South Carolina Episcopalians
An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans
not affiliated with ACNA, the Episcopal Church or its dioceses
January 28, 2019
Dolores Miller, Rise in Glory
A loyal and beloved traveler among God's faithful leaves a lesson for us all
In the long history of the Episcopal Church and its Anglican tradition in South Carolina, there are many unsung heroes who sacrificed generously and led selflessly for its witness to God's continuing Love.
Dolores Miller of Florence, who departed this life today, most certainly belongs in this remarkable company of saints.
Historian Ronald Caldwell has written a beautiful tribute to her long service to the Church and her persistence in challenging the culture war inflicted by a former ex-bishop.
Following ouster from her beloved St. John's Episcopal Church seven years ago, Dolores and other ex-pats created their own new worshiping community that now flourishes as St. Catherine's Episcopal Church. With their knowledge of the Church and Anglican tradition, they wasted little time restoring its historic Christian witness in the Pee Dee.
Those once disparaged became the cornerstone of new life and possibility. Like many rebellious parishes that followed Mark Lawrence out of the Church, St. John's has never fully recovered from its senseless ejection of these most loyal members.
Read Dr. Caldwell's excellent tribute to Dolores
I first became acquainted with Dolores and her faithful friend and companion, Frances Elmore, when I myself was a member of St. John's. That was back in the 1970s. The congregation rightly reveled in its history as a source of many bishops, distinguished clergy, and lay leaders in the Diocese and the broader Church.
At that time, its leadership was deeply traditionalist but took seriously its understanding that God's love was intended for all people especially those marginalized over many years. Dolores walked right into that challenge as she became the first woman elected to the Vestry and later, Senior Warden.
Her energy, business sense, and understanding of the Gospel made her a beloved catalyst for energizing what was once a staid and sometimes cranky congregation. She was always respectful of the many paths taken by others to find their way into the pews at St. John's. No one was a stranger to her, and her example was contagious.
(As a very green reporter at the local newspaper, I was always encouraged - and sometimes gently corrected - by Dolores' wise counsel. Her M.O. was to pull at my elbow and quietly whisper in my ear a carefully-worded comment on my latest news stories.)
Read Dolores' own account of an early Eucharist at St. Catherine's
Lesson learned from Dolores' life and witness
One gift Jesus bestowed on his followers is the ever-present tension between the needs of the institutional Church and God's invitation to be a radical, new thing in world,that often tested the limits of doctrine, polity, and tradition.
This challenge has confronted and, sometimes, confounded God's people going all the way back to ancient Biblical times.
Many of us understand that tension as an "either-or" proposition. Dolores saw it as "both-and". The institutional Church is not always misguided, any more than our enthusiasm for that which new and different is always on the mark.
In forcing us to struggle in this tension, God draws us deeper into the mystery of His love.
In 2012 Dolores was deeply hurt by the loss of the parish family that she'd loved and the senseless turmoil created by its misguided bishop. However, she never lost faith in the institutional Church, even while dedicating herself to God's calling to be a new thing in the world.
In grieving her passing, we'd be remiss not to remember Dolores' "both-and" understanding of our calling as a Church and as the People of God. Indeed, it is an example that illuminates our path forward, even as she passes from our company.
In my case I'll be imagining that insistent tug on the sleeve reminding me that membership in the institutional Church is always a struggle, but that God's love is constant and overwhelming... even when it hurts.
May God bless Dolores, and all of us whose lives continue to be transformed by hers.