August 5, 2017
Eve of the Transfiguration
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8
Thursday evening Allison and I returned to Charleston. We were on vacation with family in California when the South Carolina Supreme Court issued the long awaited ruling. Obviously, it was not the favorable ruling we were seeking. Therefore, we returned home as soon as possible. Frankly, it is a grievous decision for us on so many levels. Perhaps you, as do I, have to fight despondency as I consider its many ramifications for us as a diocese, and especially for our congregations and clergy. For make no mistake—if this ruling stands how we carry out God’s mission and the ministries he has given us will dramatically change. You may already have received from previous diocesan communications , the diocesan website or from local news, the gist of the court’s conflicted 77-page opinion. Therefore, I will not rehearse it here. My purpose is more personal.
Today, thousands of Christians around the world are holding you, the congregations of the diocese, as well as our clergy and bishop in prayer. Even more specifically, yesterday Anglicans on this continent were lifting us in constant prayer. As you may know, we recently voted as a diocese to affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America, and this summer their Provincial Assembly joyfully received us as full members therein. What a comfort it is to know that our Archbishop, the Most Reverend Foley Beach, asked the bishops, clergy and laity of the ACNA to pray and fast yesterday on our behalf.
Many of those praying and fasting have in the past walked away from their church buildings, buildings they built and maintained, and in some cases, where their families worshiped for centuries. Some left by choice; others after years of litigation. I do not mention the latter, however, as if the legal issues in our case are fully resolved. They most certainly are not, though they are clearly challenging. Rather, I want you to know the sort of Christians who are praying for us; and while holding us in prayer, many are fasting. They have paid a price to follow their Lord. We are part of a provincial body of Anglican Christians and they are walking this hard road with us. Their fellowship at such a time is greatly comforting to me and I hope it is for you.
I also want to tell you what our next steps are. First, this Monday, August 7, the Standing Committee and I will meet with our lead legal counsel, Mr. Alan Runyan. I assure you that our legal team is looking at the various options before us. Second, this Wednesday I will meet with the deans of the various diocesan deaneries, and that afternoon, Mr. Runyan, Canon Lewis and I will meet with all the clergy of the diocese. Please keep us in your prayers. Many important decisions are before us and we want to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and walk in step with the Holy Spirit.
Finally, I am honored to be your bishop, and, God willing, I will remain so as long as you and he will have me. I have been deeply encouraged by Psalm 16 where David, as psalmist, confesses that he has no good apart from God. The LORD is his chosen portion, his cup and his lot. Yet in verse 3, he also acknowledges that along with finding comfort in God in the midst of dreadful setbacks he also finds encouragement from the people he serves: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” Serendipitously, as if to illustrate this truth to me, when Allison and I arrived in the Charleston airport late Thursday afternoon walking to get our luggage we saw two familiar faces— members of St. Michael’s and the diocese—Dr. Alston Kitchens and her husband, Greg. They greeted us with smiles and hugs, and assurances of their prayers. They embodied many of you; the ones with whom we have cast our lot. Ten years ago, when I was going through a difficult consent process as your Bishop-Elect I wrote, “I have lashed myself to the mast of Christ and will ride out this storm wherever the ship of faith will take me.” As you know, it brought me here.
Someone, clearly pleased with this judicial ruling, recently sent me an email sardonically asking when I was leaving town. I wrote back, “I’m not leaving town.” I am lashed to Christ and lashed to you. We will see in the midst of this present storm where the ship of faith will take us. Ironically, I do not suspect that means leaving town, regardless of what else may change. This, dear friends, is what I know and want to remind you of—in favorable and unfavorable rulings from human courts, Christ is still Lord, he will come again to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have no end.
Yours in Christ,
Mark Joseph Lawrence
XIV Bishop of South Carolina
Today’s disparaging ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court makes this morning’s New Testament reading from the Daily Office (Acts 16:16-24) seem, in hindsight, particularly appropriate.
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Astute observers of the present Anglican unpleasantness will recall when, several years ago, Katharine Jefferts-Schori, then Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, turned this text on its head, making the Apostle Paul out to be the bad guy, robbing the slave girl of her “gift.” It was one of the lowest of many low points during Schori’s tortuous nine-year tenure. Such shoddy “exegesis” made her a laughing stock among serious-minded Christians of all affiliations.
Unfortunately, we are not laughing in South Carolina today. As Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace and before the magistrates to be beaten and imprisoned, we have been dragged back into the middle of a legal battle we thought had been decided long ago. Once again, we find ourselves tagged as “the breakaway group,” subjected to slanderous accusations of larceny and deception.
This day ends for us as it did for Paul and Silas, locked away in the inner prison, our feet fastened in the stocks.
Tomorrow morning, if you haven’t already read them on the internet, you will read the headlines on the front page of the local newspapers.
Before you read those headlines, however, you might want to read tomorrow’s New Testament lesson (Acts 16:25-34). Then you will know, as the late Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.”
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
It is often in the darkest moments that the light of the Gospel will shine the brightest.
May the darkness of this day fade rapidly amidst the dawning light of a new and glorious day to which we will awaken and find our Lord Jesus is still on his throne and his Church is still advancing against the principalities and powers that enslave a world so desperately in need of his truth and his love; a world filled with hurting people asking the question, “What must I do to be saved?”