Dear People of God,
“Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:7
I leave tomorrow for the Global Anglicans Future Conference in Jerusalem. It is a gathering of global leaders—Primates, Bishops, Priests and lay leaders—from around the Anglican Communion. I will be attending not only as a bishop of the Anglican Church in North America, but, more importantly, as your bishop, representing the Diocese of South Carolina among the larger Anglican family. This gathering is another reminder that the spiritual issues with which we engage locally are part of a global crisis regarding the authority of the Bible and its place in Anglicanism in the 21st Century.
Before leaving, however, let me share a few thoughts regarding the denial of our recent petition. The U. S. Supreme Court’s denial is not an affirmation of the SouthCarolina Supreme Court’s August 2 opinion nor of the merits of our position. It leaves us, however, back in the Dorchester County Court with a conflicted and fractured ruling. Quite simply, regardless of what you may have read or heard elsewhere, this case is not over—, as they say, that is the good news, and that is the bad news.
This afternoon I met with all our clergy to have a “family” conversation, for after five long years of litigation it has certainly taken its toll. It has also been a refiner’s fire. The rectors also met with Henrietta Golding since our lead attorney, Mr. Alan Runyan, is presently in Jerusalem as a lay delegate to GAFCON. Ms. Golding described the legal landscape so that your priest may be aided in answering some of your questions. However, I would hasten to add; definitively predicting how a judge or court may rule in the future has been many a fool’s errand.
This has been and is still a very complicated ecclesiastical and judicial landscape. Yet sometimes a question is asked or a statement made that distills a very complex matter. I received a text message yesterday from a parishioner that did this for me. Here it is in text speak; just as it came to my I-Phone:
Hey, I know I’m kinda slow. Sometimes don’t see “The big picture.” BUT still praying. It’s only “stuff” as far as I’m concerned. Your friend in CHRIST. Leroy
Of course, the stuff Leroy is referring to is the current legal and theological unpleasantness. The Church buildings, property, endowment funds, identity, beliefs, heritage… to name but a few at stake.
Here’s my response in text speak:
Yes, it’s only stuff. But some stuff is worth fighting for and some stuff isn’t and discerning the difference is the stuff that much of life is made of. Blessings friend, Mark
Discerning what is worth fighting for and what is not is one aspect of the legal issues before us. It is also, what is involved in the theological and spiritual matters before us as Anglican Christians— both locally and globally. One could wish these were not connected, the legal and the theological, but for now, they are. One could wish we would not have to engage in either one or that these struggles had somehow bypassed us. But many generations have had like challenges in their day and had to decide what stuff to hold onto and what stuff to let go of. When Saint Paul penned those immortal words, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” it was not romantic love of which he spoke. Nor was it a love without discernment, without struggles, without truth, without faith, without hope; it was the love that led Jesus to the cross to save a sinful, scarred and tattered world and doing so in surrender and obedience to his heavenly Father. It was a costly and sacrificial love.One of our priests asked me just the other day, “Bishop, what are you hearing from God?” I replied, “Not as much as I would like.” I spent several hours just last night on the night shift…listening. God it seems has enrolled me in a graduate course in the School of Prayer.
With that in mind, I find myself spending no little time praying through Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Unrighteous Judge. “And [Jesus] told them a parable that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” I certainly do not have space in this letter to unpack much of the richness in this passage. Therefore, may I encourage you to read it for yourself. Let it inform your prayer.
In the last line of this teaching, our Lord poses a question, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” In reflecting on this, I am drawn to another teaching of our Lord on intercessory prayer, Matthew 9:35-38. While Jesus was teaching and healing in cities and villages and seeing the crowds, “he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Here are two teachings regarding intercessory prayer. Both are relevant to our situation in the diocese. Both point to circumstances in which many of us find ourselves. Frankly, to pray only for vindication of our legal cause but have little compassion for the lost and needy; to turn a blind eye to the huge numbers of people moving into the Low Country; to seek God’s help in the court but not seek him for laborers for the harvest; is to fail to respond rightly to our Lord’s closing question in his teaching on prayerful persistence. Frankly, we dare not let the legal questions of the courtroom dominate or hinder our pursuit of the God’s mission in the world. Both the “stuff’ in the courtroom and the “stuff” of the Kingdom matter. Let’s make sure we keep the order right. “Seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” That’s the lodestar, the true manna, the pearl of great price, which keeps the main thing the main thing. May God grant us the grace to place the Kingdom before the buildings and use the buildings for the Kingdom.
Yours in Christ,
–The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence is XIVth Bishop of South Carolina