We received difficult news last Thursday. The “we” I refer to is the People of St. James Church, the Anglican congregation I have loved and served for over 20 years. The “difficult news” is the decision in a Orange County Court that although our people bought and have owned and maintained our house of worship since 1949, a Superior Court judge says the property now belongs to our former denomination, from whom we disaffiliated in 2004.
We left over issues of core Christian doctrine. You see, we still believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the book from which our lives are to be guided in all matters of thought, word and behavior! We still believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came to earth, lived, died on a cross for us and was bodily resurrected! We still believe that only through Jesus can man gain salvation! Because our former denomination no longer held to these core Christian tenants, we left them while still remaining connected to our worldwide denomination, Anglicanism, of which we are now a part as members of the Anglican Church in North America .
When we left our former denomination, we held in our hands a letter from our former diocese, drafted and signed in 1991. It was an official diocesan letter written on behalf of the diocesan bishop, waiving any ownership claims on our buildings or property. We thought the diocese meant what it said in that letter. Unfortunately, the diocese and the national church went against their promise and sued us in secular court for our property.
We have been in that legal struggle for 8 1/2 years. Our desire has been to faithfully stand in this time of trial with a conviction that God has asked us to bring His Gospel Light and Truth into the courts of our land. But last Thursday’s decision may mean that we will be required to relinquish our property into the hands of those who did not purchase it, care for it, and who have not worshiped in it during its more than 60 years of existence. Ouch.
What does cancer have to do with this disappointment? When I heard the news of the judge’s decision, I felt something that was a familiar. It was one of those “déjà vu” moments. I knew I’d felt that same feeling before. Immediately I remembered being in my breast surgeon’s office when she looked at Prince Philip and me and said, “You have advanced invasive breast cancer.” At the moment she said the words I felt the world slip out from underneath us. And in hearing the judge’s decision there was a similar feeling — the kind that makes you turn to God and say, “Really, Lord? Really?!”
But as soon as that memory came, I found myself thanking cancer. Why? Because through my year-long battle with cancer I learned many lessons and one of the key lessons I learned was this: WE MAY BE SURPRISED WHEN TRIALS, DISAPPOINTMENTS AND DIFFICULTIES COME OUR WAY, BUT GOD IS NOT.
Cancer taught me that God knows about every difficulty we will face before it comes our way. He is NEVER surprised or caught off guard. By His sovereignty, He has figured into His plan for our lives every trial, every disappointment, every difficulty.
Cancer taught me that God goes ahead of us into every trial. And if we will face the trial with faith, we will find Him in the midst of it with us. This convinces me that where He has walked, I can walk also. Where He has gone ahead of me, I can go — even through the darkest night, the deepest valley.
So thank you, Cancer! Although I still don’t like you much, you have been used by God to teach me many things. I go through this current trial stronger and with greater faith. I used to be afraid, Cancer. But through my battle with you, God taught me that there is no reason to fear. No weapon formed against us will prosper. (Isaiah 54:17) If our God is for us, who shall be against us? (Romans 8:31) If my congregation is able to retain our properties, or if we must painfully relinquish that which belongs to us, we will be fine. You taught me that, Cancer. You could take some things from me, but you couldn’t take what was most important — my faith in Jesus Christ! That will be true for my congregation also.
So in the midst of trial, thank you, Cancer — and Glory be to God our Savior!
With love and blessings,
After more than 25 years in parish ministry, Rev. Cathie retired in early 2018 to pursue a quieter life with her husband Philip in the mountains of Central Oregon. Although no longer a leader in congregational life, she continues to follow her calling and passion to minister to those who suffer, especially those with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.