Thursday, November 28, 2013

Requiescat in Pace: The Rev. David A. Dingwall

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
   and its people as a delight.
 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
   or the cry of distress. 
 ISAIAH 65: 17-19

On November 24th, the Rev. David A. Dingwall sat down at his computer and posted in his blog the schedule for the week at St. Paul's-by-the-Sea in Ocean City, Md., where he was the Rector.

"On Tuesday from 10am-12pm, the Shepherd's Crook food bank & clothing store is open on the ground floor of the Parish House...."

Fr. David was assisting with this ministry on Tuesday, the day some in the church remember hymn-writer Isaac Watts, when the fire began.  Various news sources are reporting that a man named John Sterner, a client of the ministry, ran into the basement of the facility with his clothes on fire.  According to witnesses, he embraced a volunteer, causing the flames to spread to her.  She remains in a burn unit at a Baltimore hospital. Another volunteer tried to "stop, drop and roll" Sterner to extinguish the flames, but was unsuccessful. Sterner died at the scene, and Fr. David, who had gone upstairs and was overcome by smoke, was taken to Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Md., where he later also succumbed.

St. Paul's is not, to my knowledge, affiliated with Integrity or a Believe Out Loud congregation.  Neither I nor any member of the Integrity Board of Directors ever met him, or knew of him before this week. But Fr. David was a friend of ours. 

He was our friend because of the kind of work that happens at St. Paul's.  Hungry people who need food could find it there.  There was clothing to be had if you needed it.  And the Internet and phone were available to help you stay connected to the world if a computer or an iPhone or even a permanent address were more than you could swing right now.  LGBT youth are twice as likely as their straight or cisgender friends to be homeless, so when folks help them, we are grateful.

He was our friend because St. Paul's has a welcoming statement that reaches out towards everybody, and mentions gay people specifically.  Something tells me if we talked with him a bit about it, he'd see to it to expand that statement even wider, or at least hear us out.  This is at the core of our work: in the wake of sweeping statements about fairness and inclusion, we are striving to make them reality, one congregation at a time.  St. Pauls is -- it would appear -- a congregation that gets it.

He was our friend because he read the story about a New Jersey waitress, a lesbian and a former Marine, who reportedly received a condemnation about her "lifestyle" instead of a tip*, and was so bothered by that idea that on November 17th, he preached about it, saying in part:
"When it comes to the connection between religion and sex…what we hear most often from the Christian community is rule based. What behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not. Who can do what with whom in the eyes of God…or at least what someone has decided is acceptable in God’s eyes. No less a figure than Pope Francis has pointed out that Christians need to get over our obsession with sexual orientation saying that 'If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?'"
He was our friend because, when the State of Maryland made marriage equality the law of the land and the Right Rev. James J. Shand authorized clergy in the Diocese of Easton to offer the authorized blessing rite to same-sex couples along with witnessing their civil marriage if they wished, Fr. David said yes, he would.

Later in the same sermon, Fr. David paraphrased a Gospel story thusly:
"When the disciples reported that the crowds of people who had come to hear him were hungry, and hoped that Jesus would send them away, instead said to the disciples 'You feed them.' Not … 'find out if they deserve it…and only then feed them;' but 'You feed them.'"
This was a lesson Fr. David and the people of St. Paul's clearly took to heart, and it was what he was doing when he died. We in the church mourn his loss, but we must celebrate his example, and go now and do likewise.

The Rev. David A. Dingwall was born in British Columbia. He received his M. Div. at the College of Emmanuel and Saint Chad in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He was ordained a deacon of the Anglican Church of Canada in May of 1988, and as priest in December of that same year.  His first parish was Christ Church: Alert Bay where he was serving as Rector and also Priest-In-Charge of Saint George’s: Kingcome Inlet, on Cormorant Island off the British Columbia coast.

Fr. David moved to Maryland with his wife, Brenda, their three sons, and their dogs in 2003.  He served in a non-stipendiary capacity at a number of congregations until completing the naturalization process.  He served as rector at St. Paul's-by-the-Sea since 2005.

Plans for a memorial service to be held next week are in formation.  We will share them when they are known.

Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.

NOTE: There is some uncertainty about the waitress's story Fr. David cites.  Its value may be purely apocryphal.

Christian Paolino is Chair of the Integrity Stakeholders' Council 


Ann said...

I find this posting completely inappropriate - to co-opt this horrible tragedy into a self serving essay is very disappointing. I am a member of Integrity and long time activist. Putting this up in the name of Integrity is just wrong IMO.

Michael Petti said...

I found this article to be moving and quite appropriate. I'm glad to know more about the quiet work done by Fr. David, who seems to be a friend to all God's people. I disagree with any negative characterization and thank the writer for sharing his perspective and points of life connection.

Susan Pederson said...

Thank you for this wonderful reminder that we are all God's children and when we work together, whether formally as a part of a movement or quietly and independently, we achieve the most wonderful results. I believe we can celebrate Father David's life and his ministry as a prime example of accepting all of God's children. Thank you for this wonderful article. Rest in Peace, Father David! Your work on earth is done.