This Monday, January 26th will mark the anniversary of my consecration. I have been here for a year and have now visited every parish at least once and all but a few of the missions of the diocese. It has been, for Allison and me, a year of total immersion. Or to mix the metaphor, when people have asked if it has been a steep learning curve I’ve answered, “No, not really-it has been a vertical ascent.”
It would have been challenging in a normal year of diocesan and church life. But when one considers we hosted the Presiding Bishop and several of her staff less than a month after my consecration, engaging in a challenging but, I believe, hospitable dialogue; I attended two gatherings of the House of Bishops where former bishops under whom I’ve served were deposed, and at each I spoke and wrote against their deposition; I attended the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem, as well as participated at the once in-a-decade Lambeth Conference with its related events this summer; three diocesan conventions voted to join a fourth diocese in leaving The Episcopal Church and two of these departing dioceses I have served for 27 years of my ordained ministry, and many of the priests and deacons I’ve worked beside have subsequently been deposed; an aspiring new province in North America known as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has emerged; and the dissolving of the Anglican Communion Network (with whom many in this diocese have been substantially linked) is charted for the mid-point of this present year. This brings the picture of a constantly changing landscape to mind as a descriptive and understated metaphor. These are indeed hinge times and this for me has been a baptism of fire. Yet as I write this I am not discouraged-rather I believe I have seen more clearly in recent days the path we are called to take.
During an interview for the Jubilate Deo with Joy Hunter in late 2007, shortly before I arrived in South Carolina, she asked, “Do you have a vision for how to proceed?” I said, “Stay close to God, meet often with the clergy, and love the people-then we’ll talk about vision.” I must say given the time demands I have had to scratch and claw for the space to stay close to God, and by his grace I believe I have-or rather he has kept me there in spite of myself. As for meeting often with the clergy, it has been more difficult than I anticipated, but I haven’t abandoned the commitment. I just could not have imagined the number of people who would want to meet with me and for reasons I could not have anticipated. In parish ministry I usually found the challenge was moving from prioritizing my schedule to scheduling my priorities. But this past year it often seemed I’ve been scheduled by other’s priorities and I’ve been left to scramble for time to even discover what my priorities should be. As for loving the people, yes I do and mostly have! So now, after a year, it is time to talk about vision.
Let’s begin with a question I asked myself before God in prayer. “What should a diocese do and more specifically-what should the Diocese of South Carolina do?”
.I believe we are to help shape the future of Anglicanism in the 21st Century through mutually enriching missional relationships with dioceses and provinces of the Anglican Communion (Romans 1:11-12; 2 Corinthians 9:1-15), and through modeling a responsible autonomy and inter-provincial accountability (Philippians 2:1-5; Ephesians 4:1-6) for the sake of Jesus Christ, his Kingdom and his Church.
We are to proclaim the gospel and make disciples for Jesus Christ and God the Father in the power of the Spirit who become responsible members of local parishes or missions and witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ in their personal and corporate context. The diocesan structures and staff are to do this, specifically, by assisting our existing congregations so that they may grow in numerical and spiritual vitality and plant new congregations within the diocese in places where the church is inadequately present.
I have heard it said, and I believe it to be true, that one ought to be able to summarize one’s vision in a statement that can fit on a t-shirt. My summary of this, put succinctly is, God has called us-To Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age. This has been extremely focusing for me as I have met recently with the staff in making financial decisions, some of which have been difficult because of the need to cut back our diocesan budget due to loss of investment income as well as tightening budgets in some of our parishes. More importantly it has given clarity to how I foresee reshaping Diocesan Council and its various committees. As we draw closer to Diocesan Convention I plan to meet with clericus gatherings to begin to unfold how I see this vision implemented through strategy and from strategy to structure and from structure to involvement. I’ll be writing and talking about this often in the days and weeks ahead.