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Bishop Lawrence Addresss the 221st Diocesan ConventionThe Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, XIV Bishop of South Carolina, addresses the 221st Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, March 10, 2012

Listen to the audio version of this address. Download a printable copy. (Note the charts referred to in the talk are included in this version. In the version below they are available by link only.)

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
Then were we like those who dream.    Psalm 126:1

I preached recently at Voorhees College for their Annual Absalom Jones Eucharist.   Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Upper Diocese of South Carolina was the celebrant.  It was the first occasion in memory that both bishops of South Carolina were present and participating in a worship in St. Philip’s Chapel.   I believe it was a positive show of support for this historically black college.  As the preacher I wanted to offer a word of hope to these students preparing for life in a world of challenges.  While writing the sermon I was stirred by words of the psalmist assigned for this feast day; his remembering the power of a dream—or perhaps more accurately stated, the freedom to dream.  Here in the 126th Psalm a faithful petitioner in Israel, after returning from exile to the Promised Land, now finds that he and the people of God are again experiencing misfortune perhaps through drought, threatened crops, or even enemy encroachment.  But regardless of the cause, he turns to God in prayer and at once remembers a past deliverance.  Memory for him leads not to nostalgia for the past but hope for the future.  By remembering the dreams of God he holds on to hope, if only by one thin thread of thanks!  And he trusts that God is faithful.  

So, too, on the Day of Pentecost the Apostle Peter, remembering the words of the prophet Joel and the promise of the Holy Spirit as the giver of visions and dreams, spoke of dreams to the men of Jerusalem.  They had gathered for the feast only to have it interrupted by an inaugural outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon these early followers of Jesus. To their amazement Peter declared, “This is what was uttered by the prophet Joel:

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions,
 And your old men shall dream dreams;”

Ah, for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this great and historic Diocese of South Carolina.  A new Pentecost—a restoration, if you will, of God-given visions and God-empowering dreams for her congregations and for our people, lay and clergy alike! 

Our Vocation or Vision

I am no young man nor am I quite in the category of old man--but I’m getting there.  I confirm one of my grandchildren a week from this Sunday. And I have a vision, a dream for this diocese that we become a grace-filled engine for making biblical Anglicans for the global age in which we live: a player among those who shape the future of Anglicanism in the 21st Century.  What does it mean to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age?   Well it means to help our members to joyfully:

Embrace Apostolic Teaching as found in Holy Scripture   

This, of course, is the first point of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral - that the Scriptures are the word of God revealed. In life it’s either revelation or speculation. You have to choose which one you will follow. That first point of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral says that Holy Scripture contains everything necessary for salvation. It is the rule and ultimate standard of faith and it is upon that the bedrock of its teaching that we need to stand. To teach our people to embrace apostolic teaching as found in Holy Scripture.

Endorse Catholic Order and Practice 

This at minimum includes the second, third and fourth points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. That sufficient statement of faith is found in the Apostles and Nicene Creed, the dominical sacraments of Holy Baptism, Holy Eucharist administered according to Christ’s teaching and, of course, the historic Episcopate, locally adapted.

Encounter afresh the renewing and gifting Presence of the Holy Spirit

Without a renewed presence of the Holy Spirit  even Christianity is dry toast. It is by the fire of the Holy Spirit that the Church moves, and lives and carries out its mission.

Equipped with Evangelical Truth and Fervor;

The freedom that comes with the gospel is what the world needs to hear and what we need to proclaim and as we proclaim it they are set free and we are set free.

Engage in missional ministry in the world    

Learning from the rich Anglican tradition of missiology inherited from the 19th and early 20th Centuries and that lives and breathes in the Churches of the global South today.

By God’s grace we have been doing this in some quite remarkable ways.    During the last three years we have forged several vital links across the breadth of the Communion.  I have chosen at this convention to highlight only three of these relationships which our Diocesan Anglican Communion Development Committee has nurtured.  The first you have already heard a bit about from The Reverend Dr. Grant LeMarquand, who was our preacher at the Opening Eucharist.  He has been elected as the Suffragan Bishop for the Horn of Africa.  He will be working under Bishop Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt and Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.  He will be in this Diocese for the next two weeks and I hope he gains support from many of our members and parishes. And since the Reverend Rick Belser and his wife Ann have returned to Egypt where Rick is teaching in the Alexandrian School of Theology, Rick will represent this diocese in our companion relationship at Grant’s upcoming consecration this April in Cairo.  Welcome Grant and Wendy.

Now rather than telling you about two others they will speak for themselves: 

Video Greeting from The Rt. Rev. Ken Clarke, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh of Ireland:

“Hopefully my Celtic cross will remind you of Ireland. Warmest greetings to our good friends in the Church of the Cross. We look on our partnership with you as an enormous blessing from God. Paul writing to the Philippians said, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel.” I have to say that’s how we in Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh feel about our partnership with you in the Diocese of South Carolina and in our partnership with church of the Cross. I know that tonight is an important evening for your parish and we send you greetings, Chuck and Becky, warmest greetings and Bishop Mark and Allison. We give thanks for these wonderful Christian leaders that you are blessed with and it’s been a real joy for our paths to overlap with them. It’s been an enormous joy, too, for the clergy team and for Helen and myself to get to know some of you better in our recent visit to you in December. Thank you again for your warm hospitality for your extreme kindness and for our partnership in the gospel. At this time in the Anglican communion it is so important that we are engaged in God’s priorities, his mission, his ministry, reaching out to a world that he really loves and we pray that our partnership together will help you and help us in reaching out to the people of South Carolina and reaching out to the people of our Diocese in northwest Ireland and, indeed, reaching out to all of the people on this island. We look forward to our links deepening and growing. We look forward to a visit from Father Chuck, and, we hope, the Bishop and his wife, later this year. We look forward to a team coming from your parish in September to our Diocese and we are hoping that people from different parts of Ireland will be able to attend a couple of the conferences you will be organizing and leading under Father Chuck’s leadership. Please give our greetings, too, to (The Rev.) Chris, (Royer). We know that he and his family will be moving on to Christ our King and really Chris was a link in this Chain beginning because your Bishop and his wife met Helen and myself at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. They very kindly invited us to come and visit your Diocese and the first time we were in your Diocese was for Chris’ ordination one Sunday in January 2009. We will never forget that service. So we trust you have a great meeting tonight and we look forward to our partnership in Christ’s gospel going further so that it’s of mutual enrichment to you and to us. We thank God for you and we look forward to more service together. Keep going. And warmest greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus. Good bye.”  
(Video ends)

A Video Message from The Rev. Canon Dr. Alison Barfoot and others of the Province of Uganda:

"There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together. In 1877, the first missionaries came to Uganda. In the same spirit as Jesus preaching the kingdom of God, teaching and healing. Today the church of Uganda continues that same ministry of preaching, teaching and healing with 11,000,000 members in 34 Dioceses, 56 different ethnic groups. Today we also see almost 5,000 schools, 260 health centers and countless community development projects in all … And we’ve only just begun. The gospel spread and churches were planted throughout Uganda in eastern Congo chiefly through the work of Ugandan evangelists and church planters walking the length and breadth of the country two by two with only a Bible in their hands. The gospel message of forgiveness through the cross of Christ revealed a God that is greater than the evil spirits and the kingdom of darkness that controlled so many people’s lives.  It broke the cycle of revenge between families and communities and has caused the Christians in Uganda to form a new tribe from every language, nation and tongue. Over the years the Christian faith in Uganda has been forged through persecution and martyrdom and fanned through the flames of the east African revival.  We’ve walked a long way since 1877 when the first sermon was preached in Uganda and the first martyrs died for the gospel. We’ve walked a long way because we’ve walked together with partners, long term missionaries, local church partners … partnerships with organizations like Water Missions International and countless others. Leslie and Travis Hines and their family are long term missionaries supported by four churches in the Diocese. They are serving at Bishop Barham Theological College in Kabale where they’re teaching future clergy in important Biblical, theological and practical ministry skills to reach the world for Christ. In recent years the Diocese has contributed funds toward essential operations for Uganda Christian University and Archbishop Henry Orombi’s ministry in the provincial office of the Church of Uganda. Trisha Newman Lawrence from St. Michael’s will be moving to Masindy in April to take on the local project management for the Palmetto Medical Initiative in Masindy, a great medical outreach model that needs to spread to many other Dioceses in Uganda. St. John’s Church, John’s Island is another example. As a parish they have entered into a partnership with the Diocese of Northern Uganda now recovering from 20 years of war. A second team from the church will be travelling to Uganda this summer, along with Peter Rothermel who will be spending part of his sabbatical in Uganda. St. John’s has rebuilt the Diocesan guesthouse in Gulu in order to facilitate partnerships. So, as we say in Uganda, “You are most welcome.” In the Diocese of Northern Uganda only three church buildings survived the war. Today most churches meet under a tree and the Christians long for they day when they can worship together even when it rains, because they have a building again. In the next ten years half of the clergy in Uganda will retire. New clergy need to be trained. Many Dioceses are open to short-term intensive training courses for ordinand and clergy continuing education. More than half of the population of Uganda is under the age of 18. The opportunities for youth ministry are incredible and the youth are hungry for the gospel. Last year in only one of our Dioceses more than 6,000 youth attended a youth convention. Most Dioceses now have a computer in their Diocesan office, but there is a great need for training in basic computer skills and how to use the internet to research and search for ministry resources. The government has also now mandated that all high schools teach computer, yet only 5% of church-founded schools even own a computer. Likewise the reason why so few Ugandan children study science is because only 20% of the high schools have labs. Only the most gifted students can pass biology and chemistry exams without the benefit of ever having done an experiment with even a beaker or a bunsen burner. If the church of Uganda had its own radio station we could reach every household in Uganda with important discipleship materials as well as educational, health and economic empowerment information. Radio is the most strategic means of communication in an oral culture like Uganda. The Diocese of South Carolina is making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age and so is the Church of Uganda. If we want to go fast we should go alone. But if we want to go far we should go together.”
(Video ends)

I hope in future years to highlight our relationships with such Anglican Provinces as Burundi, Tanzania, Nigeria, Sudan and elsewhere. 

Then we have the presence of Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali as our Visiting Bishop for Anglican Communion Relationships.  His presentation yesterday on the Person and Work of Christ in a Pluralistic World was outstanding.  He will speaking to us later today on developments within  the Anglican Communion.  He reflects a further dimension of our life within the larger Anglican Communion as he engages in a peripatetic ministry around the world, particularly among the persecuted Church.  The financial support we give him comes almost exclusively from gifts outside of our diocesan budget.  I am most grateful for those who have financially assisted in this endeavor.

These relationships which we have been eager to develop with others and which are anything but a one way flow of beneficence are an outgrowth of our vocation and vision to make Anglicans in a global age.  As the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has said, “Our brothers and sisters in Africa are calling this Church which took the Gospel to Africa, to reclaim its evangelistic zeal and scriptural holiness so that it may yet again have that irresistible transforming presence. They call us to once again become a Church that is vitally connected to each other in love; and connected to the world around us in wholesome service.”  As Anglican we are part of a Communion which is global.  We have much to learn from one another about engaging our individual cultures so that our local expressions and ministries are representative of the Church Catholic—that is, that it holds to what the Church has believed at all times and in all places.  It is clear from any alert reading of the New Testament that the Apostles’ were eager to keep the believers in Jerusalem, Antioch, Macedonia, Asia, Africa and Italy connected through prayerful fellowship and earnest support of one another even as these communities of believers continued the spontaneous expansion of the faith in all directions, gossiping the gospel as they traveled in their businesses or mission and often under the sovereign leading of the Holy Spirit.   When a congregation through a week-long event raises in pledges $300,000 for mission and 300 parishioners pledge themselves to be personally involved in mission, as just happened at St. Michael’s Charleston, such apostolic witness for Christ and his Church is still alive and breathes with the breath of Christ among us. Three hundred volunteered to engage in mission. Three hundred thousand dollars pledged for mission. The spirit breathes among us.

Challenges to the Vision

Yet to every God-given dream there are voices that say “No.”  When we last met in convention at St. Helena’s in Beaufort I expressed my hope that we might enter fully into a season of the trowel rather than that of the sword.  It was not to be.  Since that time we have passed through a demanding season. Perhaps we owe begrudging thanks to that handful of parishioners who brought the allegations before the National Church leadership and from there to the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.  I believe it is fair to say that the importance of our common life as a diocese has rarely been accentuated more tellingly to the average parishioner in the pew than through this challenge and its possible consequences.  From late September through mid-December the clergy and lay leaders of this diocese pondered the possible scenarios—as of course did I.  If there was dreaming it resembled more the stuff of modest nightmares rather than visions of sugar plums.  But we hung together, with or without dreams, knowing I suppose that if we didn’t we would surely hang separately.

That is why, when talking to a priest of the diocese the morning before the Absalom Jones Celebration at Voorhees, and he asked me what I was preaching on, I told him—“I want to put before the students the power of dreaming-with-God for their lives.” I turned then to him and added, “I would like for us in the diocese to dream once again beyond the next few months.” The fact of the matter is that we in the Episcopal Church have been preoccupied in recent years with secondary and even tertiary order issues; and it is impossible to grow the church while consumed by such matters, as indeed the statistics from the recent Hadaway Report illustrate all too well. The words that Bishop F. R. Barry wrote half a century ago, and are quoted in Archbishop Carey’s memoirs, merit a fresh hearing:  “People today do not greatly care about secondary questions of Church order, or the debates of ecclesiastical politics.  They want to know what is right and what is wrong, who God is and how we can believe in Him.” True and telling words and most appropriate for us today. 

The rub of course is when what is right and what is wrong becomes the stuff of ecclesiastical politics; and this, unfortunately, is where we are.  But, as much as I dislike it, most rank and file parishioners did not care about the details of the allegations that were brought against me, nor did they understand the questions of church polity which beggared the dispute.  Such matters as ecclesiastical constitutionality reside in galaxies far away from where they live their daily lives – thank God..  So after enduring this season of trials, while not entirely unscathed…and who knows what allegations may yet be forth coming… I remain thankful for the broad unity we share as a diocese and with a strong desire that as much as possible we may move forward together. As you have just heard in the video,  there is an African proverb:  “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”  Together is where we need to be for what lies on the road ahead; for this is not a time for us to drift into individualistic or false realities. 

I say often to congregations, “Face reality as it is:  Not as it was: nor as we wish it were: but as it is.”  The reality is that as the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina we have unique opportunities and unique challenges. The remarkable English scholar, missionary and bishop, Stephen Neill once commented that “To be a bad Anglican is the easiest thing in the world; the amount of effort required in a minimum Anglican conformity is so infinitesimal that it is hardly to be measured.”  But he went on to say, “To be a good Anglican is exceedingly taxing business.”  If we substitute Episcopalian for Anglican we have just as telling and true a statement for our challenge today.  To be a bad Episcopalian is easy.  Just drift with the flow of whatever cultural stream carries you and you can be an Episcopalian. I remember reading as a seminarian, Bishop Allison’s debate with O.C. Edwards on evangelism.  Fitz, as you might imagine was for it.  If memory serves me well, Fitz opened with the line “You can be anything and be an Episcopalian.  You can be immoral, and you can be heretical; as long as you are not tacky. And apparently there’s something tacky about evangelism.”  Yes, it’s easy to be an Episcopalian sitting in the pews.  But to be a good Episcopalian today, well this church is no place for ostriches or for the spiritually, intellectually, or morally lazy.   There is a theological, moral and demographic challenge every minute (just follow Kendall’s blog and you’ll know what I mean).  I should, however, qualify the statement, when I suggest it is easy to be an Episcopalian—good one or bad one—for if we take seriously the recent Hadaway Report, the biggest challenge in many parts of our country may soon be actually finding an Episcopal parish to attend. 

Alarming Statistics of Institutional Decline

Let me share with you just a few of the graphs that Dr. Kirk Hadaway, a statistician at the National Church Office, recently presented to the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church.  You can view them on the overhead screen or can find some of them in your delegate packets. (View all charts here.) I believe they will illustrate why I as bishop and so many among our clergy are not eager to continue down the road so many in our church have chosen to travel.

•    The first chart is The Episcopal Domestic Average Sunday Worship Attendance:  1991--2010 

You will notice that for the decade of the 1990s the average Sunday attendance in the church stayed relatively stable—even showing some slight increase in 1999 and 2000.  Somewhere around 2002--2003 a decline began that was dramatic and precipitous:  A decline of 200,000 in average Sunday attendance.  This is over a 22% decline in eight years!  Then, of course, the average Sunday attendance is not the only measurement on the dashboard of the church’s life.

•    Change in Key Statistical Areas:  2002--2010 

Pledge cards declined 22%, Worship attendance declined 22.3 %, Easter attendance declined 20% , communicants in good standing declined 17%, members declined 15.9% If that is not enough to get the attention of every bishop, priest, deacon or active layperson in the church then certainly these boarder measures of church vitality should.  

•    Broader Measures of Church Vitality

Change in church school enrollment 33%, decline, change in the number of marriages performed 41% decline, change in the number of burials and funerals 21% decline, change in the number of child baptisms 36% decline, change in the number of adult baptisms 40% decline, change in the number of confirmations 32% decline. How the members of Executive Council could not have stopped their meeting at this point and turned to penitential prayer I do not know. I do it now. Lord, have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord, have mercy.  Here is a reason for Ash Wednesday and Lent if there ever was one.  These are absolutely devastating. 

•    Episcopal Church Average Sunday Attendance (1995--2000)

It actually looks pretty good. Dark green, middle green and light green suggesting growth in broad areas of our country. It almost looks like we might be turning around from 1995 to 2000 from the decade-long decline that began in 1970, but turn over to the next graph at a more recent five year period.

•    Episcopal Church Average Sunday Attendance (2005--2009)

You will see red, orange and beige dominate. Only two areas of growth Navaho Land, a reservation. There was an effective Bishop there doing ministry. And of course, the far right, one little place on the coast in the south the Diocese of South Carolina.  But before we raise a toast to ourselves or to our God for his blessing, I need to tell you this was in 2009. In 2010 we lost the largest parish in this Diocese. You may color us beige now. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. How shall move on to address these matters in the light of the dreams that God has for us?  Look at the next graph.

•    Congregations:  Regional Openings and Closings 

For every parish that has opened in the last 10 years, 2.5 parishes have closed. While the Southern Region has shown more openings we also lead the nation in Church closings,  though a better ratio by far than the Northeast. Yet there’s hardly any cause for celebration. 

•    Age Structure of the United States and The Episcopal Church:  2010

We are not merely an aging church--we are a dramatically aging church and the financial stress shows every sign of increasing exponentially as the G.I. and Silent Generations, which are 30 % of our membership, and who understood stewardship pass away and the Baby Boomers (26% of Church Membership) head into the fixed income of retirement. years. That means 56% of the Episcopal Church’s membership is over 50 years of age. That’s an increase of 3% in one year. I don’t even want to do the math to extend that trend for the next five years, at 3% rise. That makes us in the 70% category over 50 in contrast to the 31% of the US population which is over 50.  The Baby buster and Generation Xers together in our church make up only 29% of our membership.  So with that in mind, look at the final chart.   

•    Congregations in Financial Stress 2000--2010:  USA & TEC

Believe me when I say that when 72% of the congregations of the Episcopal Church are experiencing financial stress it is only the tip of the iceberg.  When one factors in the Age Structure of our congregations and their financial resources and stewardship commitments, and realizes that as the GI, Silent Generation and Baby Boomer generation, who were taught stewardship as youth and children, pass we have a generation that’s not heard much about stewardship at all in the life of the church. Wake up, Church! The Church in the last decade or longer has done far too little teaching on Christian Stewardship.  So we need to face the fact that even those of the Generation X or Baby Buster generations that are in the church (29% of our membership) have received little teaching about giving.  The GI generation – few live now. Silent Generation aging; Baby Boomers entering retirement! Not a happy picture for many of our churches. 

The need for more consistent, Biblical teaching on Stewardship has rarely been greater.  Just this past year we resurrected the Stewardship Committee of the diocese.  I thank the Rev. Jim Taylor for his work and for the website he has created.  I am also grateful that the pledges for our parishes to our diocesan budget have increased. It went from 6.9 to 7.45%.  This is only the third time since we instituted the 10-10-10 model of financial support in 1990 that this has happened!   Thank you!  I guess one lesson is that it pays to begin talking about stewardship.
Nevertheless there is much more that we need to do to address the same institutional decline of the Episcopal Church that is beginning to affect us here in South Carolina.  How do we address the far reaching nature of the decline that this report reveals before us? 

Strengthening Existing Congregations

As some of you in the Orangeburg and Florence Deaneries know we are confronting into these challenges on a diocesan level.  The two workshops we held on “The Future and Your Church” in 2010 were well attended and we presented the lay and clerical leaders not only with what I termed “Reality Therapy” but also measures for positively addressing them.  I have also met with parishes and their vestries in the Beaufort deanery and three in the Charleston deanery. It’s not always pleasant to face reality as it is. But it’s essential if you’re going to change My commitment as your bishop, the commitment of the diocesan staff, and the commitment of the Congregational Development Committee under the leadership of Fr. Chuck Owens is to continue addressing these challenges, giving you every resource for growth at our disposal.  Indeed, we have one planned for Saturday, April 21st at Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant.  I urge the lay and clergy leaders in the Charleston, West Charleston and Georgetown Deaneries to make every effort to attend.  Then we shall return to the Florence and Orangeburg Deaneries to build upon what we’ve done in the past. 

As an example of how a congregation that is just one step away from closing can turn around and begin to thrive under synergistic leadership and followership we can look at the transformation of All Saint’s, Florence.  Two years ago this was a congregation with mission status, in extreme financial distress, and having conversations about possibly closing.  I thought to myself “There is no way I am going to allow this church to close.”  Well, that’s not exactly the way I said it. I met with the Very Reverend John Burwell and told him that I had a challenge for him and his staff.  They rolled up their sleeves, and with the lay leaders of All Saints went to work.  The Holy Spirit breathed new life into an anemic and declining congregation.  Let me quote an excerpt from an upcoming article in the Jubilate Deo written by Communications Officer, Joy Hunter.  She writes, “The proof is in the numbers.  The first Sunday, with Burwell as the Rector, only 35 people attended worship.  By December of 2011 average Sunday attendance (not counting Christmas Day) was 127. When they began the effort, the church had $35,000 in outstanding bills (including heating, air, office supplies and salaries). In 2010 they had a $1,000 surplus. In 2011 they, again, closed the books in the black.  Pledges for 2010 were $68,143. In 2011 that had grown to $136,743 and in 2012 it increased once more to $202,000.”  Thank you, Dean Burwell. Thank you staff and vestry of Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island. And thank you lay leaders of All Saints who hung in there and persevered. God bless you!  Today, under the leadership of their recently instituted rector, the Reverend Karl Burns, they move forward together.  Yes, there are unique dimensions to this turn around that are not present in every declining congregation.  Nevertheless, I mention it to attest that transformation can happen.  This is still rich soil in South Carolina for the Episcopal and Anglican Way.  We can grow most parishes when Gospel commitment meets willing priest and willing parishioners who will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and remember the words of the onetime Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, that “The church is the only organization in the world that exists primarily for those who are not its members.”  When the Church decides to be missional under prayerful surrender to the Holy Spirit and building on the foundation that is Jesus Christ, she becomes contagious with good news; her young ones shall then see visions and her old ones shall dream dreams.   Let me hasten to add to this that there is still no substitute for solid, faithful ministry and leadership by clergy and lay leaders if a parish is to thrive. 

Church Planting and Other Opportunities

Along with reviving our existing parishes and missions, we also need to take seriously the call to plant new congregations—especially where the population is growing and where demographics show we are under-represented.  At this convention we have welcomed a new mission of the diocese:  The Well by the Sea, Myrtle Beach.  Perhaps some things should have been handled differently when we began.  Certainly, I as bishop must own and bear the responsibility for some of these.  Nevertheless I believe that God has and will continue to redeem whatever mistakes were committed in the birthing.  God is blessing The Well.  God is blessing the mothering church, Resurrection, Surfside.  You may have heard me say on prior occasions:  Bishops love their dioceses.  Priests love their congregations. Wardens love their buildings.  Altar guilds love vessels and linens.  But God loves people. He yearns for their salvation.  We need more church plants and more church planters.  And we need to find more ways to get it done.  

Consider this: During this past week our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church in North America met in Plano, Texas. They met to further their vision of planting 1000 congregations in five years.  Many of these fellow Anglicans have lost their buildings in lawsuits. Others have walked away from the buildings they have worshipped in for generations or given sacrificially to build, remodel or support.  Others now meet in rather un-Anglican looking buildings.  But they are still planting and dreaming of planting churches. Delusions of grandeur?  Perhaps.  But what a grand delusion!  I love the pioneer spirit of that vision. Back in the 19th Century, when the renowned atheist Robert Ingersoll was saying all would soon be over with Christianity, the Methodist missionaries and church planters in the pioneer setting of the Western United States sent a telegraph message to a gathering of atheists to whom Ingersoll was speaking.  It read thusly:  “We’re building two a day, dear Bob.  We’re building two a day.  All praise the power of Jesus name, we’re building two a day.”  Think of it! In the territory of Oregon they were building two churches – planting two churches – a day. Oh, e need to raise up and identify Church Planters with a similar indefatigable spirit – that they would go out and plant churches for Jesus Christ!

 While on this subject of continuing Anglicans, many of whom were one time Episcopalians, I refuse to be pressured into the attitude that says they are my enemy, or to see them as anything other than brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow Anglicans who are helping to shape what we shall all look like as this 21st Century more fully unfolds.  I hold to the epigram, “Be the change you want to see.”  I dream and pray for healing among the various orthodox Anglican bodies in North America. 

A Further Challenge:  Approaching General Convention 2012

There is yet another reason why I have shown you a few charts from the many in Dr. Hadaway’s revealing presentation.  To argue as some conservatives have that these signs of institutional decline are caused entirely by the leaders of the Epsicopal Church embracing of a revisionist positions toward the Church’s teaching in such matters as the Fatherhood of God, the Uniqueness of Christ, liturgical innovations, the ordination of women, the blessing of same-sex unions, communion of the unbaptized, etc., is so misleading and reductionist as to be delusional.  To argue, however, that there is no relationship whatsoever is likewise delusional.  Frankly, the departure of so many of our clergy and lay leaders from the basics of Christian faith and practice has been nothing short of disastrous. The commitment to understand the ordination of women and now the blessing of same-sex unions, as fundamentally issues of justice—and not theology—has likewise been and will continue to be destructive of our common life as Episcopalians. If our more ardent critics will take an honest look at these statistics perhaps they might begin to understand why we have chosen to differentiate ourselves from the divisive decisions so many of the leaders of the Episcopal Church have embraced. Just yesterday the Standing Liturgical Commission on Liturgy and Music has released the proposed rite for Same Sex Blessings that is to be voted on at General Convention this summer.  Should it be approved for trial use in the church I believe it will be a signal and a departure from Christian teaching on the created order; on the nature of man and woman; on our salvific status in Jesus Christ; and from Christian Teaching on Marriage; and, make no mistake, it further raises the stakes for many of us here in South Carolina.  What further steps of differentiation will be called for on the far side of this summer’s General Convention we must ponder.  There are times when navigational adjustments are best charted once the variables are known; this is such a time.  Therefore I will eschew any further comment for now.   Maybe though, just maybe, having seen these statistics from TEC’s own statistician, our most vocal critics, both within the diocese and outside of it, can see more clearly why we have chosen to chart a different course than they.  It is hardly an overstatement to suggest that the current brand of progressive theology and partisan social justice that the majority of leaders in the Episcopal Church seem to espouse is not an attractive option for most Americans who are searching for a church or seeking a faith for themselves and their children.

Holding to Steadfastly to our Vocation

This, of course, needs to be stressed – that regardless of the decisions that come from General Convention this summer our vocation is unswerving.  We are called by God to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age and to help shape emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century.  And we shall do so.

What is my dream?  It is that each congregation whether large or small is fulfilling our call to make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age.  If you ask, “What does a Biblical Anglican for a Global Age look like?  How would you describe such a person?”   I will say, “He or she is a disciple of Jesus Christ who embraces the Apostolic Teaching of the Holy Scriptures, endorses Catholic order and practice, has encountered afresh the renewing and gifting Presence of the Holy Spirit, is equipped with Evangelical Truth and with fervor engages in missional ministry in the world.”   If that sounds to you like the Great Commission with an Anglican twist you have heard correctly.  Just this past January those of us who attended the Mere Anglicanism Conference heard the new Vice-Chancellor of Sewanee, Dr. John McCardell, recount the story of the Beaufort Revival in the 1830s that had transforming influence not only on St. Helena’s Parish, but upon this diocese, and even from there the larger Episcopal Church and reaching places as far away as China.  It can happen again.  In Beaufort, in Bluffton, in Hilton Head, Charleston, God alone could say the Grand Strand, Georgetown, Florence, Walterboro.  Where will the next fire of the Holy Spirit land and enflame His people? God is no respecter of persons.  He loves to do great things in unexpected places.  Why not here?  Why not now?  Why not with us?  Revive thy church Lord, beginning with us!  I pray for such a Pentecost for today.   I pray for the kind of sowing with tears and reaping with joy that the psalmist spoke of. For such a harvest and shouldering of sheaves as happened almost two centuries ago in Beaufort, South Carolina and touched a country of China.  Come Holy Spirit, Come! Renew the face of the Church.  Renew the face of the earth!  Amen.  

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