August 23, 2017
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people; Sanctify the congregation; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.” (Joel 2:15-16)
I write to you today with three purposes in mind. First, to announce a Diocesan Day of Prayer and Fasting; secondly, to give you an update on where things are in the diocese regarding the recent South Carolina Supreme Court ruling; and, finally to commend the clergy of the diocese to your prayers and gratitude.
During times of crisis and challenge in Israel, the leaders often called for days of fasting and prayer. Following this ancient practice observed for centuries in both Israel and the Church, I am calling the parishes and missions of the diocese and their members to observe Wednesday, August 30th as a Day of Prayer and Fasting for the diocese and its congregations. Such times of prayer and fasting are sometimes observed by individuals, as when Nehemiah, hearing of the troubled condition of Jerusalem, “…sat down and wept, and mourned for days; and [he] continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1:4) On other occasions, Israel held a time of corporate prayer and fasting, as when Ezra, the priest, called God’s people to fast and pray seeking his blessing on their return to the land, “So we fasted and besought our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:21-23) I am asking both individual members and the leaders of our congregations in corporate worship, however each is able, to observe this day of prayer and fasting on behalf of our diocese, and its parishes and missions.
To this end, I also want to give you an update on where things are within the Diocese of South Carolina. Since I last wrote regarding the recent South Carolina Supreme Court ruling I have met with the Standing Committee and our lead counsel, and, as perhaps you have already heard, we have decided to seek a rehearing from the state court. The filing for rehearing is due on September 1, 2017. Subsequent to this filing, it is assumed The Episcopal Church and its local diocese will then be granted time by the court to respond to our filing. So I want to remind you that this litigation is not over. There are several options for us to pursue and we shall consider them prayerfully and strategically. Please keep our legal team in your daily prayers. Their work is as demanding as it is vital.
Earlier in August our lead counsel, Mr. Alan Runyan, and I met with all the clergy of the diocese at a Special Clergy Day at St. Paul’s, Summerville; then, this last week Canon Lewis and I met with the active priests in each of our six deaneries for in-depth conversations. Your priests are aware of various possibilities and are key resources for you in understanding where we presently stand. But know they also face many challenges. Some of these rectors and vicars (and their spouses and children) live in church housing, as do Allison and I. Many that do not live in rectories are making payments on mortgages. So too, are the lay staff in our congregations and diocese. Some of our congregations are in the midst of capital campaigns or hold debt on their buildings. Frankly, each congregation of the diocese is in a distinct position regarding how this ruling may or may not affect their common life and future. While this is also the case for each rector, vicar or assistant, I have been amazed at the remarkable resilience of our clergy as they face the uncertainty of the future.
Certainly, this ruling has the potential to disrupt their lives and ministry, as well as the ministry and mission of the congregation they serve. Most face questions regarding whether they will lose their church buildings. Yet in the face of these challenges, they have been almost to a person stalwart, steadfast and trusting of God, even as they prayerfully explore the various options before them. They are a remarkable and godly group of men and women and it is an honor to serve among them. We have listened to one another, shared encouragement, prayed together, and I believe strengthened one another in the Lord. Most importantly, we have humbled ourselves under the mighty hand of God (I Peter 5:6); and are confident that God shall either restore and establish us or empower us to move out in bold new ventures for Jesus Christ, his Gospel, and his Kingdom. God has not revoked his call nor our vocation to make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age; I believe however, he is calling us to fuller fellowship in the Spirit; a deeper trust in his word; and a more zealous thrust in mission and ministry in the world.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Mark Joseph Lawrence
XIV Bishop of South Carolina