Father McDonald named head of ecumenical office

by Nancy Schwerin

CHARLESTON — The Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office has a new leader, Father C. Alexander “Sandy” McDonald. For him the position has been a long time coming. Since high school he’s sought out ways to better communicate with our sisters and brothers of other faiths. When he had to agree to disagree with a friend of another faith, that didn’t suit him.

While the priest was in seminary, the Lutherans and Roman Catholics were in dialogue, most famously about justification. The dialogue and resulting statement were an exciting time for the young seminarian.

“I was excited because here was a way past our old ways of talking about our faiths with each other; it focused not only on our differences but what we share,” he said. “Need these differences divide us?”

As vicar for ecumenical affairs, he will work to establish a continuing dialogue and activities with people of other faiths.

“I think my first goal is simply to live up to the standards sets by my predecessor,” said the pastor of Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta.

Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter’s in Columbia, held the position for 12 years.

“I stand on the shoulders of a giant,” Father McDonald said. “Msgr. Lehocky has brought an intelligence and an enthusiasm that really sets a high standard.”

Father McDonald with the help of his administrative assistant, Melissa Walker, a longtime employee of the office, will continue to build on the diocese’s relationship with the South Carolina Christian Action Council and LARCUM (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist).

He is also thinking ahead to future projects, which are currently in the idea stage. The priest hopes to revive a conversation with Baptists in South Carolina and seeks to incorporate dialogue on current topics with people of other faiths.

“Interreligious dialogue and understanding have been brought to the forefront since Sept. 11. We need to continue developing our understanding of people of other faiths, especially people of Muslim [descent],” said Father McDonald.

He was particularly touched by the faith sharing at a LARCUM event last spring. At the closing prayer service, leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu religions were each invited to offer up a prayer for peace.

The priest saw the segment as a moment of clarity for tolerance in the presence of people of other faiths while they prayed according to their own understanding of God.

Father McDonald has been involved with interreligious affairs on a diocesan level since shortly after his ordination in 1991. He strives to incorporate ecumenism in his North Augusta parish as well.

The parish has partnered with the local Episcopalian and Lutheran churches. Together they host a joint summer bible school for children and adults and last year held a prayer service after Sept. 11.

With the affable Father McDonald at the helm, the people of the Diocese of Charleston can look forward to diligence and sincerity in their representative on the ecumenical front.