The Bishop’s E-pistle: The Wisdom of the Elders

Two weeks ago, Father Harold Knight died in Mesa. He was the oldest living Episcopal priest at 108 years old.

When Bishop Smith and I visited him in March of 2019, he read us a poem he had written:

I cannot go to church these days
But in spirit I am there.
I read the Sunday lessons
We are one in praise and prayer.
I miss familiar faces
But I see them in my mind.
I give my alms for the work of Christ
A willing pledge I sign.
Evil cannot conquer good
Christ’s teachings will always last;
When this is truly understood
With Christ our lot is cast.

–Father Harold Knight

Nine months into the pandemic, I hear this poem with such different ears. I may not be 108, but I know what it is like to be unable to go to church. I hear the poem and Father Knight’s wisdom now almost as a roadmap: how does a wise and faithful man approach an extended physical absence from church community?

Whose faces should I visualize? Have I kept up my pledge? When I read the lectionary, or worship online, how do I feel included in the praise and prayer of the larger whole? And through it all, how do I maintain that sure and certain hope in the power of God, the goodness of Christ, and our place within the heavenly kingdom?

The pandemic has given all of us a significant taste of what it is to be housebound and shut-in; and while that experience is new to most of us, Father Knight’s poem is a reminder that we have always had church members who couldn’t physically attend worship or congregational gatherings. Those who are housebound have always had to rely on their faith in a more independent way that those of us who are mobile and physically connected.

And, so now, those who were “ministered unto” in normal times become the wisdom to guide the rest of us. Father Knight’s poem is a reminder that God is present wherever we are, and that faith can endure through lengthy separation from physical community. I am so grateful for his life, his ministry, and his wisdom.

And you can hear the poem in his own, stirring, voice: