The Feast of All Saints
The Seating of the Bishop in Grace Church Cathedral
November 7, 2021
There is a sound I know of my shoes on metal. The metal is textured and thin, welded together with old bolts. The bridge has born many people, and dogs too. Children have raced over it with abandon, with no concern for its apparent fragility. It shakes when I cross it. It is a bridge that does not belong to me, or to my family. For many years it belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hill. Until they died and the house was sold off and the bridge that went with it. But, before that, in the season when I was a child across the street from the bridge—for all those years—they let us traipse through their backyard without invitation or warning and cross the bridge. That bridge was my crossing to a telling place, a place where heaven and earth met for one small girl. It was a place worlds away, yet just steps from home.
Coming up from the metal bridge, I remember the tingle I felt on the grassy slope when I heard the first quack. I remember my first glimpse, time and again, of Belhaven lake. My hand in Mama’s hand, I would laugh with delight and some trepidation as the headstrong ducks who resided there approached, anticipating the bread in our sack, and began nipping at my fingers. I remember the island in the lake where they would sun bathe. I remember watching them glide on the water, propelled by the unseen movement of their webbed feet.
And I remember, after time had drifted out of my consciousness, suspended for a while, there came the moment when Mama took my hand and walked me back down the grassy hill, over the metal bridge home. I walked home with Mama, carrying the wisdom of another world with me back across the metal bridge.
Jan Richardson wrote a poem about how close we really are, all the time, to unseen worlds that lie just on the other side of all our inventions and distractions. She says:
When the wall
between the worlds
is too firm,
When it seems
and sharp edges.
When every morning
you wake as if
flattened against it,
its forbidding presence
fairly pressing the breath
all over again.
Then may you be given
of how weak the wall
and how strong what stirs
on the other side,
breathing with you
and blessing you
forever bound to you
but freeing you
into this living,
into this world
so much wider
than you ever knew.
from The Cure for Sorrow
Today, to my great joy, I am being seated as your bishop in this beautiful and holy cathedral on the feast of All Saints. Thank you, Dean and people of Grace, for being our cathedral.
You know, Cathedrals are our family living room. Look around you. On the walls, in the windows, in the floors, in the chancel and sanctuary—everywhere, there are remembrances of the saints who have gone before us. Beautiful images to remind us who we are and what we are meant to do in this world.
Every saint is a bridge, a bridge between this home and what lies on the other side of all our prayers—just beyond our reach.
The saints we know and love are real folks, ordinary folk, sinners themselves, sometimes with difficult pasts, sometimes shaky, vulnerable, worn—yet able to bear our souls like that metal bridge carried me to the lake for so many years. Teachers, grandparents, gardeners, nurses, clergy, friends, adversaries, spiritual guides, waitresses, mail carriers.
These saints show us just how weak the wall is between our world and the world beyond.
And that world, the one John writes about in the book of Revelation, is not only a far away reality we meet after death. Rather, it is the world Christ beckons us to build every day when we rise. A world made of those who have come out of the great ordeal—which, finally, before this life is over, will be all of us, each and every one.
It is a world where we, the multitude of humanity, truly become one. In that world, we see each other clearly—with sight no longer hindered by hatred, division, or fear. In that world, every child of God knows respect, experiences justice, lives in abundance. That world is no farther from this home we call the church than Belhaven lake was from my childhood home. Cross the street, wander through the neighbor’s backyard and across the worn metal bridge and you are there.
The saints in our lives show us this world just beyond our home. Saints like Catherine “Kitty” Springs, a freed slave who gave her earthly goods to found the Church of the Epiphany in Summerville in 1887, saints like Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, who in her early twenties, in spite of betrayals, arson, and threats to her life, in 1897 founded the school we know as Voorhees College, saints like The Rev. A. Toomer Porter of Holy Communion Charleston, who, convicted of the evil of having enslaved people, turned to take a new path, and used his inheritance to educate and lift up those left destitute in the wake of the civil war. Saints like The Rev. Dr. Stephen Mackey, the first Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, who guided it through the challenges born of injustice with a pastor’s heart and a prophet’s courage when it finally was granted parish status in 1965, saints like Mrs. Ruby Forsythe who founded a school on Pawley’s island that educated a generation of African American children in the low country and her husband, Reverend William E. Forsythe, who guided the spiritual community out of which the school was born and Johanna Brown and Cathcart Smith who moved their vision into a new generation.
These saints, and countless others like them, saw another world was possible and brought it home. They have been letting us cross over their lives and legacies like a well worn bridge for years upon years. They remain in our collective consciousness—standing firm, though worn by years, so we can get a glimpse of the world Christ beckons us to bring home—not someday at the end of time—but today. Now.
And what about you? You, people of this beloved diocese, who carried prayer books to docks and funeral parlors? You who worship without bricks and mortar, without clergy and vestments? You who fashioned tabernacles and altars of beautiful wood to take into strip malls and bank buildings? And what about you who worship with buildings and altars, inviting those without them to share what you have? What about you who quietly fill backpacks with school supplies, you who march in the street bearing witness to justice? You who insist that all means all, no matter the cost. You who cook for the hungry week after week, you who start flower ministries and get cards to those who are lonely? You who raise up children and youth to lead a new generation? Yes, what about you? You, my beloved ones, have become the bridge that once carried you.
By your life, by your witness, born of the saints of old, you reveal how weak the wall truly is between this present world with all of its limitations, and the world to come, in all of its glory.
In you, I have seen glimpses of the world to come. I have seen glimpses of home.
Home, where the banquet table is laid out lavishly for all who are hungry. Home, where all know they are welcome to feast. Home, where everyone slumbers in peace, taking rest without fear of violence or the storm that comes by night. Home, where people of many languages, tribes and nations become one—not by some being subsumed into the likeness of others, but rather, by each one being fully the person God made that one to be. Home, where we are all fully who God made us to be.
Ram Dass once said we are all walking each other home. Perhaps, being Christ’s body looks something like crossing a worn metal bridge on a warm sunny day to get a glimpse of a shimmering lake, to feel the bite of duckling beaks on our fingertips, and then, when time suspended comes back into our awareness, to walk each other home, bringing with us the paradise we have glimpsed—only to discover that, somewhere along the way, we have become the bridges that once carried us.
Look around you, Saints of God.
Behold who you are.
You have become the bridges that once carried you.
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
The Rt. Reverend Ruth Woodliff-Stanley was elected by the Diocese of South Carolina in May 2021, and consecrated as a bishop on October 2, 2021.