Storm-ravaged Whitecap Island, with its fragile links to the mainland, is a metaphor for the souls of those who attempt to cope with serious problems while alienated both from God and from the Christian community. Father Kavanagh suffers a sense of his own vulnerability, but he aids those in need through his fervent faith in God and in Christ as a personal savior, through the example he presents of a Christian life, and through his unceasing prayers. Kavanagh believes that the God of love helps humans endure troubles, not escape them. While the Episcopalian faith is frequently associated with ritual and liturgy, Father Kavanagh uses the liturgy only to forge links between humans and God, with each other, and with the congregations of the past, not for the liturgy’s own sake. He departs from liturgy when inspired to do so. He calls on the Bible, but he calls on appropriate secular verse to heal when it is appropriate.
Father Kavanagh’s faith, however, is not simply directed toward emotional support. He also demands personal accountability, confronting both the successful businessman Otis Bragg and the man who has abandoned his family, Jeffrey Tolson. Kavanagh and his wife, despite the personal pain the situation causes them, have his Mitford tenant, Hélène Pringle, arrested for theft, although later they are willing to drop charges. They model personal responsibility for their parishioners, both by the care they take of others in Mitford and on the island and by their willingness to sacrifice themselves to the needs of others. In Mitford, they look after Dooley Barlowe and continue a search for the boy’s lost siblings. On the island, they take in a three-year-old whose mother is hospitalized, despite the pain the situation causes Cynthia Kavanagh, unable to bear a child, when she must return the boy to his mother.