March 2nd, 2008, posted by the Rev. Steve Wood:
One of my good friends, The Rev’d Al Zadig, gave this report on our day together this past Monday with the PB. It’s a great summation of what transpired:
Your three priests as well as every active priest from the Diocese of South Carolina gathered at St. Andrews’ Church, Mount Pleasant this past Monday for a meeting with Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
You might ask, what is a presiding bishop? The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America is the presiding authority in the church. Elected to serve a single nine-year term at the church’s General Convention, she acts as Primate (chief bishop) of the national Church and its nine ecclesiastical provinces, and as president of the House of Bishops.
Based out of New York City, the Presiding Bishop is charged with responsibility for leadership in initiating, developing, and articulating policy and strategy, overseeing the administration of the national church staff, and speaking for the Church on issues of concern and interest.
You also might ask, considering the theological differences between the National Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina (regarding issues of Biblical Authority and same-sex blessings) why was she here? The short answer is she came to speak with the clergy in an event called: Charity and Clarity. Having the charity to sit down together despite differences and clarity to clarify positions and where we stand as a church.
What follows is how the day unfolded, and then two commentaries by your clergy. The day began appropriately not with introductions but with worship. We met in the large sanctuary at St. Andrews, and their band led us in powerful singing. Bishop Lawrence then led us in Morning Prayer using the Biblical text assigned for St. Mathias Day (1 John 2:18-27).
The Bishop communicated to the Presiding Bishop (P.B.) about the amazing health and vitality of the Diocese of South Carolina. He stated:
We are one of the very few growing dioceses in the Episcopal Church, growing not just through transfers, but growing brand new Disciples in the faith! I can only say that because I have had nothing to do with it. There are five reasons that the Diocese of South Carolina is growing faster than the population….
(1) The strategic leadership of Bishop Edward Salmon
(2) The Theological leadership of Bishop FitzSimons Allison
(3) The Social leadership of Bishop Gray Temple
(4) The clergy in this diocese who are the most gifted and talented I’ve ever worked with
(5) The unwavering commitment to the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His Headship and Lordship and the powerful witness of it
Bishop Lawrence went on to define the goals of this 3-day visitation by the Presiding Bishop (P.B.). He stated we are here to:
(1) Offer witness to what Jesus Christ is doing among us
(2) Show hospitality that is not just southern, but hospitality that displays our love of Jesus Christ
(3) Differentiate…meaning to talk about our profound differences while acknowledging our broken-ness (making it real).
Bishop Lawrence then talked about the four main issues needing to be addressed. He said we first need to talk about the spin that is coming out of the national church regarding the orthodox in the church…ie..how many orthodox people, churches and dioceses have actually left the Episcopal Church? The second issue being the often repeated statement by the national church that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in the church. Thirdly, the canons of the church and not Holy Scripture are increasingly becoming our authority, and the canons (church law) are being exalted over Scripture. Finally, the issue of the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ as savior of the world (a niche’ of theology called Christology).
Having noted the format, you might be asking, well, what about the P.B.? How did she respond? Throughout the day the P.B. answered in very short sentences, often with no connection to the topic. Following a powerful talk given by Bishop Lawrence on Christology, her response was to speak about the need to be in conversation with a willingness to think of God beyond the boxes we put him in…full stop. Her theme of the day seemed to be re-reading Scripture, re-evaluating our understanding of Jesus Christ, re-interpreting marriage all through the lens of experience. That our very experiences of life and theology are on equal ground with the authority of Scripture. This gives way to the new theology of same-sex blessings, Jesus as one among many Gods etc.
What came out of our time together? Only time will tell, but for many it was an eye opener to the extent of the differences that exist between the national church and the orthodox dioceses of this country. I would say objectively that we fulfilled the title of the day which was charity and clarity. Charity was displayed, and even greater clarity given..clarity that we are not two churches under one roof but two very different religions.
Point of View: The Rector
One of the most critical leadership strategies I have tried to live day in and day out as your Rector is to make sure that our theology drives every single thing we do together. Gospel-Holy Spirit driven theology that is clearly evident in our preaching, teaching and all we do. For instance, the goal of our instructed Eucharist was to enrich our worship by realizing the theological ‘whys’ of why we do what we do in worship.
One of the most profound learnings for me during our day of Clarity and Charity was a simple vacuum of any coherent theology coming from the Presiding Bishop. There was no there-there, no center of theological gravity. The most often repeated word from her was experience. Re-evaluating marriage, Scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ through our own experience. I felt as if the head of the Unitarian church was at the microphone and not the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
This idea of our own experience kept coming up to the point that finally at the end of the question and answer session I went to the microphone and stated to the P.B. that I am a happily married man of twelve years, but that as a priest in a very difficult ecclesiastical marriage with the church, feeling as if the Bride of Christ (the church) has become completely unfaithful with little or no fidelity. Imagine if my wife were to come home and say…. “Al, I think we should abandon the marital vows and base our marriage on our experiences of what feels right and wrong, in fact out of that experience Al, I think we should have an open marriage. I know it’s out of the box thinking but experientially it just feels like the right thing to do!” If that were agreed to, our marriage would inevitably end in destruction, not to mention the damage done to the countless relationships surrounding the marriage. So it is when we use our experience to trump Scriptural authority. I ended my time at the microphone asking the question of where in the world do we go from here now that we have once again and with clarity been exposed to our massive differences? The question was never answered.
Well, where do we go from here? How can we together move forward if one side of the relationship has no theological moorings? This juncture should drive each one of us to our knees in prayer, praying that Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit would make clear our future. As you pray that prayer, please pray for the Gospel unity of this Diocese and the leadership of Bishop Mark Lawrence.
Having said all of this, I am so very encouraged by the Gospel unity of my fellow priests and leaders in this diocese. It is an amazing group. The prayer is that we would remain unified as God Himself gives permission to move one way or another. Let me also say how profoundly moved I was with the words throughout the day of our own Bishop Lawrence. Each time he spoke he was theologically clear, and full of the anointment of the Holy Spirit. I leave you with a snapshot of his words as he spoke to the powerful uniqueness of Jesus Christ…
“We believe that Jesus Christ is not one among many, but we lift up the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as found all over Scripture, specifically in the book of Colossians and John 14. Further God is the architect of all creation and Jesus His son is the Redeemer of mankind. This is what I want to hear out of the national church, that He is my King and there is no other!” The Bishop then quoted that Scottish Theologian Thomas Torrence… “If we disrobe Jesus Christ from the Gospels, then we have a naked Christ and can make him into who we want him to be.”