Admiral of Morality: Episcopal Forum of South Carolina Voices Concerns over Bishop-Elect, Requests "Immediate Intervention" in the life of the Diocese

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Episcopal Forum of South Carolina Voices Concerns over Bishop-Elect, Requests "Immediate Intervention" in the life of the Diocese

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, which in the past year has played a growing, prominent role in alerting The Episcopal Church to serious concerns about the diocese's bishop-elect, has again written the national leadership of the Church to question the propriety of their consenting to the ordination and consecration of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Since its inception, the Episcopal Forum has worked to identify and bring together loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina who have found themselves at odds with a diocesan leadership that has consistently advocated for separation from its own Church and/or some type of shunning, for the Church as a whole.

In its letter to bishops and standing committees with jurisdiction, dated September 14, the Forum wrote that the Diocese of South Carolina is not unified in its support of the "Network," or its positions, "nor is it unified in a desire to disassociate from The Episcopal Church."

"There are congregations in this diocese that remain committed to The Episcopal Church, and there are segments within "dissenting" congregations that remain equally committed," the letter said. "The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina is supported by parishioners from most parishes in the diocese, and provides a voice for those loyal to The Episcopal Church."

About Lawrence, the Forum noted that as a priest in the Diocese of San Joaquin, he had generally supported actions to dissociate that diocese from the wider Church.

The Forum also pointed to a letter Lawrence wrote this past August to his parish in Bakersfield, California, where he said, "I also hold strong convictions on remaining in covenanted fellowship with the worldwide Anglican Communion, rather than following, as some have suggested, the pathway of an overly autonomous provincial or national church."

This statement in isolation, while evidencing a desire to remain within the fellowship of the Anglican Communion, also is consistent with Lawrence's past statements that the Episcopal Church should repudiate itself or open itself up to governance by bishops or other bodies outside the Church itself.

The Forum also said about Lawrence:
"His perspective deeply concerns us, as we believe that it would further isolate a substantial number of Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina. A climate of intolerance exists in this diocese, virtually isolating Episcopalians who do not agree with the expressed position of the majority of clergy and lay leaders who are members of the [Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP)]. We fear that climate would be exacerbated by the administration of a bishop with Mark Lawrence's perspective."
Episcopal Forum also said in its letter that the group's members "want the new bishop of South Carolina to be committed without reservation to the ordination oath signed by every new bishop 'to conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church.'"

In a letter written earlier this summer to Presiding Bishop Katharine and House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson, the Forum called for "immediate intervention" in the life of the diocese in order to preserve the historic episcopate and protect the diversity and spiritual health of its laity, clergy, and institutions.

"We believe a crisis is looming in this Diocese," the letter said. "We encourage you to consider the possibility of appointing an interim bishop who would respect the conservative members of our diocese support the polity and diversity of TEC and work to preserve the faith and assets of TEC in the Diocese of SC."

The letter also said that "clergy in this diocese have a bias and have encouraged disinformation about TEC, which has confused the majority of Episcopalians who normally would support TEC, in spite of theological differences within TEC. Many of these Episcopalians, now affiliated with the EFSC, have experienced isolation and alienation in their parishes and in the Diocese."

In the first week of this November, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson and her Chancellor, The Rev. Sally Johnson, will be the keynote speakers at a Conference organized by the Forum in Charleston.

The purpose of the Conference, like the stated goals of the Forum itself, "is to preserve unity with diversity in the Diocese of South Carolina and within The Episcopal Church, through the inclusion of a broad range of Scriptural understandings, and by upholding the democratic actions of its Constitution and Canons, conventions and elected leadership."

Since coming to office, both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies have visited many dioceses of the Church, including some where a national Church leader had not been in years or even decades. In some instances, they have met with Episcopalians who have come together in these dioceses to preserve the historical relations and institutions of the Church.

Episcopal Life online has a story about the Forum here.

The Episcopal Forum homepage, with letters and other materials, is here.

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