Arelationshipforgedmore than 20 years ago is bearing fruit in a book packed with symbols and metaphors.
Water. Silence. Flesh.
The Rev. Charlie Roper of Atlanta, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church from 1978-94, has recently published a book of poems that serve as a memoir. But “The World, the Flesh and God” will not simply sit on shelves for admiration. When people buy it, they’ll also be contributing to an endowment for a school largely unknown to this side of the world, mainly because it’s on the other: The Msalato Theological College in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, Tanzania, Africa.
A long-time relationship that led to the book that led to the endowment is between Roper and two of his friends and former parishioners: the Rev. Dr. Sandy Mc-Cann and Dr. Martin McCann who, until the late 1990s, practiced medicine in Columbus. He was a pathologist at St. Francis Hospital, and she practiced radiology at HughstonSports Medicine Hospital. The couple have two grown daughters.
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While still active at St. Thomas and practicing medicine, their local outreach focus was the Stewart Community Home. On 15th Street, it houses and provides other services for mentally disabled adults.
After retirement from medicine,theMcCannsmovedto the Washington, D.C., area where Sandy attended seminary at Virginia Theological, and where they planned for a second career as missionaries. She graduated in 2003.
Sandy was ordained an Episcopal deacon in 2004 and a priest in 2005. Following seminary, they moved to Africa where they had some initial training. After the training they moved to Tanzania. Sandy has worked for the theological school in Dodoma and Martin works in a nearby medical clinic. She has both taught at Msalato and worked in its communications and development offices.
The McCanns are soon signing on for a third threeyear stint, having completed six years in a place far removed from the conveniences of life in the West.
Their former priest has obvious admiration.
“I have great love for Sandy and Martin. She went to every class (at St. Thomas) I taught,” Roper recalled in an interview last week.
Sandy McCann once called Roper “her salvation” because of the way he taught and befriended her — but he refused the lofty title.
“They are in an entirely different culture and they stepped into an area where they could be misunderstood. They are valiant people,” he said.
The priest of St. Thomas since 1999, the Rev. Doug Hahn, has long understood the relationship with the McCanns and the parish as a partnership. He has visited them there, as have many others from the diocese, including the bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, the Rt. Rev. Neil Alexander.
Roper’s book is part of this ongoing partnership. It’s dedicated to the McCanns.
A consistent hobby for Roper, now retired and living in the Atlanta area, has been poetry. “The World, the Flesh and God” is organized like a memoir, tracking his early years as a priest tootherkeyeventsincluding his first date with his wife Betty; a sighting of President Franklin D. Roosevelt with his father; and musings about things as varied as silence, quantum physics and trees.
Another friend knew of his hobby. Walter Bruggemann, Ph.D., the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, suggested Roper print his poems.
“Walter Bruggemann and I have had a curious relationship all these years. He suggested I do this, about two years ago. He said, ‘If you don’t do it, I will.’ I always said the printed word doesn’t have the contours or the sensuality of other forms of communication. A poem should be shared with emotion and personal presence. … Jesus never wrote down anything, except when he drew the line in the sand.
“We should still be sitting around fires in the forest and in caves and giving vitality to human emotion, instead of on pieces of paper.”
“It came to me that God wanted the money (for Msalato),” Roper said. All the proceeds from the book will provide scholarships for African students. On Monday, Roper will be in town to address a lunch gathering at St. Thomas — the first of three in a weekly Advent series. Sandy McCann, who comes back to the States for several months each year, will join him at the podium in All Saints’ Hall.
“Charlie’s gift is leading peopletoJesus,withoutthem having to check their brains at the door,” Sandy McCann once said.“Hepresentedtheology in a way I understood. … I understood God and the Holy Spirit, and he said it was OK to put Jesus on the shelf for awhile.” She said Roper always gave her the freedom to struggle with her doubts and questions.
“God is always a companion in great silence. God’s silence is an inspiration in the confidence that God has in trusting me,” Roper said last week. “When Jesus was on the cross, God was there in utter silence. Jesus commended his soul to God, and behold, there was resurrection.”