Pressing On: Bishop Mark Lawrence’s Address to the 2021 Convention of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina

What do I owe the diocese before stepping down?

The Pandemic—what an inspiring video clip put together by our staff and folks from St. Helena’s documenting how our churches have continued to minister during what has seemed like a Kafkaesque dream for some of us. Our churches without exception have found ways to minister with creativity and care. Ordinations, confirmations, baptisms, marriages, funerals have continued often by exercising a remarkable resourcefulness: Zach Miller ordained in his family’s back lawn on Johns Island, Chip Bateson at a drive in style service at Resurrection, Surfside and Bill Clarkson under a tent in the parking lot of St. Matthew’s Fort Motte. The work of the gospel and the ministry of the Church has gone on. We have seen small congregations have a big reach, and local churches minister globally in ways rarely seen before. I showed up recently for visitations at congregations even as small as Advent, Marion and they all have their I-Phones there to broadcast the service and sermon online. Congregations in the Pee Dee have not only reached their members with inspiring and sustaining worship through praise, word, and sacrament, but in many cases, they have a growing “virtual congregation” faithfully viewing their worship from as far away as Virginia, California and the U.K. Those in the Beaufort deanery have told me of viewers in Sweden and Tanzania. Our rectors and vicars have people from across the country who now consider them and even refer to them as their pastor. Just yesterday, I was talking to one of our priests who told me that he has people throughout the southeast joining in on a bible study that he offers virtually. Several are members of other churches but they now call him “my pastor.” I asked him, “What are their churches doing?” He said, “I don’t know.” I told him, “Over and over I hear this story all over the diocese.” Many offer virtual services of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline as part of the rhythm of their lives—the rhythms of grace for their isolated members. Our larger congregations have invested in developing or upgrading their capacity to live stream or professionally record their worship services. In some cases tailoring these services primarily for those who partake only in home worship. While our smallest congregations have found ways to offer high pastoral touch in this low touch world. I want to pause in the midst of this convention to celebrate our clergy—rectors, vicars, assisting priests, and deacons and their lay members for your extraordinary ministry during these extraordinary times! Not only that but for how you have helped and learned from one another building up the body of Christ. I have thought for years that we are a remarkably unique place in the Anglican world. For years, we had visitors coming to Charleston for our Mere Anglican Conferences and various offerings. I pray that we shall have that once again. But for now, we are broadcasting via the internet and social media the vibrancy of the life in Christ among our congregations both great and small through worship and word in ways many of us never imagined. While I am offering kudos, I don’t want to forget what Bob Lawrence and his staff have accomplished in keeping St. Christopher in the game, or the Men’s Ministry with their zoom Summit, and the Anglican Women with their fall retreat. Well done good and faithful servants!

With that said and celebrated, I want to sound a word of concern. Chalk it up, if you must, to the world view of a septuagenarian, a curmudgeon with an Anglican bent, born in the exact middle of the past century, the son of a WWII vet and survivors of the Great Depression, who himself remembers all too well the cold war, and who as a young man took graduate courses in Marx and Soviet Thought. As I said, I feel at times that I am living through a Kafkaesque dream, concerned about things many others are not. We have entered a masked, isolated, atomistic world controlled or at least being shaped by that, which is erasing, deleting, unfriending, or cancelling a culture that once shaped our understanding of self and society. Certainly all the once was was not good; not every handshake, kiss or hug came from heartfelt conviction; and not every Easter or Christmas worship was glorious and resounding; but they were formative, and shaped earlier generations. Now, from what I have seen more of our older members have returned to in-person worship in numbers greater than the young. Generation Z those born after 1998 according to reliable research is the most unchurched generation in American history. These are their formative and perhaps in many ways their defining years. The axiom we have used in the past of “Every Congregation Engaging Every Generation” has never been more challenging nor more critical than it is today. There are few sustaining replacements for family life and lively worship in the midst of the family of God made up of “all sorts and conditions of men.” These need not be in large gatherings; yet as our Lord revealed to his first followers and was (at the risk of their lives) the irrefutable experience of the early church; it does need to be incarnational. There is much that I would like to say about this but now is not the time; I shall save it for my upcoming gatherings with the clergy. Just know I will shortly be assembling a team to consider updated guidance regarding how we chart the course to whatever normalcy may lie ahead.

Stewardship—I mentioned in my last address the need for us to strengthen our practice and teaching on stewardship at every level throughout the diocese—to parishioners, congregations, and diocesan initiatives. I have been encouraged by how many have stepped up. Our parishioners continue their generosity and giving to their congregations, our parishes and missions have to our diocesan work as well—even increasing in several cases. Stewardship, to paraphrase Henri Nouwen, is always a call to conversion. “And this call comes to those who seek funds and to those who have funds.” It is, as Nouwen says, a form of ministry, “…a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our mission. Vision and mission are central to life of God’s people … and give us courage when we might want to remain silent.” We in the Church need to overcome our reluctance to ask for the resources to carry out our God given vision and mission for the kingdom of God. Yet if we ourselves are not practicing it, it becomes the place where conscience doth makes cowards of us all.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Evangelism and Church Growth, Ministry of the Laity, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry