“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith….” Hebrews 12:1—2a
When this Diocese last met in a convention at St. Philip’s, it was September 16h, 2006. I was one of three candidates for the XIV Bishop of
Consequently, I trust you will understand that I have strived in these past five years, contrary to what some may believe or assert, to keep us from this day; from what I have referred to in numerous deanery and parish gatherings as the
But I must say this again and again. This has never been about who is welcome or not welcome in our church. Its about what we shall tell them about Jesus Christ, his mercy, his grace and his truth – it is about , what we shall tell them when they come and what we shall share when we go out.
We have spent far too many hours and days and years in a dubious and fruitless resistance to the relentless path of the Episcopal Church. And while some of us still struggle in grief at what has happened and where these extraordinary days have brought us, I believe it is time to turn the page. The leaders of the Episcopal Church have made their positions known—our theological and creedal commitments regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture, the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ, and other precious truths, while tolerated, are just opinions among others; our understanding of human nature, the given-ness of gender as male and female, woven by God into the natural and created order, is now declared by canon law to be unacceptable; our understanding of marriage as proclaimed in the Book of Common Prayer “established by God in creation” and espoused by Anglicans around the world hangs precariously in the life of the Episcopal Church by a thin and fraying thread; and our understanding of the church’s polity, which until the legal strategy of the present Presiding Bishop’s litigation team framed their legal arguments, was a widely held and respected position in this church . Now to hold it and express it is tantamount to misconduct or worse to act upon it – is ruled as abandonment of this church. While one might wish the theological and moral concerns were on center stage, it is the Disciplinary Board for Bishops misuse of the church’s polity that has finally left us no place to stand within the Episcopal Church. So be it. They have spoken. We have acted. We have withdrawn from that Church that we along with six other dioceses help to organize centuries ago.
While I have strived to keep us from this
Following Christ the Pioneer and Perfecter of our Future
So turning the page let us take a brief look at this next chapter of the Diocese of South Carolina. We shall need, of course, the promises and exhortations of the apostolic word. I began this address with verses from the Letter to the Hebrews. After surveying in the 11th Chapter of his letter the luminaries of past generations who walked by faith and not by sight—Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David and many lesser known men and women— the writer turns the page for his readers to the present and the future. Surrounded by these witnesses or martyrs from the past these early Christians must take their place in this great narrative of salvation history. Shedding themselves of every hindrance and clinging sins and (may I suggest perhaps things they cannot take with them) they are to press on looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of their faith. And so must we.
Challenges and Opportunities within the Diocese: Much speculation has arisen now that we are out of the Episcopal Church as to where the Diocese of South Carolina is going? I have repeatedly said at gatherings around the diocese that this question has not been a topic of serious discussion among the changing members of the Standing Committee over the years, or for that matter among the deans, or within the Council. It needs to be state again that our time has been taken up with keeping the diocese protected, while being intact and in the Episcopal Church. And knowing that should push come to shove we would need to be prepared for numerous contingencies, we put in place various protections. These are now profoundly helpful: we have a pension plan for clergy and laity; insurance possibilities for our congregations; a diocesan health insurance program. These do not allay every sacrifice or concern by any means, but they do at least fill a void that would otherwise be unnerving and almost unmanageable for many of our clergy and congregations. Yet work remains to be done in these areas, and will be done in a timely manner. Our challenges in this new landscape are many. Some rather small, and others quite enormous—but so are the advantages.
Having chosen to persuade rather than coerce we have a great meeting place—the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ! He is the one who opens the great doors or closes them. You may recall that the risen and glorified Christ spoke to the Philadelphian church in the Revelation of St. John the Divine: “Look, behold I set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” I believe he has opened a door for us as well. We know how to do mission. We know how to preach the gospel; to make disciples; to share our faith with others; to do effective youth ministry; hold on to the essential doctrines of Christ while being innovative in reaching emerging generations; We know how to plant and grow congregations. Do we have much to learn? You bet. Will we learn it? We will. I ask you to imagine if this might be true - that perhaps the greatest congregations in this Diocese of South Carolina have yet to be grown - maybe they haven’t even been planted. Some of us are getting long in the tooth and need to learn from and make way for younger leaders. As for me I realize how quickly it has happened: those words of the Psalmist that once caused me to think of retired priests and elder statesmen I now apply to myself: “O God, you have taught me since I was young, /and to this day I tell of your wonderful works. /And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, /till I make known your strength to this generation and your power to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18) When did that come to be about me and not someone else? The LORD spoke to Servant-Israel regarding her witness to the world saying: “Behold, I do a new thing—before it breaks forth I tell you of it.” It is a time for the old to dream dreams and the young to see visions. If we can combine prudence and dynamism we can get somewhere. So even while we keep the richness of a residential seminary clergy track, we need to explore new ways of preparing young men and women and even middle-age ones for ministry; especially those who know how to travel light. It is a new day and new ways of proclaiming the old truths need to be adopted.
I stated at our recent Clergy Conference that I hoped we will maintain a comprehensive Anglicanism. Should we lose an African-American congregation we shall look at planting another. If we lose an Anglo-Catholic parish we will pray for what God will have us do; there are those from whom we can learn from here in this area. As for multi-racial congregations surely that is a gift whose time has come - or perhaps is past time. Imagine what this Diocese of South Carolina can accomplish for the
Let me turn to the challenges and opportunities in North American Anglicanism for a minute:
All this might be what lies behind the question often raised at the deanery and parish forums I’ve been addressing—“Bishop, with whom will we affiliate?” My answer has been quite simply, “For now—no one.” As any wise pastor will tell you, if you been in a troubling, painful or dysfunctional relationship for a long period of time and then the marriage or relationship ends, you would be wise not to jump right away into the first one that comes along and tie the knot. You’d be wise take your time. Nevertheless, I hope we can work with and for a greater unity among the Anglican Churches within our local region and also within
I recall some other challenging words from the past. Those sardonic and haunting words of William Reed Huntington, whose genius over a century ago shaped the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral: “If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer refuge to people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we care to be only a countercheck and not a force in society then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce any claim to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name and a sect in deed.” I mention these cutting words for two reasons. I believe we need to work in two directions at the same time. First we need to allow ourselves to draw near to the throbbing needs of the world around us. And while maintaining the four pillars of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, we need to creatively engage our culture not with the tired arguments of the past, answering questions no one is asking, but answering those questions in the sorrowing and aspiring heart of our society.
Some years ago after the General Convention 2009 I went with a group of conservative Bishops to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury. But not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket, I also made an appointment with the Bishop of London. His offices are near
Finally, I turn to our place in The worldwide Anglican Communion. Our vision since 2009 has been to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age: Helping by God’s grace to help shape emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century. Just this week I mentioned in my recent Open Letter to the Diocese that we have heard from Archbishops, Presiding Bishops, and diocesan bishops from Kenya to Singapore, England to Egypt, Ireland to the Indian Ocean, Canada to Australia. They, represent the overwhelmingly vast majority of members of the Anglican Communion and they consider me as a faithful Anglican Bishop in good standing and they consider this diocese as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and
Nevertheless, this I assure you, there shall be lengthy and thorough conversation among the clergy of this diocese—our bishops, priests, and deacons—and our lay leaders before any decision will be presented before this Convention that would ask you to associate with any Province. I remind you of an historical fact—this diocese existed after the American Revolution for four years before it helped to fully form the Protestant Episcopal Church in these
What then in conclusion? Having turned the page, having gazed however briefly at the next chapter, the path begins to open up before us, “… let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Founder and Perfecter of our faith who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” These resolutions you will soon have before you are first and foremost a way for you to affirm the action of disaffiliation which the Standing Committee has legally and canonically taken. Many of you have already decided in your heart and mind how you will vote. Others will need more time. But I invite you for just a moment to stand on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral at the heart of the bustling city with the needs of the world, or if you prefer stand at the corner of Meeting and Broad here in Charleston or outside the Walmart in Goose Creek or Moncks Corner, or sit in a vestry meeting after having been a Rotary luncheon in Florence and lean yourself into a throbbing and hurting world. Ask yourself how long do I want to spend my time, my energy and my soul in a resistance movement that has proven so fruitless. Is it not time to get on with a ministry of Jesus Christ to a broken world? So in keeping with your understanding of God’s Word, the historic teachings of Christ’s Church, and the leading of the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ call to make Disciples, it is time to take stock of what you think, and in harmony with your heart and conscience to act. May God guide us all.
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever. Amen.” Jude24