A drink, a chat, a Church

By George Clifford

Last year in a bar at the Hale Koa hotel in Honolulu, I met Ed (name changed to protect his privacy). He was standing just inside the bar’s entrance, looking lonely. The U.S. Army operates the appropriately named Hale Koa, which in Hawaiian means warrior’s house, as a recreational facility for military personnel and military retirees. So I felt confident that Ed was a veteran and, with my wife’s consent, invited him to join us for a drink.

Ed was in fact lonely and appreciated the invitation. Each year he vacationed in Hawaii. A widower, rather than go by himself he had invited one of his grandsons, aged twenty-something, to accompany. That day the grandson had met some other twenty-somethings on the beach and, at Ed’s urging, had gone out for the evening with them.

As it turned out, Ed and I had more in common than both being veterans. We both had served in the Aleutian Islands, he during World War II and I during the Cold War. And, in the course of talking about what we had done in the military, we learned that we are also both Episcopalians.

Unprompted, Ed told me about his relationship with the Episcopal Church. I guess he thought that as a priest this would be my primary interest. How little most people know about the clergy! Faith journeys interest me, but I must confess that listening to someone talk about his or her faith journey over drinks on Waikiki does not top my list of prospective topics for a scintillating conversation.

Although Ed was not reared in the Episcopal Church, his mother who died at age 34 and was not Episcopalian had sung in the choir of their town’s Episcopal church. During WWII, that Episcopal church had a plaque listing the names of those serving in the armed forces. The parish included Ed’s name on their list and prayed for him every week along with the others listed on the plaque. The parish had also sent him and, he presumed, all of those listed on the plaque a copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Ed drew much comfort from reading it during the war.

Following the war, Ed married a woman who belonged to the Methodist Church. Neither particularly liked the Methodist services and he did not want to return to his childhood Church, so they decided to join the local Episcopal church. Even when they twice moved to new towns, they continued to be Episcopalian.

Only once had he met an Episcopal priest he did not like. Ed had met that priest, who ironically was a distant cousin, during WWII when the priest had served as a military chaplain. The priest was arrogant, obnoxious, self-centered, and only interested in Episcopalians – a sharp contrast, Ed said, with the other Episcopal priests he had met.

Ed remarked that he did not understand the controversies currently roiling the Episcopal Church. He implied that he did not approve of homosexual relationships yet had clearly never considered leaving the Episcopalian fold. He also thought that the Church had more important business than focusing so much time and energy on sexual ethics.

Listening to Ed, I heard how three themes important to our Anglican heritage had shaped his faith journey. These themes – the pastoral, liturgical, and incarnational – led him to the Episcopal Church and kept him there.

After a couple of drinks, Ed said goodnight and left. In retrospect, I have wondered if I was the real beneficiary of our conversation that evening. Ed reminded me of why I am a priest and of what is important in our Anglican identity: reaching out in love to others (the pastoral), offering worship that helps people acknowledge or experience their humanity and the transcendent (the liturgical), and being the inclusive, loving people of God (the incarnational).

The Rev. George Clifford served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years, with tours at sea, with the Marine Corps, on the staff of the Chief of Chaplains, on exchange with the Royal Navy in London, as the senior Protestant chaplain at the Naval Academy, and as the senior chaplain at the Naval Postgraduate School. He taught philosophy at the Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School.

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