ROBERT HUNT: HOW GOD TRANSFORM “SINNERS” INTO “SAINTS”
(Homily by the Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara ,missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Episcopal Church at Chapel of Christ the Lord, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017, April 26,2016)
God works in mysterious, amazing and wonderful ways and sometimes more than we can ever hope or imagine. God is a God of miracles, transforming our lives from ordinary to extraordinary.
One of these great miracles of God is how He makes holy out of the unholy, saints out of sinners. God makes use of even our frailties and weaknesses to accomplish great things. Sometimes God uses even wretched sinners for His greater purpose and glory.
Such is the life and works of The Rev. Robert Hunt, the person we honor today, one of the “Holy Women, Holy Men.” Hunt was vicar of the Reculver, Kent in the Church of England in 1602 but was forced to leave his wife Elizabeth and their two children owing to his wife’s adulterous relations. Then in 1606, he was again forced to leave his second parish, at Old Heathfield in Sussex, where he himself was accused of having his own adulterous affair with his servant, Thomasina. In connection with his adulterous affairs, he was also accused by his congregation with related charge of “absenteeism and neglect of his congregation.” He must be pretty busy with something else, than preaching, teaching and performing the sacraments.
Nowadays we hear the words “sexual misconduct by clergy” and the manner in which bishops and archbishops dealt with it in their churches. In the Roman Catholic Church, there had been many cases where the whole church was put on trial because instead of dealing with the offenders, the bishops would take the easy way by transferring them from context to another. They would excardinate the offenders from their diocese and ask their colleagues to incardinate them into their dioceses, where sometimes they reformed but at most times, they would repeat the same offense under new circumstances.
Well, it was a kind of unholy practice that dates back time immemorial in the history of the church---and the Church of England is no exception. So that was the main reason why Robert Hunt was “recruited” by then Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Richard Bancroft, to be chaplain of the expedition to the New World by the London Virginia Company. He wanted to get rid of the adulterous Hunt from England and “punish” him by sending him to another world, to be chaplain of an expedition of only boys and young men.
Hunt sailed with the English colonists to America in order to serve the Virginia Expedition. He was accompanied by Richard Hakluyt, Jr., the geographer priest, and Edward Maria Wingfield. Together, they would become the missionaries and spiritual counselors to provide spiritual comfort and encouragement to the colonists.
On April26, 1607 after a long voyage of 144 days, the three ships and 105 men and boys made landfall at the southern edge of the mouth of Chesapeake Bay at the Atlantic Ocean. They named the location Cape Henry in honor of Henry Frederick Prince of Wales. There Hunt preached what would be the first Anglican-Protestant or non-Roman Catholic sermon in America since Sir Francis Drake’s landfall at California in 1579. In addition to his encouraging sermon, Fr. Robert Hunt planted a memorial cross in Jamestown, which remains up to this day.
Jamestown, named in honor of then English King James 1 would become the first settlement colony of the British Isles and the progenitor of English colonial churches in America. From this beginning, Christianity Anglican style would flourish and would later give birth to the Episcopal Church that we know today. On June 21, 1607 the Rev. Hunt celebrated what would probably be the first known Service of Holy Communion in what is now today the United States of America.
I have no time to research what were the contributions of Fr. Ricard Hakluyt, Jr. and Fr. Edward Maria Wingfield to the new settlement but for Hunt, he was credited to be a “peace maker,” an arbiter of petty quarrels and religious schisms in the camp. In the midst of terrible living conditions in Jamestown Island and their struggle for sheer survival, Hunt would often rise to the occasion by exhorting the colonists, young men and boys, to move on and persevere. Many of them would die the first year.
From the words of his colleague, Rev. Wingfield: “ Robert was a man not in any way to be touched with the rebellious spirit of a popish spirit, not blemished with the least suspicion of a factious schismatic, whereof I had a special care.” In other words, The Rev. Robert Hunt became a man of peace, of goodwill and an agent of reconciliation.
What can we learn from Hunt’s life and example?
First, that we are all sinners in God’s sight but God can transform our sinfulness to accomplish His glory, even the sin related to sex. Jesus said, “the poor you always have with you." In a sense, “the issue of sex will always be with us” as well, as it was from the beginning of time. We are born from the first Adam and Eve, east of Eden and there is no perfection in us, until the last day, when God will raise us up in glory. Without sugar coating the crime of sexual misconduct, this awareness should sober us up from condemnation of those who have fallen from sexual disgrace. In the economy of God, we hate the sin but love the sinner.
Second, God is no respecter of persons and if you are willing, you can be used as a mighty instrument in the hand of God. Saul was a persecutor of Christians but when God called him out, he would turn to become the evangelist and missionary to the Gentiles par excellence. John Newton, the slave trader transformed by God composed the song “Amazing Grace” which described his journey from sin. In one undying hymn amazing Grace, Newton wrote: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.”
Third, as Christians our identity is found in Jesus Christ. Recently, a shocker in our more liberal and modern world was brought about by the paternity test involving our present Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the Anglican Communion, The Most Rev. Justin Welby. It was found that Bishop Welby is not the son of Gabin Welby, the husband of his mother. It was revealed in the paternity test that his biological father was actually Sir Anthony Montague Browne, the last private secretary to Winston Churchill. Welby's mother, Jane Williams, also revealed that her romantic encounter with Browne was "fueled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides," shortly before her marriage to Gavin Welby.
The world waited with bated breath what would Welby’s reaction. In other eras and places and circumstances, it would be met as “shame and scandal in the family.” But Welby spoke with candor and said, "My identity is in Jesus Christ: I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in Him never changes.. People will judge me on who I am and on what I do, not my genetic makeup."
Yes, like ABC Welby, Hunt’s identity as a Christian----and our identities as well----is truly found, not in genetics and not in history of sin,but in Jesus Christ, who called us out of the darkness into His marvelous light. Amen.