The Bishop's Address
at the 223rd Annual Diocesan Convention
February 22, 2014
I want to begin this Address by thanking some of the people who have worked so hard and so well during the past year, on behalf of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. We have a wonderful diocesan staff, as many of you know. My Executive Assistant, Lauren Kinard, the Archdeacon, Callie Walpole, and the Communications Director, Holly Behre, all have enabled substantial accomplishments that put to shame their identification as part-timers! Also, our newest addition to the staff – Andrea McKellar – has begun fitting into the established tradition of effecting significant ministry throughout the diocese. I am grateful indeed for our several diocesan staff members. In addition, the diocesan officers – including Tom Tisdale, Chancellor, and Jim Taylor, Treasurer – likewise have represented us capably and well. Also, many others of you present here have served in leadership positions in our diocese over the past year, and you have given of your time and from your talents in ways that have enriched our common life.
In addition, I want to thank our established parishes and missions for your consistent and dependable witness and support, as well as for all your efforts on behalf the churches and people of this diocese and beyond. Let me call attention, as well, to our worshipping communities and newest mission churches, for your willingness to sacrifice on behalf of The Episcopal Church. Your sacrifice has provided an inspiration to all of us here ... and to others far beyond South Carolina. Such sacrifice has led to possibilities of liberation and rebirth, and your witness is powerful indeed.
Especially on this occasion – and on behalf of us all – I want to thank the staff and people of All Saints, Hilton Head, for your careful and hospitable preparations for this annual convention. In the life of a parish church, this is an extraordinary event, and I recognize that hosting a diocesan convention is not an easy task. Thank you for your good work.
Finally, thanks to my wife, Annie, who has seen our retirement plans modified significantly and who has faced current challenges with her typical grace and support for her undeserving husband.
With the benefit of hindsight – and upon further reflection – a great deal has been accomplished since our last annual convention. In fact, it has been a remarkable year, in many ways. Together we have borne witness to the convention theme, “We All Are Ministers.” Thanks to all of you, for jobs well and faithfully done, over the past twelve months!
AN INTERESTING HISTORICAL ANALOGY
For a change of pace in these remarks, I want to tell you a story ... one that you might find familiar. Once upon a time, within our church, there was a group that became more and more dissatisfied about certain emphases in the larger church. It certainly was true that this group stood for particular and distinctive points of view, even though many people would say the church was big enough to incorporate such a variety of emphasis. I will list some of the points of distinction and debate. However, before I do so, I want to point out that these differences are not necessarily mutually exclusive of each other. Thus, without being dogmatic about distinctions, some of those differences between groups within the church were these.
On the one hand, there was a theological concentration on the righteousness of believers; and on the other hand, a theological concentration on God’s mercy. On the one hand, personal piety and a zeal for faith were emphasized, often accompanied by a conversion experience. On the other hand, pastoral care and a deep and abiding commitment to the faith were emphasized, with special attention to the experience of nurture in the faith. The one group focused on a personal experience of Christ and personal salvation; while the other focused on the community of faith and the communion of the saints. On the one hand, church growth and evangelism were most prominent; but on the other, outreach and service. On the one hand, membership included many new converts to the faith; but on the other, membership primarily involved members of long standing. One group understood bishops primarily as organizers for local and global mission, while the other saw bishops as guardians of the Faith and points of connection to the historic Church. Local clergy were seen as evangelists by some, but others understood local clergy primarily as conveyers of the sacraments of Christ. The one group understood the church as an organization to promote and spread Christianity; while the other perceived the church as the Body of Christ, an organism enabling unity among followers.
Thus, you see, these perspectives did indeed present differing emphases. As I pointed out earlier, some people understood that such differences were not exclusive of each other, and indeed, such variety enriched the experience of the church. However, the other group understood the differences as pointing to distinctions that questioned whether the church could remain united. Eventually the divisions became entrenched to the point that one group split apart from the other, and a separation did come about. And, by 1795, the Methodist Church had been formed, out of the Church of England. (historical notes from Ye Are the Body, Bonnell Spencer, 1970, pp 296-299).
THE ANALOGY BROUGHT UP TO DATE
Now, the most recent unpleasantness in South Carolina differs in some ways from the split that formed the Methodist Church. Most especially, the Methodists did not try to take the identity and the property of the mother church. However, it seems to me that the similarities in these two church divisions are noteworthy.
If you accept my proposition that significant similarities exist in those two situations, then what I have to say next will be very important for you to hear. Indeed, it seems to me that we have a great deal more to learn about what has taken place since the formation of the Methodist Church than we might observe about the split itself.
At a recent meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops, we had several United Methodist bishops and theologians present. We engaged in discussions with them about a paper with an interesting title – and certainly interesting for our purposes today – “A Theological Foundation for Full Communion between The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church.”
I need to emphasize that these are only discussions about proposals at this point. Nevertheless, the trajectory of the conversation becomes obvious. It represents a familiar trajectory that we have followed previously with The Evangelical Lutheran Church, among others. Let me share some points from the study paper with you.
From the “Introduction”, we may read this: “Full communion is understood as a relationship between two distinct ecclesiastical bodies in which each maintains its own autonomy while recognizing the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and believing the other to hold the essentials of the Christian faith” (p 7). Then, as part of one proposal is found this observation: “Our two communions have already declared publicly, as churches, that we recognize each other as part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in which the Gospel is rightly preached” (p 8). This affirmation is followed quickly by a different – but important – observation: “Our quest for full communion is grounded in our calling to mission today, and we recognize that our current state of visible division is a hindrance to our mission” (p 8). Thus, arguments can and should be made on behalf of unity and, also, against disunity.
In addition, the document’s “Conclusion” includes these interesting observations: “We have begun to see that we are two members of the same family who responded to a common mission imperative in eighteenth-century North America, out of a passion for Christ and the church. While our communions diverged since then, we are still a family with deep, common roots. We believe that this Statement shows us a path into the future where our two great churches can share in full communion while we both pursue the mission Christ sets before us in the twenty-first century” (p 43).
LONG TERM AND SHORT TERM GOALS IN THE PRACTICE OF FAITH
Now, this study represents an interesting and important document for us in The Episcopal Church, as we seek to live into our Lord’s call and prayer for unity. In addition, though – and especially for us in South Carolina today – this document helps us recognize something else...something very important for us to realize. That is, the Spirit of God moves through history in the direction of unity. To be sailing within the stream of the Spirit necessarily involves us in efforts toward church unity. In faithfulness to our Lord, therefore, we work and pray and live in anticipation that one day we all may be one, in Christ’s name.
With that end and goal in mind, however, we have work to do in the mean time. Christian unity – with United Methodists and with former Episcopalians, for instance – may not reach fulfillment soon. But we do have callings to answer in our day, even as we look forward to a future day of unity.
As members of The Episcopal Church, there are principles and perspectives that we hold dear. We need to be as strong and as committed as we can be about those fundamental beliefs – not only for the sake of Episcopalians ourselves, but also for the sake of conversations with other Christian brothers and sisters. That is, as Episcopalians we have important perspectives and experiences to share within these larger discussions and as part of the larger body. What we believe and cherish, therefore, is significant not only to us – but also, beyond ourselves.
SOME ESSENTIALS IN OUR FAITH PRACTICE
I want to suggest now several basic offerings that we make, as Episcopalians, in conversations in the service of Christian unity. These offerings name some of the essential matters for us in this diocese to focus on. The list is not exhaustive, certainly, but it includes some essentials for us, as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
As Episcopal Christians, we affirm the three sources of authority which have guided historic Anglicanism through the centuries – scripture, tradition, and reason. Not all Christians hold all of those as authoritative for a faithful life and witness. However, as Episcopal Christians, we do hold to those three sources of authority for our faith. Therefore, in our present lives, we must affirm who we are and how we come to believe the Faith we hold dear. Scripture, tradition, and reason form us, identify us, and give us content for our discussions with fellow Christians. For us in South Carolina, therefore, it is essential for us to maintain and affirm the three sources of authority in historic Anglicanism – scripture, tradition, and reason.
Also, an important principle in the life of the Church is Lex Orendi Lex Credendi. Literally, that may be translated, “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” More freely, the phrase indicates that the way we worship informs what we believe. Or, in other words, as we worship, so we will live (“Saints Alive” newsletter, All Saints Church, Atlanta, winter, 2011). Therefore, for us in South Carolina – and for The Episcopal Church in general – we need to appreciate and to emphasize the significance of our church liturgy within the life of faith. Our liturgy remains at the core of who we are and of what we offer to the larger church family.
In addition, a primary mark of identify within The Episcopal Church has emerged from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. And that identifying mark is the Baptismal Covenant. Within that Covenant, we affirm that we will “respect the dignity of every human being” (BCP, p 305). For us as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, this affirmation has definite and particular applications, as we include all the children of God in our common life. This principle is crucial to us, and it identifies part of who we are – a part that is important to include in our conversations with fellow Christians.
The final essential principle on this list for us today is an emphasis on mission. It was the great twentieth century Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who once said, “The Church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members” (from “Bishop’s Visitation Charge” to Diocese of Monmouth). As part of our Episcopal heritage, within the Christian family, we must focus on the world beyond our walls. Our call is to follow the One who lived and died for the sake of the world created by God Almighty ... and that world is our mission field. If we claim Jesus as our Lord, we realize the essential nature of mission in our life as a Church.
In this Address, I have attempted to do several things. Initially, I spoke of my sense of gratitude toward people who have labored diligently and effectively on behalf of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina this year. Indeed, “We All Are Ministers” ... and we continue to be called into ministry, for our Lord’s sake. Then, I teased you with reference to the split of the Methodist Church from the Church of England, drawing parallels in that event with recent happenings in South Carolina. Next, I made the point which I hope you will remember most of all. That is, the Spirit of God moves through history in the direction of unity among God’s people. I believe that principle; I pray for our unity; and I encourage you to join me in that belief and prayer. Finally, though, I pointed out that we have been entrusted with a treasure as members of The Episcopal Church, and that treasure has special blessings. We need to claim those blessings, not only for ourselves but, also, to share with the larger community of Faith. Indeed, I believe that is our responsibility in this day. Among those blessings in our treasure of faith are the three sources of authority – scripture, tradition, and reason. Also, we have been blessed by a liturgy that forms us as a people of faith. In addition, we emphasize the inclusion of all people in our common life, as indicative of our respect for the dignity of every human being. And finally, believing that such blessings are not ours to hoard for ourselves, we commit ourselves to the mission of Jesus Christ in the world.
In conclusion, then, may we recognize and give thanks to God for our blessings as The Episcopal Church; may we focus on our special treasure, not only for our own sake but for the sake of the world; and may we work, pray, and live as part of the dream and prayer of Jesus, for unity. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg