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The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence feels hand of God down journey through Episcopal Church schism

The following article, by Jennifer Berry Hawes, appeared in the Sunday, September 15, 2013 issue of the Post and Courier. We are grateful for their permission to reprint it.

Download a PDF. View it on the Post and Courier's website.

Four times, God could have called Mark Lawrence home. And didn’t.

From the moment Lawrence was born severely premature in a Catholic hospital, doctors warned he wouldn’t live.

The hospital’s nuns prayed otherwise. Lawrence went home, a shoebox his bassinet.

At six weeks old, he suffered a life-threatening blockage of his esophagus. Several years later, his appendix ruptured.

And as a grown man, his colon ruptured, bringing yet another dire prognosis. His wife sat beside his hospital bed.

“Are you going to go?” she whispered fearfully.

“No,” he said. God wasn’t calling him home yet.

So, she knew he’d live. Because that was how he had always lived, feeling the Holy Spirit guide him when to stay — and when to go.

With that faith, a California boy with a charismatic bent and an orthodox theology has led the Diocese of South Carolina through a long and contentious schism with the Episcopal Church, one whose ending might finally be in sight.

Quest for God

Lawrence, like many young adults, drifted from the Methodist church of his childhood, preferring folk music and California’s mountain trails. He left for college an agnostic, at best.

He drove tractors to save money for tuition and his beloved books, then attended a semester or two of college, dropped out, got a new job, then headed for the mountains with his thoughts again.

For a class, he read Soren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling,” about God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son as a test of faith. It left him sifting through the philosopher’s notions of despair and life without greater meaning.

Lawrence wondered: Is my life without greater meaning?

That Thanksgiving, he took a walk after dinner alone, eventually kneeling in a damp and grassy lawn.

“Lord, I don’t know if you exist, but I am going to act as if you do,” he recalls praying.

God, it seemed, did not respond.

Four days later, back at State University in Sacramento “with the whole God thing rolling around in my mind,” he again left for a walk.

“God,” he prayed, “this whole thing seems like a cosmic myth. You’d better do something soon, or I’m going to chuck it out the window.”

Then he saw a sign, a literal one. It said: REVIVAL.
That evening, Lawrence drove to the address. There, within the timeworn walls of the Apostolic Church of the Holy Ghost of Jesus Christ Our Lord, Ebenezer, he felt God respond.

About 200 people crammed a space intended for half that. A woman up front said, “There are some young men here who shouldn’t leave until they are baptized with the Holy Ghost.”

As the music played, people stepped forward. The woman touched them on the forehead, and they danced.

An inner voice spoke: “Mark, get in line.”

So he did. When his turn came, she touched him, feather light. He collapsed.

“Mark, there is no rational reason to be on the floor,” he recalls thinking.

But something else whispered: “You will not be able to stand up until you are totally able to stand up with Jesus.”

When he could stand, Lawrence slipped back to his seat.

But as he left, a man asked: “Have you been baptized?”

“As a baby,” Lawrence said.

“Have you been baptized in water since you believed?”

And so the man who would become a bishop turned around and donned a white robe. Three times, he was immersed as the congregation sang an old spiritual and he felt more cleansed and purified than he thought possible.

Seeking a path

Lawrence transferred to Southern California College, now Vanguard University, where he integrated his conversion with his intellectual interests, not to mention becoming that year’s undefeated wrestling team co-captain.

He also found his future wife. Allison was a yearbook photographer who covered sports.

“He wrestled with such intensity,” she recalls. “He wrestled with his mind.”

He intrigued Allison, an only child who had lost her mother at 13. Away at school, worried about her father’s illness, she awoke three mornings in a row after dreams of this intense young man proposing.

The day of her third dream, a month after they’d begun dating, he proposed. They married in 1973.

Lawrence worked at the Santa Fe Railroad and took night classes in literature. They bought a house and attended an Assemblies of God church. Yet, he found its worship needlessly chaotic.

So they visited St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, a parish they happened to pass on the way home. Its style felt stiff at first, but the Elizabethan language fit the tenor of his mind, and the ancient liturgy touched his soul.

And as he stepped to the altar rail for his first communion there, he felt such a sense of the “sacramental otherness,” of the Holy Spirit’s hand upon him that he trembled with awe.

He and Allison leapt into church activities.

“But it was a dreadfully dry time in my spiritual life,” he recalls.

Then one morning he awoke beside a window, a warm summer breeze floating in, the birds beyond welcoming a new day.

He thought of his future, of Allison’s future. They had their first child, and he was still working the railroad and taking classes.

What was God calling him to do with his life?

Into his thoughts nudged the stanzas of George Herbert’s “The Collar,” a poem about rebellion and, ultimately, submission to divine will that ends:

“But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild

At every word,

Methought I heard one calling, Child!

And I replied, My Lord.”

The final line, with its clean closure of submission, lingered.
Is God calling me to become a priest? He wondered.

The word ‘priest’

He wrestled with the notion until he met the Rev. Tod Ewald, then president of the Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship, at a conference. They introduced themselves and shook hands.

The priest summoned Lawrence to sit right beside him. A bit surprised, Lawrence did so.

“Mark, is God saying ‘priest’ to you?” Ewald asked pointedly, poking Lawrence in the chest.

Lawrence saw the word priest hang in the air between them.
“Yes!” he said.

The next summer, he headed to Trinity Episcopal School for the Ministry in Pennsylvania. He returned to California to serve in his first parish and then heard God tell him: “Mark, I’m taking you to Pittsburgh.”

He became rector of an aging church in western Pennsylvania, a rural steel mill town in what Time magazine called “the center of industrial devastation and white poverty.”

To Allison, it looked like a war zone. When their oldest child, Chad, went to school his first day, a teacher was stabbed.
Unemployment soared above 50 percent. The Lawrences, with their three small children, lived under the poverty level.

They stayed for 13 years.

Called by God

Then, in 1997, he became rector of St. Paul’s, his home parish back in California. He’d been away for 20 years.

It was a time to raise their five children and build deep bonds with larger church family, some new and others they’d known for decades.

In 2006, St. Paul’s hosted a healing ministry conference. A guest priest began to sing, his baritone filling the room.

Lawrence realized he was hearing the man sing in tongues. At first, it rang with an African cadence, and he could see himself soaring over the great savannahs. The sound transformed, sounding more Celtic, and Lawrence soared over Irish hillsides. Then a Negro spiritual led him to the deep South, until he again heard recognizable words of English.

Three times, an inner voice said:

The journey begins.

Pack your things.

And then:

Give your children your blessing. You’ve been in one place long enough.

When the group broke, Lawrence went to Allison, eyes wide and damp with emotion.

“I looked at his face and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh,’” she recalls.
A month later, an Ohio friend of 30 years called. While praying, he’d felt a profound sense of God saying he was moving Lawrence from St. Paul’s to “prepare the faithful for the battle ahead.”

Then, a third sign.

A few days later, retired Pittsburgh Bishop Alden Hathaway called: Would Lawrence put his name into the search for a new Diocese of South Carolina bishop? As the word “yes” slipped from Lawrence’s mouth, he wished to silence it in mid-air.

Into the fray

Lawrence was no stranger to controversy brewing within the Episcopal Church by then.

He and other more orthodox priests felt that a group within the church was pushing a social agenda at odds with Scripture, including the 2003 consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first priest in an openly gay relationship to become bishop.

Lawrence fell squarely among those wanting to protect a traditional view of marriage.

“When there is no norm, what guards one generation to the next?” he asks. “The Word is an anchor in the sea of cultural confusion.”

His California diocese felt the hot embers of conflict. He knew they burned in the Diocese of South Carolina as well.

In 2006, Lawrence was elected bishop of the diocese, which covers the eastern half of South Carolina. However, he failed to gain adequate approval from a majority of dioceses due to a voting technicality and fears that he would lead the diocese to secede.

In 2007, he was elected again — and approved after assuring clergy he wanted to avoid a split.

At a dinner after his consecration, Lawrence addressed those gathered. He talked about feeling God’s hands at work in his life many times.

Each time required him to act.

“If you aren’t seeing God at work in your life, you aren’t far enough out on the limb yet,” he told them.

It’s a theme Lawrence has stuck by and modeled since, the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis says.

“As our bishop, he has consistently modeled a kind of faith that is prepared, when called to do so, to step out of the boat and trust in God’s loving provision,” Lewis says. “Consequently we continue, I believe, to see God at work among us in amazing ways.”

Even back then, Lawrence says he tried to see Robinson’s consecration as something that went against church teachings — but didn’t change those teachings. If the official canon adhered to traditional views of sexuality and marriage, he could operate within that and try to convince national church leaders to as well.

Yet, growing contention led to disputes over just how much control the national church had over its dioceses, including South Carolina.

Lawrence and others felt church leaders changed the rules to give themselves too much power over internal diocesan affairs (although others argue the national church provides dioceses with much autonomy).

The local diocese took steps to assert its autonomy. For instance, its leaders changed its constitution and canons in 2010, declaring the diocese sovereign, then it modified its corporate charter in 2011, removing reference to the national church. The national church declared those changes “null and void,” contending it is impossible to be both a part of the church and apart from it.

Then in late 2011, Lawrence issued quitclaim deeds to individual parishes, transferring legal interest in their properties to them. This violated an Episcopal Church canon that requires bishops and dioceses to hold property in trust for the national church, its leaders said.

Then came the 2012 General Convention last summer when the Episcopal Church authorized a provisional rite for same-sex unions (per individual diocesan bishop’s approval) and opened the door to transgendered clergy.

Lawrence sat among his fellow bishops thinking, “This church has lost its way.”

The next day, he asked to speak to them.

“I believe we crossed a line,” he recalls saying. “I can no longer seek to conform to this doctrine.”

He asked for their prayers and returned to South Carolina.

With no good options, he summoned his clergy to warn: “I have a moral crisis.”

Beyond the mountain

The struggle, in many ways, ended with a phone call on Oct. 15.

With both of their attorneys on the line, Lawrence spoke with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. She told him that the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops had declared him in abandonment of the church.

He no longer was authorized to “perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.”

That triggered an automatic response from the diocese, resulted in it disassociating from the national church.

The move caused Lawrence grief — and gave him hope.

“I am really ready to live again and to talk about things that make my heart sing,” he says.

The independent diocese can “take our place in Anglicanism,” although what that will look like remains undecided.

Meanwhile, a state court judge still must decide who has claim to the names, seals and property of the diocese: the group still loyal to the national church, now led by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, or those aligned with Lawrence?

For those and other reasons, the 63-year-old Lawrence is not looking at retirement.

“I’ll retire when the job is done,” he says. “And that job is to enable the Diocese of South Carolina to be defined by who we are in the Gospel, who we are in Anglican North America and within the larger community — and no longer by a resistance movement within the Episcopal Church.”

His clergy friends chide him over a penchant for analogies. But one sticks these days.

In it, he’s hiking his beloved High Sierra mountains.

He looks back at the enormous, stark ridge he’s just crossed. Then he turns to look ahead, greeted by the valleys and streams before him.

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.

Editor’s Note
After a bitter split among eastern South Carolina’s Episcopalians, two men assert themselves to be bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Beneath the legal and theological disputes, who are these two men trying to lead their faithful followers? Last week, readers met the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg. Today, meet the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence.


Frequently Asked Questions

Plaintiffs participating

Temporary Injunction

Temporary Restraining Order

Complaint for Declaratory Relief

A Letter from Bishop Lawrence  Download as a Bulletin Insert.

Rectors Speak Out: Statements from Rectors Requesting Declaratory Judgment

Stewardship of the Gospel - Stewardship of The Diocese - a Theological Reflection

Press Releases

Glossary of Terms.

Timeline of Events

Letters of Support/Articles of Interest

A Concise Summary

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JANUARY 4, 2013 <!-- /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->  The Diocese of South Carolina, after much prayerful consideration and reflection, has chosen to seek relief in the courts for the relentless challenges made to its integrity as a Diocese by The Episcopal Church (TEC).   Many of our parishes have joined in this request for justice because their own integrity is also at stake in these matters.  Indeed, the very integrity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it has been handed down to us through the ages, through the apostles and martyrs, is at stake.  

We believe our legal approach to be an essentially defensive strategy  one which asks a court to declare the parties rights & relationship once and for all; what has sometimes been called “legally binding preventive adjudication

This decision was first and foremost about Our Stewardship of the Gospel. Our governing reality is this: We do not believe that TEC owns the property in the Diocese of South Carolina; we do not believe that the Diocese of South Carolina owns it. God owns it. He will dispose of it in his sovereign wisdom.  However, as as stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1-2) we have obligations.

Primary is our obligation to be stewards of the “deposit” of faith entrusted to us (1 Tim. 6:20 and 2 Tim. 1:14).  We, as the Diocese of South Carolina are stewards and servants of the Gospel’s truth.  That reality has further implications.   We are stewards of the Gospel identity which was launched centuries ago by the Diocese of London.   We cannot lightly set this precious gift and heritage aside. We are also stewards of our property.   Our buildings, chapels, carved pulpits, mission centers, kitchens, the places where generations of families have knelt together—all of this has a sacramental dimension.  They are places of encounter. And we are entrusted to make sure that the true Gospel is alive in these places. Finally, we are stewards God’s call, to make biblical Anglicans for a global age.  The paths of TEC and this Diocese have diverged in radically different directions.   Stewardship of our Gospel calling requires separation.

With so much at stake, we must consider carefully how scripture, tradition and reason can best inform and suggest a precedence for Lawsuits among Believers.   In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8,  Paul’s overall goal seems to be to lead these brothers to find wisdom, to discover a wise mediation to the problem. In Corinth, that was best sought within the community of faith.  With no viable ecclesiastical alternative, the civil courts (far different than those of Corinth) are our remaining viable alternative.  Paul was dismayed at the inner motives on display in this lawsuit in Corinth and its self serving character.  The declarative judgment we seek does not attempt to extort gain from the other party, but is simply a disciplined effort to establish justice.  Paul was dealing with a situation in which the matter is trivial or least in importance. This is worlds away from our situation.  Likewise, we do not find ourselves now in an inner parish setting such as the one Paul describes, but in one with the Gospel stewardship of many parishes at stake. Finally, this passage assumes a core and basic Christian brotherhood (6:6). We have lost the common ground.  Back beneath any legal contest stands a more massive fracture: we are in a desperate struggle to define the meaning of Christ himself and the truth and reliability of His Word.

While without question, gratuitous lawsuits are ugly and counter to our Christian witness, Christians may often find themselves in circumstances where justice and wisdom can be upheld nowhere other than the civil courts.  It is here that the ancient boundary stones which have been wrenched away might be restored again to their true place (Proverbs 23:10).  Such is our circumstance.

A Case for Just Legal Action can also be drawn from Christian tradition. The Just War Tradition has a long history in the annals of the Church beginning with Augustine of Hippo and delineated in a more extended form by St. Thomas Aquinas.  The classic articulation of its principles would include: Just Cause, Legitimate Authority, Formal Declaration, Right Intention, Probability of Success, Proportionality and Last Resort.  On the basis of all these criteria, we believe our recourse to litigation qualifies as a moral act.

Finally, the life of St. Paul (Acts 22-25) provides a final helpful Case Study of how the principles and concepts of Gospel stewardship outlined above can be applied in a context not dissimilar to our own.  Paul exercises his right as a citizen on three related occasions when facing potential harm and persecution. He does so first at the time of his arrest on the Temple grounds (Acts 22:25), then again when he learns of the plot to murder him (Acts 23:12-15) and most decisively when it appears Festus is about to give him to the Temple leaders for a trial (Acts 25:10-11).  

Throughout, he is not averse to defending himself by appealing to the legal apparatus of his day.   He has rights as a Roman citizen, which from time to time, he will exercise (c.r. Acts 16:37-40).  He does so in a fashion that focuses on his present and future ability to proclaim the gospel. All this on his part is done in a fashion that does no material harm to anyone.   There is, however, the clear assertion of his truth over that of his accusers.   Paul is able to stand on his conscience with complete integrity as a steward of the Gospel.

The analogy to our circumstances here in the Diocese of South Carolina is striking.  Our action is in response to over 3 years of steadily escalating attempts to interfere in our Gospel life and ministry by TEC.  Now, like St. Paul, we have exercised our right as citizens and "appealed to Rome" for relief from those who seek to do us harm.   Our request for a declaratory judgment seeks nothing but the affirmation of the truth:  that we, like Paul, have done no wrong.   We believe our actions to date have been legal, moral and justifiable.   

For the sake of our stewardship of the Gospel; for the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them; for the preservation of the ministry of our parishes in the Lowcountry, we can do no other than defend our Diocese and its ability to spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom.
July 20-1921 – October 8, 2012

Nick ZeiglerEugene Noel Zeigler, Jr., lawyer, legislator, historian, civic leader, and former Chancellor of the Diocese, died in Florence on October 8.  He was 91.

Zeigler was born in Florence on July 20, 1921, the son of Eugene Noel Zeigler and Helen Livingston Townsend Zeigler.  

After graduating from Florence High School in 1938, Zeigler attended Sewanee, from which he received his B.A. in 1942.  While at Sewanee, Zeigler was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and was awarded the Guerry Medal in English.

Zeigler served as an officer on four aircraft carriers during the Second World War, received his JD from Harvard Law School in 1949, and returned to Florence, where he practiced law continuously until 2007, and was widely regarded for his skill and eloquence as a litigator and advocate, as well as his willingness to do what he considered his duty to represent those on the wrong side of the social and economic dynamic of his time.  In the 1950s, Zeigler was intensely involved in civic life in Florence and the Pee Dee.  He became President of the Florence Museum in 1951 and orchestrated and oversaw its move into its present building in 1953.  He founded the Pee Dee Big Brothers, the first Big Brothers organization in the South, in 1953, and the Florence Fine Arts Council in 1954.  

Zeigler was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1960 and the South Carolina Senate in 1966.  During his time in the General Assembly, Zeigler promoted a progressive agenda, and was among the “Young Turks” seeking to reform state government.  He served on the West Commission, which formulated the Home Rule Amendments to the South Carolina Constitution, and chaired legislative committees that reformed the juvenile justice and corrections system.  He helped create the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, and wrote and sponsored the legislation that created the South Carolina Arts Commission.

A proponent of civil rights for African Americans and desegregation of public schools, while in the General Assembly Zeigler authored and promoted legislation that desegregated the Florence Public Library and ended racially exclusionary School Board election practices in Florence School District One.  Zeigler sponsored the legislation to create Francis Marion College in 1970, and taught political science as a member of that institution’s first faculty while still serving in the Senate.

Zeigler was the Democratic Party’s nominee for the US Senate in 1972, but lost in the election to incumbent Strom Thurmond.  Zeigler also ran unsuccessfully for Governor in 1974.

After leaving elective politics in the 1970s, Zeigler remained active in statewide governmental affairs, serving as Chairman on the newly created Human Affairs Commission, and was a member of the South Carolina Board of Corrections from 1975 to 1990, serving as its Chairman during much of that time.

A member of both the South Carolina Tricentennial and Bicentennial Commissions, Zeigler also served for several decades as President of the Florence County Historical Society, and was Secretary of the St. David’s Society of South Carolina from 1977 to 2003.

Zeigler was a lifelong member of St. John’s Florence, serving on its vestry on several occasions, and was Chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina for over twenty years.

A prolific writer and skilled story teller, Zeigler was the author of six books, including Florence, A Renaissance Spirit, Barnwell Blarney, Village to City: Florence, South Carolina, 1853-93, Refugees and Remnants: The Story of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Pee Dee and St. John’s Episcopal Church, and a memoir, When Conscience and Power Meet.  Zeigler’s sixth book, In Disgrace With Fortune and Mens’ Eyes, profiles forty-seven forgotten, ignored, or unpopular South Carolinians, and was published several weeks before his death.

Zeigler received numerous awards in recognition of his achievements and contributions, including the South Carolina Arts Commission’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award in 1971;  the Order of the Palmetto in 2003; the Governor’s Award in Humanities in 2004, and the South Carolina Bar Foundation’s DuRant Award for distinguished public service in 2005.   He received honorary degrees from both Sewanee and Francis Marion University.

He is survived by his wife, the former Anne Marion Lide, four children, and eleven grandchildren.  His son Belton is Chancellor of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
Funeral Services will be at 3:00 on Thursday, October 11 at St. John’s Florence, with burial immediately following at Mount Hope Cemetery, directed by Waters-Powell Funeral Home.  The family will receive friends at the Fellowship Hall of St. John’s Episcopal Church immediately following burial.
Memorials may be sent to the Florence Museum, Florence County Library, or St. John’s Episcopal Church.


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