[The Episcopal Church in South Carolina] More than 300 people came up a road lined with Episcopal flags to worship, pray, give thanks and plan for the future of their diocese with each other and with help from leaders from across The Episcopal Church at the “Enthusiastically Episcopalian in South Carolina” Conference on May 3 at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, President of the House of Deputies Gay Clark Jennings and a team from the Diocese of Pittsburgh led by that diocese’s former Provisional Bishop Kenneth Price joined the gathering as keynote speakers and workshop leaders.
The all-day educational conference was sponsored by The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a not-for-profit organization that supports The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, The Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion primarily through educational offerings.
It was the presiding bishop’s first visit to South Carolina since January 2013, when she convened a special reorganizing convention after the former bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence, announced he was leaving The Episcopal Church. At that convention, local Episcopalians elected the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg as bishop provisional to lead The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Jefferts Schori presided at the May 3 event’s opening Eucharist. As the procession began to gather, she visited with the lay ministers, choirs and clergy, seeking out the young acolyte team inside the church to share a few words before the service began. She also paused many times for people who wanted their photograph taken beside her.
In his sermon, the Rev. William J. Keith, rector of Holy Cross Faith Memorial, spoke of the many volunteers who came together to organize the day. “You are legion – the good kind of legion!” he said. He spoke of the difference between volunteer recruiting today, where potential helpers are told “everything will be set up for you, all you have to do is show up,” and how Jesus appointed the seventy in Luke 10:1-9 – the Gospel reading for the day – to be sent like lambs in the midst of wolves with no purse, bag or sandals.
For The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, “no sandals” might be the equivalent of starting a church with no prayer books or buildings, he said.
“Jesus wasn’t asking for volunteers … Jesus is and will always be sending us out, not as volunteer. He appoints us,” Keith said. “But we are not unprepared. We have what we need.”
‘The State of the Diocese’
VonRosenberg was greeted and thanked with a long standing ovation from the people who were packed into the church. Later, as he delivered his keynote address, he noted that the identity of the diocese is one that embraces a wide variety of conditions, traditions, and theological beliefs. We are both progressive and conservative; we are both sad and feeling liberated, he said.
“We are ‘both-and’ people rather than’ either-or’ people. We are Anglican Episcopalians, and we are enthusiastically so,” he said. “We have a wonderful opportunity to build a future. The foundation has been laid. Now, what do we want to build on it?”
Rather than build on old models, he said, we must “build whatever the spirit of God leads us to build in our day.”
The bishop spoke of ways in which the diocese can reclaim its identity. One way is by recalling its history, he said. At that point he concluded his address by introducing a surprise: Two actors presented a brief scene from an upcoming play based on the martyrdom of previous South Carolina Bishop William Alexander Guerry.
In the last year, the diocese has brought renewed attention to the story of Guerry, who was gunned down in his office in Charleston in 1928 after taking a stand for racial justice. Actors Robin Burke and Bradley Keith played the parts of Guerry and the Rev. Albert Thomas in “Truth in Cold Blood,” a play by Tom Tisdale (who is the chancellor of the diocese) that is being performed at the historic Dock Street Theatre June 16-20.
‘Connecting to the wider church’
The presiding bishop spoke of how all connections are grounded in creation.
“The care and stewardship of those connections and relationships are the basis of all justice. … Righteousness is about the proper care of those relationships,” she said. The ministry of Jesus “is toward that garden where all live in peace because justice prevails…. That green and growing garden is an image of Jesus’ work in restoring the whole creation.”
She reviewed the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals that The Episcopal Church adopted to help guide ito s work talleviate worldwide poverty. While the goals were far from perfect, “they have been an enormous prod to the world and the church to do a better job of loving our neighbors in concrete ways,” she said.
The presiding bishop said that the Anglican Communion has developed a broader framework for thinking about mission: the Five Marks of Mission.
“God’s mission needs the gifts of the whole body working in constructive collaboration, because none of us can do it all, and none of us can do it in isolation,” she said. “Mission focuses on connecting and supporting the diverse parts of the Body of Christ.”
Work centered on the Five Marks of Mission can only happen, she said, through networking, partnering and collaborating in the Anglican community.
Jefferts Schori noted that The Episcopal Church has been formally called the “Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society” since the 1830s, and every Episcopalian is a member of it. She urged local churches to discover opportunities for mission by listening to the hungers and yearnings in their congregations: who has a passion for healing, for justice? What gifts are present in the people and relationships?
“Where does injustice offend you? That is the Spirit speaking. Draw in companions and resources from beyond your congregation to respond. Even the basic work of building those relationships for missions is a reconciling move,” she said.
“You have abundant gifts here, just look at this room. I know there is passion burning within you. Connect those gifts and that passion, and you will discover in your presence the reign of God. Mission is the fire of the church: Burn, my friends! Burn, and let your light shine!”
‘Leadership in challenging times’
The president of the House of Deputies said she reflected as she prepared her talk that “here in South Carolina, you all already know more than a few things about leadership in challenging times. You are persevering through legal, financial, logistical, spiritual and practical challenges, and your enthusiasm, grace and dignity in the face of it all inspires me and many other deputies and leaders around the church.”
“I am grateful for your service and your commitment to our common life. You are the epitome of what it means to be enthusiastically Episcopalian,” she said.
She quoted theologian Paul Tillich, in a work titled “On the Boundary,” to talk about the times the church is facing.
“In so many ways, all of us who are leading today’s church, whether we are 18 or 80, are standing on a boundary line that marks the end of the old, institutional church and the beginning of what the church of the 21st century is becoming. It is our job to stand on that boundary and help others across. Some of us, like Moses, won’t get there ourselves. Others of us are becoming the leaders who will turn the hope into reality. But all of us are on the boundary together.”
Jesus, Jennings said, on his way to Jerusalem was on the border between Samaria and Galilee.
“Jesus was often on the border between the old and the new, between death and new life, between the old covenant and the new covenant, between the cultural norms of the time and an expansive understanding of who is worthy and has value,” she said.
“Jesus teaches us that leadership is a choice you make rather than a position you occupy.”
As a fan of David Letterman, Jennings offered a “Top Ten” list of traits of leaders in challenging times. Number One on her list: “You know, deep in your heart, that the unity we all want so very much is found in our common life grounded and centered in Jesus Christ.”
‘Lessons learned, lessons shared’
Price, who was bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Southern Ohio when he was elected in 2009 as bishop provisional of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to lead that diocese through the aftermath of a time of schism when a majority of members left The Episcopal Church, told the gathering that in previous times, decisions had been made in isolation, and the reorganized diocese made a commitment to total transparency and collaborative decision making.
They focused on telling their own stories positively, and refrained from disparaging those who had left the church. As time passed, he said, people began to return.
“They had a weariness… they no longer wanted to hear the litany of how bad things were every Sunday,” said Price, who retired from his work in Pittsburgh in 2012. They wanted to hear the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Over time, 10 churches that initially had left the church have come back; 55 percent of the congregations in the diocese are now part of The Episcopal Church, Price said. The diocese includes a wide spectrum of beliefs, traditions and practices, but shares an abhorrence of a narrow view, he said.
“Always remember that you are in the Body of Christ, and in that you find your true identity,” Price said.
In addition to Price, the members of the Pittsburgh team who led workshops on “Rebuilding While Rejoicing” and “Showing the Way While Staying the Course” were the Rev. Nancy Chalfant-Walker, rector of St. Stephen’s, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh; Russ Ayres, member of the Board of Trustees of the Diocese of Pittsburgh; the Rev. Kris McInnes, priest-in-charge of St. David’s
, Peter’s Township; and Rich Creehan, diocesan communications director.
— Holly Behre is director of communications for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.