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Bishop Lawrences address the 226th Diocesan ConventionThe following address was delivered by the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence XIV Bishop of South Carolina, at the 226th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina held at St. Paul’s Church, Summerville on March 11, 2017.  Note: this printed version varies from the audio version. Listen to the sermon.

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  Exodus 3:14

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send Me.” Isaiah 6:8

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, … I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:4-5

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,”    Romans 1:1

In each of these passages, the emphasis is upon the will of God—the call of God.  From Moses through Paul the call was not something the sojourner sought for himself.  He was pressed into the service of God by the will of God.  It was not his choice.  Moses, Jeremiah, Paul all insist that theirs was not self-chosen task.  They were cornered; and caught; and then they were called.   Whatever owning there was of the call, and of course a call must eventually be owned—as we can hear in the responses of Isaiah and Mary—the owning is always secondary to God’s beckoning.  Jesus said as much to his disciples “You did not chose me but I chose you.”  But to say it again—however reluctantly in Jeremiah’s case—each of these saints owned the call; made decisions regarding the call; and took up the responsibilities that came with the call.  There would be no excuses; No blaming of others; No taking refuge in hard circumstances.  Some of you here have walked a similar path.

I recall these moments of redemptive history for a reason.  The question before this 226th Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina—historic, as it maybe—is the question of the call of God.  What is his will?  Are we—this Diocese of South Carolina— called to affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America?  Is this our God-given vocation?  

        A reporter of Anglican and Episcopalian news suggested recently in a brief segment about our upcoming convention that we were reluctantly voting to affiliate with the ACNA.  Well I do not know who he is talking with in the diocese, or where he gets his information—I suppose we all have our own take on the vote— but let me make it clear—he has not been speaking with me.  He suggested that we are rather tepidly making the decision.  He must not be familiar with how reluctantly this diocese in 1790s chose to affiliate with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  That was tepidly chosen.  So just for the record, I am not voting reluctantly to join the ACNA.  I am not like some dubious citizen casting a ballot for one candidate because I cannot stomach the other.  No, quite the contrary.  I am strongly in favor of affiliation.  I believe that now is the time.  For if, one believes as I do that we in this diocese are to make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age and to help shape Emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century—as I have stated at every diocesan convention since 2008—there is no better place to do this in North America than the ACNA.   I believe this is a formative moment for us.  I believe it is also a good moment for the Anglican Church in North America.  

As far back as March 2013 this Convention by resolution instructed me as your bishop to establish a Task Force on Affiliation. I chose its membership later that spring, appointing clergy and lay representatives from each deanery.   They have done their work with deliberation and diligence.  Likewise, our clergy at clericus gatherings and Clergy Conferences have studied, discussed, and debated the matter.  Last fall we offered presentations in every deanery for delegates and vestry persons.  Many of our congregations have also held forums.  Craige Borrett, Boo Pennewill, Canon Lewis and I have given many talks on the matter.  Questions of Anglican ecclesiology have been discussed at length and rightly so.  These will no doubt continue in the future. But let them not dominate our conversations with one another to the exclusion of reaching the lost and the unchurched; or from growing our existing congregations and planting new ones.  Certainly, I believe our long history and ecclesial experience as a diocese can be very helpful for the ACNA.  For as some have observed there is some messy ecclesiology in certain corners of the ACNA; but, frankly, there is some weak missiology in certain corners of the diocese of South Carolina; and certainly missed church planting opportunities in more than a few places in the Low Country.  So I believe now is the time to affiliate.  I am casting my vote with measured enthusiasm.   

I can still remember my first swimming lesson at Jefferson Park in my hometown of Bakersfield, California.  I walked with other nervous children up the steps, through the gate and on to the concrete surface surrounding the pool.  We paraded in single file around the entire pool—past the low and high diving boards (all very scary)—looking all the while at sparkling blue waters and noting with wide eyes the depth elevations on the tiled sides.  We then took our seat on the shallow end dangling our feet in the cool water on that warm June morning in 1956.  The instructor then led us down the steps and into the pool.  Being short for my age, the water rose up to my chest even though I stood on tiptoes.  She had us move our arms and walk around.  Then we stuck our heads under the water, first with eyes closed and then with eyes opened.  There was a bevy of other acts to get us familiar with this new environment.  But the real test came when she told us to stretch our arms out, lay back on the water, kick our feet up and float.  After demonstrating what she had in mind she turned to us and spoke calmly—“It’s your turn.”  The water, she assured, would hold us.  

So I say to each of us circling around this pool of ecclesial affiliation, having dangled our feet in these waters for a season, and some of us even wading into the shallows, standing on our tiptoes, it is time to join our fellow Anglicans in the ACNA as they seek to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.  

Some may want to hear the reasons why I am eager for this vote—I shall give you ten!

Ten Reasons Why I am for Affiliation with ACNA

•    It fits well with our vision of Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age—helping to shape Emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century.  In the fall of 2008, I began to seek God for a diocesan vision that would guide us as diocese into the future.  There was much upheaval within the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion.  I had just returned to the diocese after spending the summer attending the first Global Anglicans Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem and the 2008 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury.   I hardly knew the complexity of the journey ahead of us.  I only knew we needed a diocesan vision that would guide us in the decisions before us.  Decisions as you know are not visions.You can make decisions and still not have a vision.  Now in retrospect it seems a remarkable prescient vision that came and one that has repeatedly guided us as we have walked through the challenging path in TEC and sojourned since in the Anglican Disapora in North America.  Frankly, our vision of making Biblical Anglicans and the vision of the ACNA to reach the North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ seem flip sides of the same coin.  Our vision and ACNA’s calling appear from where I stand to fit seamlessly together: like a God-given vocation.

•    Our global partners have recognized the ACNA, seating Archbishop Foley Beach as a Primate at their Primatial meetings.  Since 2014 the Primates of the Global South Steering Committee have given us Provisional Primatial Oversight.  Last October I attended the Global South Conference in Cairo, Egypt giving a report to the assembled bishops, priests and lay representatives; I was not there as a guest but as a fellow representative.  I was delighted to see the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Foley Beach, seated with voice and vote among the Primates of the Global South Provinces.  He is also the only primate in North America seated among the GAFCON Primates when they meet as a council.  The Global South Primatial Steering Committee, the ecclesial body giving us primatial oversight, and the GAFCON movement, with whom we have been in fellowship, have each recognized the ACNA and its Archbishop.  (Show video greetings from Archbishops Akinola and Jensen) Archbishop Mouneer Anis, President of the Global Primates Steering Committee has assured Archbishop Beach that upon our vote to affiliate with the ACNA and the Provincial Assembly receiving us that the primates will recognize this affiliation.

•    ACNA is a partner with who we can stand “in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”  The entire Anglican world has been in disarray since TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada took unprecedented actions in 2003, tearing the fabric of the Anglican Communion.  Unfortunately, the unravelling has continued through the last decade and to date none of the four historic Instruments of Unity have been able to mend the net nor to exercise godly authority.  The future within Anglicanism now appears to lie with alignments of relationship and gospel mission rather than hierarchal solutions.  Our brothers and sisters in the ACNA are partners “with whom we can stand in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil 1:27)  

•    There are things a Province can do better than a Diocese.  Just as there are things that a diocese can do better than a parish and things a parish can do better than a diocese so too there are things a Province can do better than either.  We as a diocese can do much to reach those within South Carolina.  Yet we also live our lives within a nation and within the wider culture of North America.  Much that happens in various parts of the country soon than later end up influencing life here in the eastern half of our state. The make of shoes LeBron James wears in Cleveland can be seen on the young boy playing hoops in Berkeley County.   Just as we recognize the need for voting in national as well as regional politics, we also recognized we have Christ’s command to reach and influence the spiritual landscape on a larger scale. The ACNA boldly seeks to reach all of North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ.  I believe that is something we can all support.    
•    The ACNA’s principle of subsidiarity—that of resolving questions at the lowest level possible—seems well fitted for the post-Christian world that we have entered into and with the differing societies of North America.

•     The convictions and ministries which we have fashioned and been fashioned by will be warmly celebrated and shared. It will be a new experience for many of us in South Carolina that our deepest convictions, and the faith we proclaim will be affirmed at the highest levels of the Province.  We've not had that experience in a long time. That the ministries we have formed and have been formed by, rather than being reluctantly tolerated or shunned, will be warmly celebrated.  That our Youth ministry in the diocese will be roundly appreciated, that such ministries as Grandcamp and Grandparenting groups will be welcomed and emulated.  That our Men’s Ministry and Retreat can be exported to other dioceses within ACNA (we’ve already begun conversation with the Diocese of San Joquin). That our St. Christopher Summer Camp experience can be shared.  (Show  Steven Tighe video)
•    Our life within Provincial gatherings can create mutually enriching partnerships in the gospel—Our life within the Province will not be a distraction or a weary resistance movement but a sharing of best practices, of what has worked and what hasn’t, and a mutually enriching partnership in the gospel.

•    Our bishops will have a College of Bishops with whom to share in the councils of the Church. It will give me as your bishop, (as well as bishops Allison, Hathaway, and Dickson), and even more to the point, my successors, whomever the diocese will elect in the future years, a College of Bishops with whom to share in the councils of the wider Church.

•    Greater opportunity to work with those to whom we were previously knit.  How will we work creatively and cooperatively with the Diocese of the Carolinas?  Are there any bridges that need to be mended with congregations that used to be part of the Diocese of South Carolina—such as All Saint’s, Pawleys Island and St. Andrew’s, Mt. Pleasant—since  we will be in the same Province, the same Church?  Well what these will look like in the future can be mutually determined and that to my mind is a great positive.

•    We can restore the years the locust have eaten.  There will be perhaps uncomfortable aspects of our diocesan history to explore—especially as we share deeper fellowship with our brothers and sisters of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the Diocese of the Southeast.  Grace-filled issues of racial reconciliation lie before us as we retrace our history and share ministry with one another as members of the same Province and Church.  The Cummins Theological Seminary here in Summerville has invited me to become part of their Board of Trustees and my invitation to Bishop Alphonza Gadsden to preach at our opening Eucharist are reciprocal signs of deeper commitment to restore the years that the locust have eaten.

Before I conclude my thoughts on this matter of affiliating with the ACNA I need to ask for your indulgence.  I want to give you some updates—no, not on the litigation.  That’s with the Justices and they’re not talking.  Other matters of diocesan life.  

•    Planting Churches—under co-chairs, Gary Beson and Jonathan Bennett a Task Force on Church Planting was established this past year.  We’ve only begun to ask the big questions.  But, frankly, the one who is above everyone in the diocese in this regard is Fr. Chuck Owens, rector of The Cross, Bluffton.  They have launched a $15 million dollar capital campaign to not only expand the campus of The Cross Schools, but expand their worship space and to begin preparing for future campuses in those areas of projected growth in the Low Country.  We need to address similar growth in the greater Charleston area.  If our existing congregations do not have such a vision—we shall have to find entrepreneurial leadership somewhere.  Identifying priests who can travel light and are more concerned about fulfilling the Great Commission then in finding the Great Job for at this point we have little money to pay them. 

•    Remissioning Workshops—several years ago John Burwell, Ed Kelaher, Dave Wright, Peter Rothermel and I traveled around the diocese holding what we called Reality Therapy.  We looked honestly at the changes in society, at generational giving patterns, at how churches grow and do not grow, focusing on the internal dynamics that keep churches stuck at certain sizes.  I sent a text message to John Burwell last week asking if he was interested in a long overdue follow-up to the workshops we offered in 2012.  He responded as usual—“Put me in coach!”  We will be bringing together this year a team of rectors and diocesan staff to travel the diocese with the follow-up—Remissioning and Recharging the Local Congregation.  

•    Men’s Ministry—last year in my Bishop’s Address I briefly highlighted the new Men’s Ministry department led by Mr. Jay Crouse.  Jay came has set up shop at the Diocesan House and launched a vigorous ministry focused in three areas: 1) Helping to launch in 6 of our churches a 7 week Focus Group Challenge that will establish a sustainable Men’s Ministry for their church.  Three other congregations are set to launch this challenge this year.  2) Our Annual Christian Men’s Conference hosted a Men’s Summit last fall at St. Paul’s Summerville.  Over 425 Men from across the diocese attended this gathering to hear the Bishop speak of the importance of Mind, Body and Heart for our life with God.  A second Men’s Summit is scheduled this fall.  3) Jay has also worked with several of our diocesan clergy to create an annual Men’s Pilgrimage to the Holy Land entitled “Behold the Man”.  

•    Young Adult Task Force—last spring Langdon Stewart, approached me about gathering young adults within the diocese to see what we can do to energize ministry with and to young adults between the ages of 22—33.  We’ve had several meetings thus far and though Langdon has been called back to Australia, the Reverend Trevor Spencer has stepped into the gap and is assisting me and others to discover how we can help our congregations in ministering to and with this age group.  Pray for us—our future and yours may depend upon it!

•    St. Alban’s Chaplaincy—I have been working with the St. Alban’s Advisory Board and Interim Chaplain, Doug Peterson, to find a self-sustaining diocesan model for this ministry.  A search committee is in place and will soon be interviewing potential candidates.  My vision is that Citadel Alumni and our many of our congregations will write this into their mission budgets therein supplying much of the stipend for this ministry.

•    Marriage Task Force—you have heard already the report fom this Task Force.  I am very excited about Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. Do you know how difficult it is to get Tim Keller to make a video for anybody? He's one of the most sought after Christian leaders in the country but he took the time to make a video because he knows this is the issue we face, not just in South Carolina but all across the country. I hope every sizable congregation and even smaller ones will join in this opportunity.  We need to explore ways to deepen our understanding of marriage and to equip our parishioners to engage missionally with the changing cultures beyond our doorsteps as well as those seekers who visit our churches.  

•    Department of Social Ministry—For over a decade now Deacon Ed Dykman has been our Social Ministry director.  Thank you, Ed!  So far as I know he isn’t going anywhere.  But he has carried out this ministry as one-man-band, assisting others in doing their ministry, allotting what little funds are in his budget, and by personally developing The Next Steps Ministry.   Earlier this year he met with Canon Lewis and me to discuss the breadth of social ministries within the diocese.  As we met, it became clear that what we need at this time is a Department of Social Ministry.  Every year I meet with our vocational deacons.  I hear from them about their ministries.  It is a story too little told.  I also recognized that in our parishes is a breadth of social care ministries taking place but little overarching diocesan coordination—no clearing house if you will.  Prison Ministries, first responder chaplains, hospital chaplaincies, ministry to military personnel, Hispanic ministry, ministry to the aging, Recovery and addiction ministries, Crisis Pregnancy, Anglicans for Life, racial reconciliation, food distribution ministries—to name just enough to show the breadth of servant ministry taking place in the diocese.  Much of it happens without the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.  Good to a point but it misses the opportunity to coordinate with others and share resources that work.  We need to establish a Social Ministry Committee that will identify, coordinate and improve these ministries within our parishes and deaneries. In the ACNA, these are called, Matthew 25 Ministries—recalling Jesus words, “As you’ve done it to the least of these my brethren you have done it unto me.”

•    Continuing Education for Clergy—last fall at the Clergy Conference our newly established Clergy Continuing Education Committee presented a proposal for our diocesan clergy.  Frankly, it met with less than enthusiastic support.   Actually it flopped.  Recently the committee met to discuss where we go from here—particularly as we have applied and received a 501c3 in order to receive tax deductible gifts.  Before I’m gone I want to see a continuing education program that inspires and resonates across the generations.  Many professions have requirements to keep abreast of ever changing developments in their fields.  Surely we should expect priests (not to mention vocational deacons) to be committed to continuous and life-long learning—whether as preachers, pastors, leaders, counselors, disciplers or evangelists.  Do you know how you can tell when a clergyman died?   By the books on his shelf;  If most were all published before  the date he graduated from seminary.   John Gardiner, who has served six U.S. Presidents in various leadership capacities, has written, “The 50s and 60s are great, great learning years.  Even the years beyond that offer vivid opportunities.”  My brothers and sisters we must take charge of our learning.   Read the letters of the St. Paul; notice that even in his last extant epistle he demonstrated a zealous love of God and a zest for life right up to the end—he even tells Timothy to bring the books and the parchments.  Gardner himself was 74 when he wrote—“Be interested.  Everyone wants to be interesting—but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity.  Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.”  So be of good cheer you’ll be hearing from us soon!

•    The Anglican Leadership Institute—was launched last year on Sullivans Island in January with 15 attendees from around the Anglican Communion.  We held the second session last September at St. Christopher with 14 participants;  then were back with 15 others this January on Sullivans Island.  This September, however, in a one-time departure from precedent, we will hold the fall session on Martha’s Vineyard. Yes, we’re invading New England.  Bishop Ken Clarke of SAMS-Ireland will be one of the key speakers.  Think of it, after just two years of ALI’s existence we will have trained 60 bishops, deans, clergy and laypersons who will be key leaders in the Anglican Communion.  With this ministry, we are shaping the future of Global Anglicanism today.  Thank you, clergy and laypersons of the Diocese of South Carolina for supporting this bold initiative! It's not designed to benefit us. It's designed to benefit them. And if it benefits them it benefits us. That's the way it works.

•    Diocesan Boundaries?...

Well now—back to the pressing question before us at this synod.  The matter of affiliation.  But first, a story.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the conversion of the Reverend John Wesley on that February evening in 1739 at Aldersgate Street in London.  It is an often-told story, how this priest all caught up in religious practice and striving for perfection, he sensed he did trust Christ, Christ alone for his salvation, and felt “his heart strangely warmed.”  The religion of a servant gave way to the faith of a son.  A lesser told episode from his life yet more telling for the history of Christianity occurred a few weeks later.  His fellow Anglican clergyman, George Whitefield, who had been preaching to miners in the open air, invited Wesley to join him in Bristol.  Wesley, at first reluctant, finally decided to go.  His journal entry from March 31, 1739 tells the story:

 “In the evening I reached Bristol, and met Mr. Whitefield there.  I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; having been all my life (until very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.”

Then that evening Wesley spoke to a small gathering on the Sermon on the Mount, which he could not help but acknowledge in his journal, “was one pretty remarkable precedent of field-preaching.”

The following Monday he wrote:  “At four in the afternoon I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, and speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about 3,000 people.  The scripture on which I spoke was this, … ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.’”  

Wesley soon began dividing his time between Bristol and London, preaching, organizing and teaching his new disciples.  As one historian observed—“The Wesleyan Revival had begun.”  John Wesley had found his vocation.  It was the warmed heart that made him an evangelist; it was this surrendering to preach in the open air that ushered him into his vocation—“his unique ministry to the soul of Britain.”  

Something happens when a man finds his vocation; when his heart is captured, his calling received, and his destiny revealed.  It is as if “a door is opened and the caged eagle soars.”   It is not only men and women that have God-given vocations; Parishes do.  Provinces do.  Dioceses do.  We have been insular long enough.  A new journey begins.  I’ve recounted Wesley’s story because I am increasingly convince we shall discover a new depth to our vocation as a diocese as we share our common life in the ACNA.   

 Ah, I know the anomalous nature of overlapping jurisdictions in the ACNA may give us pause—it has certainly given me heartburn on more than one occasion—but before the greater challenge of overlapping cultures it may seem in retrospect more like straining at gnats and swallowing camels.  For the overlapping jurisdictions may readily resolve themselves with time; but whether they do or not clearly our greater challenge today is lies elsewhere.  It lies in fulfilling the Great Commission—in reaching the lost, the unchurched and the too often unseen communities that have been and are emerging all around us.  In meeting this challenge affiliation may help us.  Many among of them have learned to travel light; to see the world as a mission field; to see the church as people not a building.  This past year our Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul instituted an annual lecture series on reaching today’s post-Christian, post- modern cultures.  In the South at least it is not that the ‘”churched” or Christian worldview has disappeared.  It is still here and in many neighborhoods still strong and thriving.  Nevertheless, there are now, and have been for some time, all around us, multiple overlapping cultures.  Some of these tribes are emerging; some are ephemeral; still, others are deeply rooted and not going away anytime soon.  The harvest is plentiful but laborers are few; and too often, those few are blindly unaware.  

So to summarize.  I believe affiliating with the ACNA will unleash new opportunities for ministry, for partnerships, and for learning. We have resources for ministry within this diocese that we have not yet tapped; gifts of the Spirit waiting to be released; strength of purpose soon to be discovered; and more to give than we have yet given.  This new life in the Province of the Anglican Church of North America will expose us to fresh opportunities for fellowship; for collaboration; and for networking across various age groups, overlapping cultures, and differing races.   

This is why I cast my vote to affiliate with the ACNA.  I do so with eager and expectant faith. I believe it is God’s call for us.  I believe we will find a deeper richness in our vocation; fuller fellowship in the Spirit; a more zealous thrust in mission.  Most of all, I believe a door will be opened, the fresh winds of the Spirit will blow, and a caged eagle will soar.  May God’s anointing attend his call!

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