An interview with the Rev. Mark Lawrence
Father Mark Lawrence was elected on September 16 to succeed the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr. as the next bishop of the Network Diocese of South Carolina. Elected on the first ballot by a majority vote from among three candidates, Lawrence will likely move to South Carolina to assume fulltime duties in early 2007.
Lawrence has served as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, California, his home parish in his hometown, for the past nine years. He and his wife, Allison, have been married for 33 years, and have five children and six grandchildren. Bishop-elect Lawrence shared some of his thoughts with the Network during a recent interview:
ACN: Is this the first time that you have been selected as candidate for bishop?
Fr. Lawrence: I was asked once before, but this is the first bishop search where I’ve really gone through the process seriously.
ACN: How did you discern that you were meant to stand for this election?
Fr. Lawrence: In the five weeks before I received a phone call from retired Bishop Alden Hathaway asking me to consider entering the process of the bishop’s election in South Carolina, I already had a clear sense from the Lord that He was calling me into something that would require me to leave my parish. Three days before Bishop Hathaway telephoned, an old friend told me, “I was praying for you today and felt that the Lord will be using you to ‘prepare the faithful for the battle ahead, both inwardly and outwardly.’” When the bishop called, I knew in my heart that I was meant to stand for this election.
ACN: You have served two parishes for lengthy terms – 13 years at St. Stephens, McKeesport, Pennsylvania, and nine years at St. Paul’s Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, California. Both parishes experienced tremendous growth under your leadership. What advice would you give to others trying to grow their parishes?
Fr. Lawrence: There are no short-cuts to church growth. I haven’t used any particular models. I have focused my ministry on being a preacher, teacher, pastor and spiritual leader. The fundamentals of the Christian ministry have to be there for a church to grow: preach the Word in season and out of season; have lively worship, even if it’s traditional; and take care of the pastoral needs of your people.
At one church, the congregation started growing faster than we were training leaders. I might do it the other way around if I did it again, making sure to train up enough lay leaders to truly pastor and disciple those coming in.
ACN: What is your vision for your ministry as Bishop of South Carolina?
Fr. Lawrence: Things are already working in the Diocese of South Carolina in such a positive, growing way that I’m committed to helping that continue. I believe strong parishes grow the diocese, and the diocese is there to serve the parishes. The role for diocesan leadership is to support the clergy, to support the parishes and to celebrate, not just the specialized person in a visible ministry, but also all of the dedicated parish priests and parishioners serving in vital ministries that go along year in and year out, but too often remain unsung.
ACN: How do you feel about moving to the South?
Fr. Lawrence: I really feel that God has prepared me for the changes that I will shortly experience. I wrote in a journal a year ago, “It is impossible to recapture the magic of certain seasons of one’s life. Better to move forward instead of trying to recreate our previous experiences. Fresh moods and wonders will come.” I’m back to making today matter, wanting to move into the future, not holding on to the dreams and desires of the past. The phrase that keeps running through my head is “Plenty of flame remains in the embers of God.” There is much hope for the future that God has for us all.
ACN: I understand that you are the first Trinity School for Ministry (TESM) graduate to become a U.S. bishop.
Fr. Lawrence: Yes, I was the first person to go to Trinity under the auspices of a bishop. I’m very grateful for TESM’s existence and the opportunity to have gone there. I consider myself a catholic evangelical, who is grateful for the charismatic movement’s openness to the Holy Spirit’s work among us. Certainly Trinity helped form me spiritually in balancing those three streams of our Anglican faith.
ACN: Your present diocese, San Joaquin, and South Carolina are both Network dioceses that have requested alternate primatial oversight (APO). What are your thoughts about where things stand now in the Communion?
Fr. Lawrence: I would refer you to an article I wrote that is posted on St. Paul’s website www.stpaulsbakersfield.org called “Remaining Anglican: In Defense of Disassociation.”
ACN: Below is an excerpt from that article which clearly describes the situation as Fr. Lawrence perceives it:
“So when the Standing Committee of our diocese (San Joaquin) and our Bishop ask for alternative primatial oversight it is because all due parliamentary procedure to convince The Episcopal Church that it has erred has proved fruitless. Like an addictive or dysfunctional family, this exclusive pursuit of “cultural sensitivity” has led to destructive behavior. Perhaps our Standing Committee’s action of dissociation, along with six other dioceses at present, will demonstrate the seriousness of TEC’s dysfunction. I love this Church enough to practice what those in the counseling professions call tough-love.
Underneath all the discussions of human sexuality, our message is this, The Episcopal Church, in its obsession to be what it has termed inclusive, has excluded the absolute priority of Holy Scripture and the historic continuity of the catholic faith. Of course, I would not want to make a similar error in either my passion for Holy Scripture or towards a catholic loyalty to the sacraments. If I wanted only a biblical Christianity I could join an evangelical or fundamentalist Church. If it were only the sacramental-institutional continuity I desired, then why not go to Rome or Orthodoxy? If it were only cultural sensitivity or intellectual flexibility that I was seeking, then there are many liberal Protestant Churches I could join. My problem is that I’m an Anglican. I want all three to characterize my Christian thought and life. I believe, as the wise man, Koheleth, once put, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc 4:12). So in conclusion, if I may paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan,
In spite of all temptations To belong to denominations I remain an Anglican… I remain an Anglican!