Our nation mourns the death of a great leader this week. Many have written about the legacy of Senator John McCain. Aside from his heroism as a soldier and his leadership in Congress and the Senate, few people know about his faith.
We gain some insight from his book published in 1999, Faith of My Fathers. In it, he describes his designation as a “Chaplain” during his days as a POW. He received this responsibility because he was the only one in camp who knew the words to the Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed. (I guess all that memory work in Confirmation pays off!)
In his book, McCain describes a Christmas service he led with his fellow POWs:
“On Christmas night we held our simple, moving service. We began with the Lord’s Prayer, after which a choir sang carols, directed by the former conductor of the Air Force Academy Choir, Captain Quincy Collins. I thought they were quite good, excellent, in fact. Although I confess that the regularity with which they practiced in the weeks prior to Christmas occasionally grated on my nerves.
But that night, the hymns were rendered with more feeling and were more inspirational than the offerings of the world’s most celebrated choirs. We all joined in the singing, nervous and furtive at first, fearing the guards would disrupt the service if we sang too loudly. With each hymn, however, we grew bolder, and our voices rose with emotion. Between each hymn, I read a portion of the story of Christ’s birth from the pages I had copied.
‘And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.’…The lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminated our gaunt, unshaven, dirty, and generally wretched congregation. But for a moment we all had the absolutely exquisite feeling that our burdens had been lifted. Some of us had attended Christmas services in prison before. But they had been Vietnamese productions, spiritless, ludicrous stage shows. This was our service, the only one we had ever been allowed to hold. It was more sacred to me than any service I had attended in the past, or any service I have attended since.
We gave prayers of thanks for the Christ child, for our families and homes, for our country. We half expected the guards to barge in and force us to conclude the service. Every now and then we glanced up at the windows to see if they were watching us as they had during the Church Riot. But when I looked up at the bars that evening, I wished they had been looking in. I wanted them to see us–faithful, joyful, and triumphant.
The last hymn sung was, ‘Silent Night.’ Many of us wept.”
John McCain. Faith of My Fathers. New York: Random House, 1999
Whether one agreed with McCain’s political views, it’s clear America has lost a great man and a man of great faith. We pray God’s blessings on his family.
See you in worship.