Kendall Harmon—Attempted Liveblog of Bishop Lawrence’s Diocesan Convention Address

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Please note these are fast notes and NOT to be taken verbatim quotes--KSH.

We just finished morning prayer and the bishop is now speaking.

The Bishop begins and quotes--

“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 last this Diocese met in a convention at St. Philip’s, it was September 9th, 2006. I was one of three candidates for the XIV Bishop of South Carolina. In my opening address to the assembled clergy and laity I spoke these words: We meet this morning in this lovely city of Charleston. Inside the walls of this great old historic edifice—we can only hope the wisdom of the years might seep into our minds that we might rightly appreciate the present, and more importantly imagine an even greater future for tomorrow. I purposely include the past, present and future in this opening sentence. So also today: It is with hands reaching backward to bring the best of past centuries with us, feet firmly placed in the present—facing reality as it is, not as it was but as it is—and with hearts seeking God’s grace for an even greater future for tomorrow that we meet here today. Before, however, turning our minds and hearts to consider the future, I need to say word about what in recent years we have come through. For since that day on September 9th this Diocese of South Carolina and I have passed through two consent processes for Bishop, and two Disciplinary Board procedures for Abandonment of the Communion of The Episcopal Church—the last without our even knowing it. I have not done the research but I suppose two consent processes and two disciplinary board procedures is and may well remain unique in the annuals of TEC.

You may remember that during a stormy first consent process I stated that: “I have lashed myself to the mast of Jesus Christ and will ride out this storm wherever the ship of faith will take me.” It brought me two years later here to the marshes and cypress swamps of the Low Country. Where many of your relatives landed centuries before—some searching for wealth and others herded like cattle in the hulls of ships. During these past years I have grown to love this land and seascape, spreading down roots in your history and, even more to our purpose this morning, becoming one with you in a common allegiance to Jesus Christ, his Gospel, and his Church.

Consequently, I trust you will understand that I have strived in these past years, contrary to what some may believe or assert, to keep us from this day; from what I have referred to in numerous parish and deanery gatherings as the Valley of Decision. There is little need to rehearse the events that have brought us to this moment other than to say—it is a convergence of Theology, Christian Morality, and Church Polity that has lead to our collision with the leadership of TEC. I hope most of our delegates and clergy who have heard me address these matters know in their hearts and minds that this is no attempt to build gated communities around our churches as some have suggested or to keep the hungry seeking hearts of a needy world from our doors. Rather let the doors of our churches be open not only that seekers may come in but more importantly so we may go forth to engage the unbelieving with the hope of the gospel and serve our communities, disdaining any tendency to stand daintily aloof in self-righteousness. Indeed, let us greet every visitor at our porch as Christ and while some of our members stand at open doors to welcome, still others will go out as our Lord has directed into the highways and byways of the world—across seas and across the street—with the Good News of a loving Father, a crucified-yet-living Savior and a community of wounded-healers learning, however falteringly, to walk in step with His Spirit. Let not God’s feast go unattended. This is our calling....

But I must say this again and again. This whole controversy is really about what we shall tell people about Jesus Christ when they come to our churches.

We have spent far too many hours, days and years in a dubious and fruitless resistance to the relentless path of TEC. 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 TEC 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, evidently, is now tantamount to misconduct or worse—abandonment. While the first of these on this listed are by far the more essential and should be center stage, it is the latter that has finally left us no place to stand within TEC. So be it. They have spoken and we have acted. We have withdrawn from that Church which we along with six other dioceses help to found.

The Presiding Bishop and her legal team are now emerging from the shadows. Changing from their previous practice of seeking peace, peace, while waging canonical war.

Those who are not with us you may go in peace.

Rich in heritage is the Episcopal Church, and when I have quarrelled with her it has been a lover's quarrel.

But we must turn the page. Let us tear our hearts and not our garments.

Therefore, we cannot allow either personally or corporately any root of bitterness, resentment, un-forgiveness, anger or fear to take us like untied and forgotten buoys in an outgoing tide, burying our hearts and mission in some muddy marsh or to float adrift in some backwater slough.

No, we shall turn the page. We shall move on. Actually let me state it more accurately. We have moved on. With the Standing Committee’s resolution of disassociation the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically. The resolutions before you this day are only affirmations of that fact. You have only to decide if that is your will.

So turning the page let us take an all too brief look at this next chapter of the Diocese of South Carolina. This chapter as I referenced in the scriptural text read at the beginning this address needs the promise and exhortations of the apostolic word. After surveying the luminaries of past generations who have walked by faith and not by sight—Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, David and many lesser known men and women— the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews turns the page for his readers to the present and the future. Surrounded by these witnesses or martyrs from the past the 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. So must we.

Much speculation has arisen now that we are no longer in TEC 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 my within our Council.

It needs to be state again that our time has been taken up with keeping the diocese protected, while being intact and in TEC. 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.

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 and 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, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” I believe he has done so for us as well. We know how to do mission. We know how to preach the gospel; to make disciples.

We know how to do mission. We know how to preach the gospel; to make disciples; to share our faith with others; to hold on to the essential doctrines of Christ while being innovative for reaching emerging generations; to plant and grow congregations. Do we have much to learn? You bet. Will we learn it?

I ask you to imagine if perhaps the greatest congregations in this Diocese of South Carolina are yet to be grown. Some of us are getting long in the tooth and need to learn from and make way for younger leaders. As for me I realized 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) 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 with dynamism we can get somewhere.

As I stated at our recent Clergy Conference we need to maintain a comprehensive Anglicanism. Should we lose we lose an African-American congregation we shall look at planting another. If we lose an Anglo-Catholic parish will pray for what God will have us do; there are those from whom we can learn in this area. As for multi-racial congregations surely that is a gift whose time has come, perhaps past.

. Imagine what this Diocese of South Carolina can accomplish for the Kingdom of God and the Gospel if so much of our common life is no longer siphoned off in a resistance movement. What can our diocesan and deanery gatherings become when our focus is on our ministry at home and our mission in the world? If we can get out of our congregational silos and into relationships that foster mutual growth and mission a new day of possibilities awaits us. I will be calling together a task force to link stronger parishes with congregations and missions within the diocese that have suffered the loss of members due to this departure from TEC. If a smaller parish has lost 10, 20 or 30 percent of its membership in this break it may not be able to afford a full time priest. While continuing to keep the door ajar for any disaffected parishioners to return, we need to find ways to enable the congregation to continue to support their rector or vicar not merely in order to keep ply wood from the windows but in order to reach their community for Christ and to grow his Church. Let us get on with it. This will be our first priority.

South Carolina has been and continues to be a microcosm of North American Anglicanism—with all that is good and vital, and all that is most troubling. In an address at the Mere Anglicanism Conference last January I noted that there were some six overlapping jurisdictions within the boundaries of our diocese all making claims one way or another to being Anglican. With the exception of this Diocese of South Carolina, the oldest of these Churches is the Reformed Episcopal Church.

There are many REC congregations throughout South Carolina. They reach a good number of people with a vital faith and strong Anglican tradition. They have a goodly heritage and a seminary just up the road in Summerville. The Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) has had until recently the mother church of their movement at Pawleys Island. Recently the All Saints’ Pawleys Island congregation voted to associate with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). But AMiA has other congregations scattered across the Low Country—some with bishops and some with rectors. Then, just this year ACNA ordained a former rector of this diocese The Right Reverend Steve Wood, of St. Andrew’s Mt. Pleasant as the first bishop of their Diocese of the Carolinas, which includes North and South Carolina. There are others as well, some of whose bishops I know and some I do not.

As I have stated before this is all rather un-Anglican! But to the positive we ought to at least to acknowledge this possibility: But to end on a positive note, South Carolina may be the most “Anglicanized” turf in North America! (laughter)

This might be what lies behind the question that is often raised at the deanery and parish forums I’ve been addressing—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 or painful 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 within North America. We have many friends and bonds of affection that unite us as well as a common mission. A century ago a son of this diocese, William Porcher DuBose, wrote these helpful words: “The question, How to restore and conserve Unity—must go back to a prior one,--What is the Unity in question? Let us recall and repeat it in our Lord’s own words: ‘I will not leave you orphans; yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but ye shall see me; because I live, ye shall live also.’….If then, in all our differences we are thus able to concentrate and agree upon the one necessity of being in Christ and of being one in Him, we must not despair of some ultimate Way to it. If we will cultivate and prepare the disposition, the will, and the purpose—God will make the Way….let us, I say, once begin on that line, and the differences that do not eliminate themselves will be turned into the higher service of deepening, broadening, and heightening the resultant Unity.”

To this end I will also appoint a task force to begin contacting, praying and working with these other Anglican bodies as they are willing and able to seek a greater Anglican Unity within South Carolina or at least within our own jurisdiction.

I am taken with some other challenging words from our past heritage. We might also consider the words of William Reed Huntingdon, 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 challenges 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 question no one is asking, but answering the questions of those in the sorrowing and aspiring heart of our society.

Mention meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury, and then the bishop of London. He got there early. As often in England it was raining. And so I went outside and looked at the roads where all these paths of cars were converging and I asked myself how did it happen that we have become some engulfed in meeting and not bringing the gospel to that world (where all the cars were). That's our calling, because it is Christ's calling.

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. I mentioned in my recent Open Letter to the Diocese that we have heard from Archbishops, Presiding Bishops, and diocesan bishops from the Kenya to Singapore, England to Egypt, Ireland to the Indian Ocean, Canada to Australia, representing the overwhelmingly vast majority of members of the Anglican Communion that they consider me as a faithful Anglican Bishop in good standing and this diocese as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Ah,my friends this should comfort us as we await further guidance from God regarding future affiliation and in conversation with the Provinces and Dioceses with whom we have missional relationships. Just yesterday I received emails from bishops in Egypt, North Africa and Ethiopia assuring us of their prayers. and I thought my gosh,

We are not alone. Greater are those with us than any who may be against us.

Nevertheless, this I assure you, there shall also be lengthy and thorough conversation among the clergy of this diocese—our bishops, priests, lay leaders and deacons before any decision would 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 voted to accede to Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States and then for a fifth year.... So for now and the foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC, we remain as an extra-provincial Diocese within the larger Anglican Communion; buttressed by the knowledge we are recognized as a legitimate diocese by the vast majority of Anglicans around the world. Truly, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

What then in conclusion? Having turned the page, having gazed however briefly at the next chapter, the path ahead opens 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 which you will soon have before you are first and foremost a way for you to affirm the action of withdrawal 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.

Go outside the Walmart in Goose Creek or Monck's Corner, they lead into a broken and throbbing and hurting world, and ask yourself is it not time to devote ourselves to that hurting world. keeping with your understanding of God’s Word, the historic teachings of Christ’s Church, and the leading of the Holy Spirit 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.

(Ends--and I am out of time and my hand hurts!)

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC BishopsTEC ConflictsTEC Conflicts: South CarolinaTEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils

16 Comments Posted November 17, 2012 at 11:41 am

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For original material from Titusonenine (such as articles and commentary by Dr. Harmon) permission to copy and distribute free of charge is granted, provided this notice, the logo, and the web site address are visible on all copies. For permission for use in for-profit publications, please email KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com