”
By Charles W. Waring III
One would think simply reopening a historic church after 13 Sundays of being closed during the pandemic would have created a big enough headline. Trinity Sunday at St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Charleston, South Carolina also followed two weeks of civil unrest following the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Congregants of St. Michael’s were also blessed to witness a St. Michael’s first: a “sermon duet,” served up with gusto and graciousness by the rector, the Rev. Al T.K. Zadig, Jr., and a regular guest preacher, the Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, vicar of the predominantly African-American congregation at Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston. Today’s social turbulence called for input from someone such as the Rev. Thompson. He lost his wife, Myra, in the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in 2015. Since that time, his mission has been to spread the gospel of forgiveness. He is the author of a book entitled Called to Forgive: The Charleston Church Shooting, a Victim’s Husband, and the Path to Healing and Peace.
For the church to reopen, special protocols were in place, as directed by Bishop Mark Lawrence. All pews were socially distanced; the church requested that congregants wear masks and use hand sanitizers entering and leaving the church.
The sermon duet focused upon the scripture of Luke 4:18, with the Rev. Zadig taking the first part and the Rev. Thompson closing. The first part of the scripture is: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
The Rev. Zadig said: “What is the good news? Who are the Poor? The Good News is both new and good! For 33 years, the God of the universe stepped out of heaven to come to earth to secure redemption for all who believe in His name. Becoming Jesus, the anointed One, who would redeem His people, as foretold by Isaiah. He came as God among us, so that His shed blood would pay the full price of our bottomless swamp of sin.”
The sermon continued with a fictional story by Tennessee Williams about the consequences of forgetting someone you love and the implications for an even larger failing: forgetting who our true Father is. He continued: “The consequence of forgetting? Godlessness.”
The second part of the verse from Luke is: “He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”
In his sermon response to the verse, the Rev. Thompson mentioned that darkness came to Charleston on May 30 in the form of riots in our business district but that there is darkness in all of us. “If we follow Jesus and model his example, we will have the light inside of us so that we are not living in sin. The light of the world allows us to breathe,” he said.
He continued with a story about how we can be tempted into sin and how our response can become like a Bible to others, showing them the light of Christ. The Rev. Thompson emphasized that our actions — modeling Jesus for others — could perhaps be the only Bible some will ever read.
Shortly after the choir sang “Amazing Grace,” the congregation prayed the Great Litany for the United States, asking for blessings for wisdom and protection for our elected leaders and Armed Forces as well as for peace and reconciliation among the different races. To help inspire the congregants to a sense of national unity in prayer, the choir sang a rousing rendition of the hymn “America.”
Local leaders were in the sanctuary to receive prayer in person. In particular, St. Michael’s hosted the mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg, and his wife as well as the chief of police, Luther Reynolds, and his family — all of whom sat in the historic pew that welcomed George Washington in 1791.
After the service, the clergy led the assembled on a planned prayer walk around the historic Four Corners of Law with the Rev. Thompson and the Rev. Zadig alternating leading the prayers from a microphone attached to a bullhorn. The Charleston Police Department escorted the crowd of better than 100 participants to City Hall, the County Courthouse, the Federal Courthouse, and back to the sanctuary of St. Michael’s — visiting all of the Four Corners. St. Michael’s has been engaging in neighborhood prayer walks for about ten years.
(Here’s a video of the prayer walk.)
Then, those remaining in the church had a 45-minute discussion, facilitated by Linda Prince, with the clergy about issues related to reconciliation and how to find common ground. In closing, the Rev. David Booman prayed for the Holy Spirit to direct visions of the right path forward.
For those interested, video of the entire service and the two sermons of June 7 are available on the church’s website at stmichaelschurch.net. Since the third week of March, St. Michael’s has been recording services for the congregation to watch from home.
Charles W. Waring III was baptized and confirmed at St. Michael’s, where he and his wife are longtime members. He is the publisher and owner of the Charleston Mercury and the online Christian newspaper, the Carolina Compass.