The following are remarks by the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, to the Reconvened 219th Diocesan Convention, October 15, 2010 at St. Paul's in Summerville.
“When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest....” 2 Corinthians 2:12-13a
These words of the Apostle are the words with which I began my Bishop’s Address when we met here on March 26. I returned to them as I concluded my remarks noting the apostles “…willingness, with much inner struggle and grief, to leave a work of evangelism to face the unpleasant demands of protecting the Church and defending the faith. A dreadful choice to sure!” Yet such a time is where some of us in diocesan leadership have found ourselves. We return now after this prolonged recess to the matters before this 219th Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina. I do not wish to keep you long this morning, though I may. This is not a Bishop’s Address. Rather it is an update on some of the more significant developments since we recessed six months ago. I have organized my words to you this morning in two overarching categories—opportunities that we have seized in fulfilling our vision and the challenges that continue to stand before us as we seek to carry out that which God has called us to do.
Fulfilling our Vision: Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age
The apostle Paul, after he concluded his words, that his spirit was not at rest, went on to say in the next verse,
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”
2 Corinthians 2:14
At our Diocesan Convention in 2009 I put forward what I believed was a God-given and gospel vision that would guide us through the stormy waters facing us at that time. The vision was succinctly stated as, “Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age.” There was a local, national, and international component to this vision. There still is. Slowly, yet steadily, it has begun to take root in the most unlikely places. As recently as Tuesday of this week I had the honor of being one of the presenting bishops at the Installation of the Vice-Chancellor of Sewanee—the University of the South, of which South Carolina was one of the founding dioceses. The new Vice-Chancellor, at several points in his address to the University, echoed our diocesan vision. Dr. John McCardell noted such things as “Biblical Anglicans” and “Global Anglicanism.” It resounded as he spoke about his hope and the future of this noble university and it’s School of Theology. So, too, with other events at which I have attended representing this great Diocese of South Carolina since we recessed this 219th Diocesan Convention in March.
Communion Partners and Global Anglicanism
I was grateful to be invited along with Bishop John Howe of the Diocese of Central Florida to represent the Communion Partner Bishops at the Global South to South Encounter in Singapore this past May. In the Communiqué from this important gathering these Dioceses with Communion Partner Bishops were singled out among all the Dioceses in the Episcopal Church as bishops and dioceses with whom these Provinces were willing to remain in fellowship and Communion. Later this summer, at the CAPA gathering in Entebbe, Uganda, once again the Communion Partner bishops were cited as the only ones within the Episcopal Church with whom these 13 Provinces could continue to work and partner without reservation. Though I might also add the CAPA provinces also referenced favorably the Anglican Church in North America. The Communion Partner Bishops and Rectors will meet later this fall in Orlando and our Anglican Communion Development Committee has been asked to give a presentation on our formative relationships and strategies within the emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century.
Michael Nazir-Ali—Visiting Bishop in South Carolina for Anglican Communion Development
In May of this year, the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon and I traveled to Nashotah House to meet with the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, retired Bishop of Rochester in England and one of the most respected figures in the Anglican Communion. We discussed the possibility of forming a relationship between him and the Diocese of South Carolina. Then in September the Rev. Jeffrey Miller and I met with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali in Washington D.C. to clarify the details of such a relationship. It is my great pleasure to announce at this Reconvened Annual Convention that he has agreed to be Visiting Bishop in South Carolina for Anglican Communion Relationships. Thus along with periodic visits here in the diocese for teaching and relational support, he will represent this Diocese on his travels around the world. This creative and vital relationship will give us further opportunities to strengthen existing and form new and abiding missional relationships with others in the emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century. It gives legs to our vision.
The Diocese of Egypt, with North Africa and the Horn of Africa
Less than a week ago I returned from Cairo, Egypt, where I had been invited by Bishop Mouneer Anis, Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, to attend an extended Executive Council Meeting of his Diocese and to lead a retreat for the clergy of the Diocese of Egypt, the Horn of Africa and North Africa. I was joined in this mission by my wife, Allison, who addressed the Clergy spouses, and by the Rev. Mike Clarkson, rector of Our Savior, Johns Island and the Rev. Chris Royer, associate at The Cross, Bluffton. It was a truly exciting time of ministry in Word and Spirit as we initiated a partnership between the Diocese of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa and the Diocese of South Carolina. Bishop Mouneer is scheduled to be in Charleston as a speaker at the upcoming Mere Anglicanism Conference in January of 2011. At that time we will look for an opportunity to celebrate this new partnership.
Ireland and the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh
Also this week I received an email from Bishop Ken Clarke of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh in Ireland. This past summer we established an important relationship there as well. Our Youth Coordinator, David Wright led a group of high school youth, young Christian leaders, to Ireland for a mission trip. So also the Rev. Chuck Owens, rector of The Cross, Bluffton, also spent some time in Bishop Clarke’s diocese, leading a clergy day which has had a transforming effect for many. Bishop Clarke referenced both of these unrelated missions in his Bishop’s Address this past Saturday during his recent Synod or Annual Diocesan Convention. Let me share with you just two of his recent comments. The first from his Bishop’s Address to his diocese:
“This summer we hosted a group of young people from the Diocese of South Carolina. The trip went very well and next year a team of young people will go to South Carolina. It is heartening to see the deepening links with South Carolina. The Bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence … has a passion for Gospel mission. This is a difficult time for him and his Diocese. We assure him and the people of the Diocese of our prayers and continued full support. We thank God for you and we look forward to a growing relationship in mission and ministry.”
The second is from an email Bishop Clarke sent to Fr. Chuck Owens:
“Brother, I want to thank you again for your visit to us. You had a real Barnabas ministry and you have no idea how blessed we were by both of you. (That is, his wife, Becky, joined him). Many times since then have I quoted you! You featured again in my Diocesan Synod Address a few days ago and I thought it might be good for you to see that your ministry to the Irish continues.”
How encouraging it is for me to know how quickly the bonds of affection are growing between our two dioceses and their people.
The Provinces of Tanzania, Burundi, and the Diocese of Dominican Republic
So, too, there has been a strengthening of our relationship with the Province of Tanzania through Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa through his recent visit here in South Carolina, through the work of the Anglican Communion Development Committee and through teaching missions there of the Rev. Greg Kronz, rector of St. Luke’s, Hilton Head. Time prevents me from referencing the many trips to the Dominican Republic that parishes from this Diocese have made and the participation of others in the Dominican Development Group. So, too, in Burundi, many from the parishes of this Diocese have gone out and been blessed as they have been a blessing. We are in fact truly about the work of "Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age"—both here and abroad.
Making Biblical Anglicans at Home
Along with these endeavors in the larger Anglican Communion, we have sought to engage in vigorous and creative ways with organizations within the Episcopal Church witnessing to what we believe is a right understanding of our faith and polity, working cooperatively with various groups from Communion Partners to such groups as the Union of Black Episcopalians.
May I pause here for a moment to ask those of you who were a part of that gathering here in June, of hosting the Union of Black Episcopalians from around this country in the Episcopal Church to please stand?
The Annual Renewal Conference at Kanuga was, in many ways, lead by many people from this Diocese of South Carolina and ministered to Episcopalians from all over the southeast if not further afield. Some 400 Episcopalians, I believe, attended that week-long conference. Then, next month the National Cursillo Gathering will meet in Myrtle Beach, S.C. hosted by our Diocese and the Upper Diocese of South Carolina, and again people from this Diocese will work with others within the Episcopal Church to further God’s mission in the world. Frankly, we have the heartfelt support of vast numbers of Anglicans and Episcopalians around the world. Thus the voices coming from outside the Diocese as well as from inside the Diocese that suggest we are courting separatism or an inappropriate autonomy rings rather hollow, when one considers what we are about, here in this Diocese. We are clearly connected in significant ways across the worldwide Anglican Communion. We are seeking to work collegially where we can with those within the Episcopal Church and with others in the larger Anglican scene in North America. Certainly we have challenged and will continue to challenge a tendency to revise the core doctrines of our church and to reshape the polity of the Episcopal Church through an inappropriate extension of power. What a great time to be alive and to be about the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Challenges to Fulfilling Our Vision
But make no mistake, there are challenges that await us at every turn. As you know we recessed in March with the unconstitutional incursions of the Presiding Bishop before us. We recessed rather than adjourned the convention because we did not know what the response would be to our demands that she follow the Constitution of the Episcopal Church. Had she removed the attorney she had retained without the authorization of this church’s polity we may have been able to adjourn this convention with an announcement by the chair. But that has not been the case. The request this convention made of her to desist her unauthorized incursion has met with stony silence.
Perhaps it is for the better, for subsequently, the Standing Committee and I engaged in a thorough study of the revisions to the Title IV Canons. These Canons are often referred to as the disciplinary canons of the church’s clergy. These revisions were approved at the General Convention in 2009 and are scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2011. Quite to our surprise upon a thorough study and analysis we discovered that these revisions give sweeping authority to Diocesan Bishops, undermine the guarantee of due process for all the clergy, and gives unconstitutional authority to the Presiding Bishop to intrude into a diocese without the Standing Committee’s authority thereby bringing the possibility of a dramatic change in the way the Episcopal Church has functioned over the last 200 years. As you know, these concerns have been aired and discussed at deanery meetings during September—therein providing sufficient time to understand the matters that lie before this body today.
These resolutions are not, as some have suggested, intended to remove this Diocese from The Episcopal Church. On the contrary they are proposed for the purpose of enabling this Diocese of South Carolina to continue to rightly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church (rightly understood) and the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them and to be able to stand as a serious minority voice in this Church. Indeed, it is so we can continue to support and defend the Constitution and the Episcopal Church that this Diocese helped to establish over two hundred years ago that the Standing Committee has put forward these resolutions.
Why Not Downplay the Difficulties?
As I have said repeatedly in recent weeks at the various deanery gatherings, some within the Diocese would desire us to quit battling; to go with the flow; to play down the conflicts that so trouble many of us about the Episcopal Church’s confirmed trajectory. To celebrate the good--and certainly I can cite some encouraging signs around the Episcopal Church—in fact I have done so already in these remarks. But allow me to reference just briefly another.
The Presiding Bishop has written recently in support of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. He met just this week with an ecumenical body before the United Nations Officials and the Secretary General Ban ki-moon. Since I have just spoken with a Suffragan Bishop of Egypt, the Rt. Reverend Andrew Proud who oversees the Horn of Africa which includes Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia on behalf of Bishop Mouneer, I am sensitive to the issues the Sudanese face. I am glad that the Presiding Bishop has spoken in support of the leaders of the Sudan in their struggles with an aggressive, radicalized Islam. But even this support of our Episcopal brethren in the Sudanese Church is compromised, because the positions espoused by a majority of our leaders in the Episcopal Church cause ever increasing difficulties for these very Anglicans she is speaking out on behalf of, thus the complexity of our present crisis. Yet, nevertheless, we can appreciate her lending her voice to these concerns.
Nevertheless, while we can be grateful for positive things within our church, to fail to address the real dangers that lie before us and that would compromise or endanger our ability to pursue our vision for the gospel both at home and abroad would be a failure to face reality as it is and, consequently, would be a failure of leadership. The sad truth is that our theological commitments are seen by more than a few of the present leaders in this church as the enemy. We hold a position that needs to be purged or eliminated, or at best contained or marginalized in an ecclesiastical ghetto. There are such things in this world as mutually exclusive understandings of the Christian faith. There are such things as a mutually exclusive understanding of the church’s mission, where coexistence would seem unlikely if not impossible.
Why Not Just Leave?
Along with the voices that just say, “Be quiet and get along,” there are others who say, “Bishop, why don’t you just leave? Depart with or without the buildings?” To these voices I say “We still have a God-given vocation within this worldwide struggle.” Not unlike a battalion in a military campaign which is ordered to hold a pass or a position against overwhelming odds—so we are called to resist what many of us believe is a self-destructive trajectory within the Episcopal Church; to resist until it is no longer possible and at the same time to help shape the emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century, which is increasingly relational and less institutional.
In conclusion, the question that stands before this reconvened house is whether the passing of these resolutions is the best the way to do this. I believe at present they are. But each of us must vote his or her conscience while respecting the conscience of others. Then let us get back to the joyful work of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to a world in need of his saving sacrifice on the cross and its transforming message. My prayer is that we do this and will continue to recognize that we are in a season not unlike the days of Nehemiah: when men and women were called to have a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other—or to put it in New Testament terms, to guard the faith and to proclaim the Gospel.
The Gravity of the Moment That is Before Us
Before I conclude these remarks I must inform you of one further development that has happened this week. One of the tasks of leadership is to make available as best as one is able not only the opportunities but also the challenges, and with both, the risks involved. I have spoken of many of the opportunities we have seized in just the last six months. I turn now to a real challenge and a grievous risk. On Tuesday evening of this week as Allison and I were driving home from Sewanee I received a phone call from a fellow bishop. He said that he and five other bishops had received an email earlier that evening from the Presiding Bishop. She was encouraging each of them to speak with me as “the apparent focus of this diocesan gathering does not bode well for [Mark’s] status as a bishop who has sworn to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church.” Perhaps she has forgotten it has not boded well for my status as a bishop since the first election. But frankly for me it has never been about my status— since that September morning in 2006 when Bishop Salmon called while I sat in a Board of Examining Chaplains meeting in Fresno, California to tell me I had been elected as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina it has been unswervingly about this Diocese. It remains that to this day.
Well upon hearing of her email to these bishops I wrote directly to the Presiding Bishop on Wednesday morning addressing many of my concerns and reminding her of the concerns of this Convention; that she had been informed by certified mail of the resolution which expressed our expectation that she remove the attorney unconstitutionally retained within this Diocese. I then wrote that after six months we had still not heard from her. While her email in response failed once again to address this concern, she did write of her fear about the havoc that she believes is likely to ensue if I keep on my present course. What she fails to address or I suppose to understand is the havoc that is likely to ensue if we depart from our present course. Thus while there is no absence of opportunities that come to us they come replete with a church filled with challenges. Several of those bishops who received the email have called me or sent me emails since that email was sent to them. More than a few of them said, “Mark, we need your voice in the house of bishops. We need the voice of South Carolina.” I said, “This is my voice. You need to understand. This is my voice.” So the question is, “Is there a place for a vigorously stated minority opinion in this church?” I believe it is also the voice of many of the people here in this Diocese of South Carolina. If you want our voice, then we’re giving it to you.
Thus, the opportunities come in a church filled with challenge. There is no risk free way forward for us. I leave you this morning with words of a preacher from another era, who wrote: “…if it be a man’s ambition to avoid the troubles of life the recipe is perfectly simple. Let him shed his ambitions in every direction, let him cut the wings of every soaring purpose, and let him assiduously cultivate a little life, with the fewest correspondences and relationships. By this means, a whole continent of afflictions will be escaped and remain unknown.” (J. H. Jowett)
And I might dare to add one final thought to this preacher’s words, that along with a whole continent of afflictions that will be escaped and remain unknown there will be an entire universe of opportunities that will be lost and will go unfulfilled. You must weigh, my brothers and sisters, you must weigh these opportunities and challenges along with their risks. You must weigh them on the scale of your heart.
It is indeed a great time to be alive. But it is also a time that tries men’s souls.
But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.