What part of the ordination vows did Mark Lawrence not understand?

The trial in South Carolina concerning the ownership of properties of the churches in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of South Carolina, as defined by the Episcopal Church, (being the residue of the Diocese for the whole of the State of South Carolina prior to its division into two dioceses) begins today.  It is a complex mess, due in large part to the premeditated efforts of Lawrence and other diocesan leaders, contrary to the canons of The Episcopal Church, to remove all properties from any connection to the Episcopal Church prior to the decision taken by the leaders and Lawrence to leave the Episcopal Church, .  How much of this will be seen and understood by the court remains to be seen.

Mark Lawrence has written his community about the trial. You can read the full letter HERE.

In it he says, "The path that has brought us as a diocese to this hour has been long and winding. Yet through it all we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it ever striving to be mindful that we have been entrusted with this Truth, this Good News and rich heritage, in order to share it with those who have yet to come into the reach of Christ’s saving embrace."  (underlining mine)

Now when Bishop Lawrence was made bishop he was (at least as the Ordinal directs) asked to make the following promise:

"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I, NN, chosen Bishop of the Church in N., solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the [Protestant] Episcopal Church [in the United States of America].  He then signs this declaration.  

I presume Bishop Lawrence did so.

But he states, "we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it..."   Those are fine words, and I would hope we are all guided by The Lord Jesus Christ, who is, after all the true Good Shepherd of our souls.  However,  the "doctrine, discipline and worship" to which he was pledged as bishop had to do with Church.  The connector here is that "the Church" is also understood as "the body of Christ."  So perhaps Lawrence was simply making a shortcut... from Church to Christ. But I don't think so.

Mark Lawrence apparently does not understand that his promises had distinctly to do with the church - in his case specifically with The Episcopal Church. He promised to engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church.  He has broken that promise.  

If he had to choose between "the Church" and Christ I would hope he would choose Christ. But he would do so as a Christian outside his vows as bishop, which are to the church as incarnating (in some way or another) the body of Christ.  

His choice is that which every Christian at one time or another confronts, given the often messy and fallen state of Church life.  It does, however, change his relationship to the Church. He is acting not as a bishop, bound by vows to the Church, but as a believer freed from those vows.  

Mark Lawrence has made a radical Christian response to a church he feels has lost its way.  It is unclear when  he believed that he needed to make such a decision, but many of us now believe it was prior to his being ordained bishop, in which case he was ordained with his fingers crossed. He really did not mean "conforming" to ... of the Episcopal Church (or any particular Church for that matter). He meant conforming to Christ directly and without connection with the church at all.  Still, it is his decision - but not as a bishop. Having made the decision for personal conscience he is acting personally, not as bishop.

He is leader of a group of congregations floating freely now in the rarefied world of vagrant church bodies. It is hard to see how this group is a diocese (since they are not part of a larger synod - a province) and how he is a bishop (deposed in the Episcopal Church and not incorporated into the governance of any other provincial or national church.) But there it is.

The trial will be what it will be. And when it is over it will not lead to any great satisfaction for either side. The continuing Diocese will be part of The Episcopal Church, a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, and the Lawrence led group will be looking for a larger church home where it may or may not be part of anything having to do with the Anglican Communion. The property will belong to someone and hopefully those someones will us it for the good of the Church on some level and the glory of Christ. 

 We will see.

As to Mark Lawrence... what part of the ordination vows did he not understand?


The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop and controlling the process.

The Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop has written a short essay on the nomination process. This committee has undertaken its work somewhat differently than the last (on which I sat).  Remember that each General Convention elects a new Committee and the canons under which it operates gives it a great deal of room for variation in developing the nomination process.

The essay is clear enough about the process it will use. And it appears that his Committee will be playing it close to the chest and will attempt to exercise considerable control of the final candidates list.  

The Committee writes:

  • The JNCPB will announce its nominees in early May 2015.
  • For two weeks after the May announcement of the JNCPB’s nominees, any deputy to the 78th General Convention or bishop may indicate their intent to nominate other bishops from the floor at the 2015 General Convention in accordance with a process that the JNCPB will announce.  In the spring of 2015 the JNCPB will provide further information on the process by which bishops and deputies can nominate additional bishops. (Underlining mine)
  • The identity of the additional nominees will be made available to the Church in early June 2015.

The first thing to note is that there may be no chance for the House of Bishops in their spring meeting of 2015 to have meetings with the named candidates prior to the time of election, something they did last time around. 

Secondly, the Committee seems to believe that the JNCPB will determine the process by which bishops and deputies can nominate additional bishops. 

Their first stab at this is to suggest that bishops and deputies are to indicate their intent to nominate PRIOR to the actual occasion in the calendar of Convention for doing so.   They then suggest that there will be "further information on the process by which bishops and deputies can nominate additional bishops."  But the canons clearly indicate what that process is. 

"At the Joint Session to which the Joint Nominating Committee shall report, any Bishop or Deputy may nominate any other member of the House of Bishops for the consideration of the two Houses in the choice of a Presiding Bishop, and there may be discussion of all nominees." (Canon I.2.1(f))

That means, as I read it, that whatever the JNCPB may otherwise do, any Bishop or Deputy may nominate from the floor of the Joint Session, without any other rules modifying that.

The JNCPB then writes about the election process:

The Election Process
  • On the day before the first legislative day of General Convention, the JNCPB will present both its nominees and those of other bishops and deputies to a joint meeting of the House of Deputies and House of Bishops.  At that meeting the JNCPB will facilitate conversation and questions and answers with the nominees.
Note that the JNCPB seems to assume that all nominations worth their salt are in place before the meeting of the Joint Session.
  • Early in General Convention there will be a Joint Session of both Houses at which the names of the nominees of the JNCPB and any others by bishops or deputies will be officially entered into nomination.(underling mine)
Note here that the JNCPB again avoids actually mentioning the possibility of nominations from the floor. Instead its speaks of names of those proposed "by bishops or deputies will be officially entered into nomination."  

The essay by the Joint Committee thus avoids dealing with the clear intent of the Canons, namely that bishops may be nominated from the floor directly and on the spot at the Joint Session set aside for consideration of nominations for PB.

There are all sorts of reasons for delaying the release of the nominations from the Joint Committee and there are I suppose some reasons for wishing that there would be no last minute nominations, and no doubt the Committee is trying to do its work well. Still, in not having the Committee's names early enough for the House of Bishops to have some time with the Committees nominees and by not clearly stating that bishops and deputies by canon can on the floor nominate others it feels as if the JCNPB is exercising control tactics that ought to be challenged.

Why might the Committee be concerned to control the process in this way?  

Well, there are several quirky things about this election - (i) there is always the possibility that the current PB will think to run again, (ii) TREC (the Taskforce on Reimaging the Episcopal Church) will be giving its report and that might influence the final list the JCNPB puts together, (iii) the Blue Book, which will include recommendations from Liturgy and Music about marriage rites will be out and the next round of liberal / conservative muttering will be in full swing. Any one of these, and I am sure other, possibilities might make it very tempting to hold off on names until the last moment and at the same time pull back from the possibilities of surprise from the floor.


The Fourth of July, the dance of indepenence and union.

It's the Fourth of July, and good friends have better things to say than I can about all that.  

Jim Friedrich over on his blog, "The Religious Imagineer" writes wonderfully about the hope for new images in word, song and dance, for the celebration of the independence and union that makes for the whole, the America yet to come, but already here somehow in our hopes alive now.  Go read Fourth of July. At the end Jim quotes from Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children:  It is a dream of an 8 year old Hopi girl:
All the people are sitting in a circle, and they are brothers and sisters, everyone! That’s when all the spirits will dance and dance, and the stars will dance, and the sun and moon will dance and the birds will swoop down and they’ll dance, and all the people, everywhere, will stand up and dance, and then they’ll sit down again in a big circle, so huge you can’t see where it goes, or how far, if you’re standing on the mesa and looking into the horizon, and everyone is happy. No more fights. Fights are a sign that we have gotten lost, and forgotten our ancestors, and are in the worst trouble. When the day comes that we’re all holding hands in the big circle – no, not just us Hopis, everyone – then that’s what the word ‘good’ means…and the whole world will be good when we’re all in our big, big circle. We’re going around and around until we all get to be there!

Margaret Watson, over on "Leave it where Jesus flang it" in her wonderfully imaginative way reflects on bread for the whole world, and on the incarnation as a "festivity of rejoicing of the cosmic union of heaven and earth" and how we might take that in as a healing.  She writes, "God willing, today we will gather in a circle in the powwow grounds, say our prayers, remember we are what we eat, a priestly people, and then we will dance, joining The Lord of the Dance in the still center, decked out in our wedding garments. All of us."

I have been silent on this blog, and indeed in most social media, for some weeks now. Much of this is due to the extraordinary experiences of a week of Holy Walk followed by two weeks of small children walking, dancing, crying, laughing, exploring. I am enjoying the moment, and still living in wonder at it all.

For some reason my good friends and these children have lifted me from this silence to say several things:

(i) Jim and Margaret are right: in the end the vision is clear - life is meant to be shared, and shared as one body.  The rose and the fire are one. Heaven and earth are one, and even (William B. are you listening?) Heaven and Hell.

(ii) Since it is the Fourth of July, we might remember that any life that does not join independence and interdependence together (independence and union both) misses the mark. 

And when government in its form or function fail to provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have every business replacing it with a better way, a better means, to that end.  

No one should read the Declaration of Independence as a document solely related to past glories.  It is a present tense declaration, and tyrants of every stripe know it for what it is - a radically simple call to life together for the good of all.  And yes, I know what this means for religious institutions as well. That is why I am an Anglican, stressing independence and interdependence both. It is a profoundly dangerous document. I read it regularly.

(iii) Religion and patriotism are great dangers to any hope for this vision - for religion (rule following behavior in respect to the control and organization of spiritual expression) and patriotism (a secular religion) confuse the vision for the realities of this or that system.  Spiritual expression and love for the notion of a whole people, "out of many one" is never captured by flag or banner. The spiritual promise of life and that abundantly is not delivered by religious organization, no matter how orthodox or ancient.

(iv) And, remembering that it is a time for high and great hopes for life made full and abundant, let us acknowledge that the Fourth of July is in some ways a festival of turning over, turning around - of redemption and release, and does not finally belong to us in the US alone, but to all who hope.

So let us wave small flags, and sing lusty songs of life together, and toot and hoot, light off rockets celebrate new life, and generally carry-on with dance and joy.  For in every way and at every time we need the reminder that we are still walking, yes indeed.  Walking to the land promised in our earliest visions and our latest hopes.

Not pilgrimage, but Holy Walk,  not vision of completion, but incarnation of effort. We will, as W.H. Auden suggests, "see rare beasts and have unique adventures."


Anglican Bishops in Dialogue agree with Preludium's 2006 statement.

Nice to see that eight years after Preludium posted "Not a Worldwide Church, but a Fellowship", Anglican Bishops in Dialogue issued a "testimony" concerning their journey toward reconciliation, agreeing.

The Dialogue Testimony included this statement:

"We are family. The Anglican Communion is a family of churches. It is not a Church itself. There is much we have in common as Anglicans, which is evidenced in mutuality in mission, but we remain independent and diverse provinces."

On March 8, 2006, I wrote,

"Perhaps we have missed the abundance of God’s grace to us… that we are not a worldwide church at all, but rather a fellowship. This is abundance because we are not one thing but many things, held together not because we are one in ourselves, but because we are one in the Lord Jesus Christ."

I wrote that in the context of arguing that of the two notions - that the Anglican Communion is a "world wide church" and that the Anglican Communion is a fellowship (or family) I go for the second.

Here in the small junky office of Preludium I sometimes wonder if anything written here has value, so it is good to see that occasionally the highly placed agree with something I wrote earlier, even if they got the idea elsewhere or simply because they too can read the tea leaves of past history.

Of course the idea that we are not a worldwide church but a family of churches, a fellowship of churches, etc., is not new at all. It is old news, as old as the spirit that gave rise to the first Lambeth Conference. But in the intervening years the gentle lusts for status has made Anglicans want to be worldwide churches "like" the Roman and Orthodox Churches. As I said in 1998 in "The Challenge of Change," we don't need another worldwide patriarchy, this time of Canterbury.

And for the moment, it appears we have been allowed to pass up this cup. 


"Why I love the Episcopal Church," a sermon, and reflections on one for whom love was not enough.

Last Sunday, Easter IV,  The Reverend Larry Hofer preached a fine sermon at St. Peter’s, Lewes, Delaware. It was a delight to hear. I asked if I could reprint it on Preludium and he graciously consented.  Interestingly, one of the things he said in the sermon was echoed by another Episcopalian who has left Anglicanism for Rome. Here is the sermon:

"Why I love the Episcopal Churchm" by The Rev. Larry Hofer.

A few days after I became rector of St. Alban’s Church in Reading, PA the bishop, Mark Dyer called and invited me to have lunch with him.  During lunch, he said that he expected every priest in the diocese to preach a sermon once a year on the theme, “Why I love the Episcopal Church.”  And if one could not do this, he or she should look for a call elsewhere.  As I was driving from Bethlehem to Reading, I thought about nothing else, and found there are lots of reasons why I love this Church.

My own conviction is that the Episcopal Church is the most authentic expression of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church described in the Creeds.  Here are some of my reasons for that conviction.

In Greek, there is a word, zygon which means connection, to bring together.  I love the way the Church connects us to the time of Christ and to our Old Testament roots through the reading of scripture, the creeds, through liturgy and hymns.  We are challenged to look at a scriptural passage in the context of God’s loving purpose for his people; not to just pull passages out of context as kinds of proof texts trying to prove a point.  Archbishop Cranmer in the 16th century said, “Those things that pertaineth most closely to Christ we take more literally; those passages that are more distant we take as a figure.  When for example we read in the psalms “the little hills skipped for joy” it does not mean that in fact the hills jumped around, but rather there is a joy in the Holy God so profound that language strains to express it and so the psalmist says, “the little hills skipped for joy.”

I am grateful too, for the liturgy that connects us through not only the great prayers and devotions of the early Church, and through the centuries, but also to those who have gone on before us.  In the Preface to the Sanctus we pray, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels, and all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your name.”   
For a moment, we are one with all those who have gone on before us – parents and siblings, friends and those whose names are known to God alone.  The division between the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant is suspended are we are connected once again.

And we are connected to one another in baptism and the common life of the Church as we minister together.  St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes “…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galatians 3:26-29).  It would be in the spirit of Paul to go on and say in Christ there are no longer Republicians or Democrats, old or young, black or white, liberals or conservatives, gay or straight, -- all are one in Christ and we live as though these differences had disappeared.   

Manifesting that unity in Christ has been the vocation of our communion for the last fifty years.  Here at St. Peter’s we have sought to live into this vision and it will continue to be our mission that we accept with joy.  The Church always has a vocation and mandate to proclaim the Gospel of God’s love for all – “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.”  

The Greek word for world is cosmos, the whole creation.  God is available to all, and loves all.  That is what it means to say the Church is catholic, it is to include all as a sign of the Kingdom of God.  It is our way of saying the arms of God are wide open to all.  

 Many years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote a book with the title “Your God is too  Small.”  There is always a temptation of reducing the Gospel to our proportions and perceptions – proclaiming a God that is too small.  Our day and age needs a bold Gospel that includes everyone in God’s love.

To be connected carries its responsibilities as well.  And being connected to one another is to uphold and support one another.  That is the point of Stephen Ministers, a one on one ministry of listen and caring.  It is a way of deepening the ministry of the parish and caring for one another.  We strengthen one another through Education for Ministry and studying the Bible.

Episcopal Relief and Development connects us to the victims of disease, disaster, local food bank, and famine.  It was said of the 18th century Anglicans that they prayed on their knees on Sunday and their neighbors the rest of the week.  As a Church, we have sought to minister to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and those needing the basic necessities of life.  “Just as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it onto me.”

The Anglican Church has nurtured lay theologians – C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers and in our country William Stringfellow, Denis Baly.  These men and women have enriched the Church through their scholarship and learning.  They have also made the faith intelligible to many far beyond our Church.  They have challenged the Church to think more seriously and clearly about issues of war and peace, faith and reason, and the role of the laity in the life of the Church.

I also love the Episcopal Church because it has a sense of humor.  About every ten years, The Archbishop of Canterbury invites all the bishops in the Anglican Communion to meet together in England.  There is a great service at Christ Cathedral, Canterbury to begin the meeting and after the service, the clerk of the conference takes attendance.  The clerk does this in the style of the English Church, which is to say "the Rt. Rev.  name , Lord Bishop of  name  of the diocese ," and the Bishop would stand.  And so he called “The Rt. Rev. Charles Dunlap Brown, Lord Bishop of  Southwest Virginia.”  He did not stand.  And so the clerk announced again, “The Rt. Rev. Charles Dunlap Brown, Lord Bishop of Southwest Virginia.”  He still did not stand and so the Bishop sitting next to him prompted him to stand.  Bishop Brown said, “I just want to hear it one more time.”  Or the curate who was having lunch with his Bishop and earnestly asked him, “Is there salvation outside the Anglican Church?”  The Bishop thought a moment and said, “Yes, but no gentleman would take advantage of it.”  Humor is an entree into looking at ourselves from a different perspective and can help heal differences between peoples.  Humor keeps us from a rigid and judgmental mindset and free us from a narrow dogmatism.  Humor opens windows and lets fresh air in.

Above all, I am committed to this Church because at its very center is the Gospel of God’s love for all of us.  Bishop Browning who was presiding bishop was fond of saying, “there are no outcasts in the Church.  And he was right.

Only sacrificial love is adequate to the needs of people and only sacrificial love is faithful to the Gospel.  In George Bernard Shaw’s play, St. Joan, there is a moment when Joan of Arc is desperately trying to get Charles, the insipid, spineless dauphin, to show a little fire and initiative.  Finally, in frustration she shouts at him that there is one thing he has never learned.  He asks what that is.  Joan says, “Charlie, you have never learned that we are put on earth not to do our own will but to do God’s.”  God’s will is that we should manifest his love in this place and throughout the Church.

It is interesting that the word “love” takes a whole chapter in the Book of Corinthians to define.  God’s love is what Christianity has to say to the world.  We can have technology, factories, armies, money, religious attendance membership in the Church, faith – all these things but if you do not have love, you do not have enough.  That is what Paul says and what our Church teaches and stands for.   

So let the Apostle have the last word, “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  

Hofer says, early on in the sermon, "My own conviction is that the Episcopal Church is the most authentic expression of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church described in the Creeds."  Greg Griffith, of StandFirm, made an interesting parallel comment in an article announcing that he had left The Episcopal Church for the Roman Catholic Church. About halfway into the article he has a sentence that begins, "On the one hand there is Anglicanism, an expression of faith that in the abstract - its doctrines and theology - is as nearly perfect as I believe man has ever succeeded in achieving...", which is why he stood firm, one supposes. Then he opines that Anglicanism "in practice has unraveled into a chaotic mess."

Fr. Hofer and Greg Griffith agree that there is something about Episcopal / Anglican expression of the faith that is very attractive.  But where Griffith believes it has all gone messy, Hofer believes it remains, in its own quirky way, a repository for the basic tenant that God is love, and that love becomes binding on all of us.

Fr. Hofer believes that The Episcopal Church is "the most authentic expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church." He obviously means The Episcopal Church, but by extension he means also the Anglican Communion. Hofer believes the Episcopal Church is about connections - with God and one another, and finally about the love without which nothing suffices.  Hofer's church is the body of Christ with open arms. 

I am not sure what Griffith's church, as a body, is about, but my guess is that in the long run, if it is an expression of the body of Christ (as it must surely finally be) it too will be the body of Christ with open arms.

But for now Griffith must pull away from Anglicanism, and expression of faith as nearly perfect as possible, because it is chaotic.  I wish him well in the place where he has chosen to go. 

I stand with Fr. Hofer, in the community that believes that the body of Christ must become more nearly perfect in love, even when the practice seems messy.