Bishop elect (SC) Mark Lawrence writes to his congregation
Since a bishop is elected not only for a diocese, but also for the larger Church, there is a national consent process which is guided by the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church (TEC).
From the website of St. Paul's, Bakersfield, CA
Dear Friends at St. Paul's
January 12, 2007
Since our move to Charleston has been twice postponed, and most recently, postponed without a departure date in mind, many parishioners may wonder what is happening with my election as Bishop of South Carolina. It is clear at this point that I will not be consecrated on February 24th. I know this will cause problems for many of you who have scheduled flights and lodging. It saddens me that your plans have been disrupted. This delay has also affected the vestry's ability to plan for the future. But since you are in a parish whose rector has been thrust into the center of a national and, even, international debate within the Anglican Communion, this is a difficult path we shall share for a season. In a way it is an honor to walk this way with our Lord, if, indeed, it proves to issue in the common good of the Church. We know our Lord desires good to come from this. So let me try to explain in an evenhanded manner what is unfolding.
When someone is elected as a bishop in The Episcopal Church, he is elected by and for a diocese. While this process may differ slightly from one diocese to another, it usually consists of a procedure made up of clergy and laypersons. Every parish in the diocese has delegates that are sent as representatives to the electing convention. The clergy in the diocese also participate in the election. Various candidates are put forward by the diocese. Usually a candidate must get a majority of votes from both the lay delegates and the resident clergy in order to be elected. It often takes several ballots before a candidate gets a majority in both the lay and clerical orders. When it is noted that South Carolina elected me as their bishop on the first ballot, it means that I got at least a majority in both orders on the first vote. The process of election however does not end with this vote.
Since a bishop is elected not only for a diocese, but also for the larger Church, there is a national consent process which is guided by the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church (TEC). A majority of diocesan bishops and diocesan Standing Committees throughout the Church must therefore grant consent to any election held by a diocese. This is usually given without much fanfare or controversy. In fact many have argued in the past that this is merely a matter of certifying that proper canonical procedures were followed. (This was a mantra heard often during the General Convention process when Gene Robinson's election was confirmed.) Frankly, I didn't accept this argument then, nor do I believe it should be applicable in my case. I do suspect, however, that some have changed their position regarding this matter as it applies to me—holding one opinion when it applied to a bishop-elect who held their position on issues, and quite another now. I shall leave that, however, to their consciences. They must live with themselves as I must live with myself. As it has been said, there's no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.
It may help you to understand the present situation by knowing that shortly after my election an advocacy group in the Church sent a mailing to every bishop and diocesan Standing Committee. This group misrepresented several of my written statements and attributed intentions to me that I did not have. Once this group's mailing muddied the water it has been difficult to settle the pond. Certainly I have advocated rethinking how we do business in The Episcopal Church and the broader Anglican Communion as we step more completely into the 21st Century. This very thing is implicit in the Windsor Report. Along with this, I have held uncompromisingly to the position that TEC acted inappropriately towards historic Christianity and the worldwide Anglican Communion, as well as the teaching of The Episcopal Church, when the Presiding Bishop and others consecrated Canon Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. This also isn't anything the Archbishop of Canterbury and the collective gathering of primates in the Communion haven't suggested. Yet even without this group's political interference there may still have been problems. This is because some Standing Committees have objected to South Carolina's request for Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO). I defended this request because, after the General Convention in 2006, I thought many within the Church needed both pastoral space and theological differentiation if we were to remain Anglicans, as well as Episcopalians. Others fear I will lead the diocese out of TEC, or will not work hard enough to keep the diocese from leaving the "national" Church or "denomination." My nuanced statements distancing myself from these fears have not been sufficiently calming for some.
Why haven't I assured the disconcerted more categorically? We are in a profound time of transition within the Anglican Communion—a time when important questions regarding the nature of the Church are being asked and need answers sufficient for this era in which we find ourselves—the Windsor Report is the ultimate validation of this position. I want to be a part of answering these questions in a responsible manner that doesn't truncate the discussion by taking refuge in narrow approaches. The ecclesial questions prompted by the present crisis will clearly not be resolved by disregarding the "bonds of affection" within the worldwide Communion. My adherence to this has caused some to question my loyalty to the Church, even though I have neither taught nor acted contrary to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church for the past 26 years. Then, there is the fact that some dislike my traditional theological convictions regarding the Scriptures, Creeds, and liturgy, especially in that I hold these traditional beliefs with a willingness to rethink the way The Episcopal Church has functioned ecclesiastically within the larger Anglican Communion. This too is nothing more than is requested by the Windsor Report. I am conservative towards the essential doctrine and discipline of the Faith, yet progressive in regard to how the Church needs to change if it is to live out its calling in this age of globalism.
Frankly, I find it ironic that those of my generation who were so quick to trumpet the need for non-conformity when they were opposed to the "establishment" are most ungracious towards those whom they think do not conform now that they are holding the reigns of power. It gets harder not to come to the sad conclusion that inclusivity in this "faith community" is becoming more narrowly defined by an exclusivistic agenda. Towards this agenda I am now cast in the role of protesting against the rising tide of dubious conformity—a conformity which, at least in the mind of some, will not be brooked. All of this is to say I will be with you here at St. Paul's until this controversy is resolved. (Dare we hope for an Easter resolution?) I trust it will be resolved in God's time and in a way our Lord Jesus Christ will be honored and his church strengthened. I ask you all to pray for the Diocese of South Carolina. I am assured almost daily that they are praying for us.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Mark J. Lawrence (Rector)