Bishop-elect Lawrence Sees Election Resistance in Broader Context
The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, rector of St. Paul’s Church, Bakersfield, Calif., recognizes that he is in a difficult position. Elected Bishop of South Carolina Sept. 16, Fr. Lawrence must receive consent from a majority of standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction within 120 days from Nov. 9, the date they were formally notified of an election.
Some Episcopalians note that Fr. Lawrence has supported the Diocese of South Carolina’s decision to request alternate primatial oversight (APO) and are concerned he will attempt to lead the diocese out of The Episcopal Church. Others have not forgotten that he helped write the minority report recommending against the New Hampshire consecration during the 74th General Convention in Minneapolis. Two groups have written to the standing committees and bishops expressing reservations.
“I don’t take this personally,” Fr. Lawrence said in a recent interview. “This whole question about consent has never been about Mark Lawrence. It’s about APO. It’s about uniformity. It’s about what boundaries we will accept as Episcopalians.”
Fr. Lawrence said he has responded to everyone who has contacted him seeking clarification of his views, but he admits he has struggled with what to say.
“I don’t want to needlessly inflame the situation or hedge who I am,” he said.
At the age of 23, Fr. Lawrence “stumbled into” St. Paul’s, the church where he has served as rector for the past nine years. For the first time since he had given his life to Christ two years earlier, he felt he had found a spiritual home. He fell in love with The Episcopal Church, its structured liturgy, its historic catholicity and its passion for scripture.
“It spoke to the depth of my soul as a sinner and yet saved,” he said. “It began to answer for me the question, ‘How do I know I am part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith?’”
Most of the questions he has been asked by those charged with granting consent aren’t about what drew him to The Episcopal Church or why he continues to love it. Instead he said he is usually asked for promises that he will remain true to his ordination vows.
He resists being drawn into canonical “what if”' questions posed to him by a reporter. During 26 years as a priest, Fr. Lawrence said he has always obeyed the discipline of The Episcopal Church and if granted consent to be consecrated, he said he would continue to do so as bishop.
However, “it serves none of us well to ignore the developing crisis and take refuge in polity which is proving to be no longer sufficient for the challenges we presently face,” he said. “I’ve sought, however inadequately, in several of my writings not only to identify the problem, but to go beyond merely admiring the complexity of the crisis.
“I should also continue to be cognizant that upholding the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church includes the essential fact of it remaining a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. No one knows where we will end up. Anglicanism is in a profound state of transformation right now.
“The people of South Carolina followed the process, and I was overwhelmingly elected on the first ballot. Does anyone really think by rejecting me as bishop that they can force Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina to choose someone more to their liking? Is that going to help convince the people of South Carolina that they are still respected and their voice listened to by the majority?”