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South Carolina becomes the newest and oldest ACNA diocese

South Carolina becomes the newest and oldest ACNA diocese
New ACNA diocese has colonial CofE roots

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
June 28, 2017

WHEATON, ILLINOIS -- At 9:42 AM on Tuesday (June 27, 2017), the Diocese of South Carolina was unanimously voted into affiliation with the Anglican Church of North American (ACNA), making the diocese, led by Bishop Mark Lawrence, not only the newest diocese in the American Anglicanism, but also the oldest jurisdiction in the newest Anglican expression in the United States.

The new ACNA Diocese of South Carolina has its roots in Colonial America dating back to the mid 17th century as a Church of England (CofE) plant. It is one of nine original Episcopal dioceses which was formed following the separation from the mother church in England following the Revolutionary War.

South Carolina's affiliation with ACNA makes it one of five former Episcopal dioceses which have disaffiliated with The Episcopal Church and, eventually, realigned with ACNA. In 2009, four of the former TEC dioceses (Pittsburgh, Quincy, Fort Worth and San Joaquin) were founding ANCA dioceses, just as South Carolina was a founding diocese of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America in 1789. The State of South Carolina is one of the original 13 colonies which eventually formed the United States of America.

Colonial roots

The Diocese of South Carolina has a rich spiritual history. Records show that the first Anglican worship service took place on April 19,1660, near-present day Beaufort. By 1680, St. Philip's, the mother church of the Diocese of South Carolina, was being established in Charleston as a Church of England plant, thus making the colonial-era parish the oldest religious congregation in South Carolina. In 1706, the Church of England was made the established church in South Carolina, giving the CofE official status in the South Carolina colony. Other colonies which gave the CofE establishment standing included: Virginal (1609); New York (1693); Maryland (1702); North Carolina (1730); and Georgia (1758).

Having been ordained by the Church of England, colonial clergy were required to pledge allegiance to the Crown and offer prayers for the King George III and the British Parliament. However, during the Revolutionary War, such royal loyalty and prayers became acts of treason. After the Paris Treaty was signed in 1783 ending the Revolutionary War, the colonial Anglicans were left with a problem as the remnants of the American church were organized or reorganized.

Within two years following the end of the War of Independence, the disorganized and disestablished church in South Carolina was getting on its feet and, on May 12, 1785, it held its first church convention thus establishing itself as a new, wholly American diocese. About the same time (1784-1785), eight other former colonial Anglican churches were also reorganizing including: Massachusetts, Connecticut. Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Finally, in 1789, the original nine dioceses formed the first General Convention, thus creating the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States.

The first Bishop of South Carolina was Robert Smith. He was consecrated by Samuel Seabury (I Connecticut), Samuel Provoost, (I New York); and James Madison (I Virginia). Bishop Smith was the sixth bishop to be consecrated by The Episcopal Church at the beginning of a long line of Episcopal bishops. Two hundred and thirteen years later, in 2008, Mark Lawrence was consecrated as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, making him the 1,025th bishop consecrated by The Episcopal Church.

The l-o-o-n-n-n-g-g-g-g road to ACNA

Bishop Lawrence was first elected bishop in the autumn of 2006. Even before his consecration as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, he had a battle with The Episcopal Church.

His first battle came in the spring of 2007 when Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori tossed his election out for a "technicality." One of TEC's many foreign dioceses did not file properly its consent to his election as an Episcopal bishop.

So, the diocese elected him a second time. There was great concern on the part of The Episcopal Church that as bishop, Mark Lawrence, a theological conservative, would lead the historic diocese out of TEC. He assured them that it was his intension to remain Episcopalian and keep the diocese in The Episcopal Church.

However, the breaking point was about to be reached for other TEC dioceses because of the combination of the 2003 election of Vicky Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, as the IX Bishop of New Hampshire coupled with the 2006 election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, the female Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. She is a woman with questionable theology. In 2007, Bishop John-David Schofield (IV San Joaquin) was the first to realign with his diocese to the Southern Cone (the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America). He was followed in 2008 by Bishop Robert Duncan (VII Pittsburgh); Bishop Jack Iker (III Fort Worth); and Keith Ackerman (VIII Quincy).

While other dioceses were disaffiliating with The Episcopal Church Bishop Lawrence did all he could do to keep South Carolina in. The Diocese of South Carolina stayed, trying to work with TEC.

"We took the steps necessary in good conscience to differentiate ourselves from the positions and actions of the TEC leadership while still remaining in the denomination," Canon to the Ordinary James Lewis explained in an October, 2013 article entitled: The real story behind our split with The Episcopal Church.

"It's true that our people were torn about TEC's shift away from historic Anglican beliefs, but we remained part of the denomination, until last year, when it ruled that Bishop Lawrence had 'abandoned' the church and took steps to remove him from the leadership role to which members of the diocese had elected him," the canon explained.

But, finally, the "unbiblical, unChristian, unAnglican unseemly" and heretical drift of The Episcopal Church became too much. The final breaking straw came at the 2012 General Convention, when resolutions were passed which "embraced an understanding of human nature that is genderless." At that time, Bishop Lawrence realized that a line had been crossed and that action "marked a departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them."

On July 11, 2012, Bishop Lawrence addressed his fellow bishops in the Episcopal House of Bishops for the final time.

"These resolutions, in my opinion, are disconcerting changes to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church -- to which every bishop, priest and deacon is asked to conform, " Bishop Lawrence told the House of Bishops. "More importantly they mark a departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them, therein making it necessary for me to strongly differentiate myself from such actions."

That differentiation meant that he would not return to the HOB, and most of the South Carolina delegation left General Convention grounds early to return to the Palmetto State. When all was said and done, Bishop Lawrence shepherded his three-century old diocese out of The Episcopal Church. In all, 80 per cent of the parishes agreed with their bishop's action. He was disposed by then Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, for his action and he is still locked in a battle over buildings as well as the corporate name and identity of The Diocese OF South Carolina with The Episcopal Church IN South Carolina with Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.

When the Diocese of South Carolina disaffiliated with The Episcopal Church it became an independent Anglican jurisdiction. But since Bishop Lawrence was a duly consecrated and experienced bishop he could continue to maintain a full slate of apostolic sacramental care for the parishioners within his separating diocese: baptism, Eucharist, confirmation and ordination.

When the Diocese of South Carolina severed ties with The Episcopal Church, the newly-orphaned diocese received heart-felt support from many Anglican leaders from around the world, particularly in the Global South, including being visited by numerous Anglican bishops to demonstrate their support. Letters of support came from Kenya, Egypt, Uganda, the Global South Primates, GAFCON, the Fellowship of Confession Anglicans (FCA) and ACNA.

In addition, retired Church of England Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali (CVI Rochester-UK) has been South Carolina's visiting bishop since 2010, a post he still holds. Bishop Nazir-Ali was on hand Tuesday when his "American" diocese became a formal part of ACNA. He is scheduled to give a plenary session teaching on The Gospel in Culture during the ACNA Assembly.

"Many members of the global Anglican Communion feel as we do that TEC has departed from historic Anglican beliefs," Canon Lewis explained in his 2013 article. "Most agree TEC has embraced a radical fringe scriptural interpretation that makes following Christ's teachings optional for salvation."

The South Carolina bishop carefully bided his time. He was not initially jumping from TEC into any other Anglican jurisdiction. He quietly and methodically sought the Lord's will for the next step the diocese was to take. He prayed, he sought quiet retreat, he waited for the Lord to speak, and he remained faithful to his vows to the Lord as a priest and as a bishop. And he remained faithful to his people as their bishop and leader.

During the time of patient waiting, both he and more that 100 of his priests and deacons were defrocked by The Episcopal Church.

After going it alone for a couple of years, Bishop Lawrence realized the need to somehow be connected canonically with global Anglicanism and that the Lord was leading him to seek provisional primatial oversight. This came through the umbrella of the Global South Primates who, in 2014, scooped the Diocese of South Carolina into their protective care and reconnected Bishop Lawrence and his diocese with the wider Anglican Communion.

Behind the scenes, and while still at the 2007 Primates' Meeting -- one of the instruments of Anglican unity -- the Global South Primates' Steering Committee realized the need to form a Primatial Oversight Council to provide conservative Episcopal dioceses with primatial oversight.

In 2006, when Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected as the XXVI Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, nine conservative Episcopal dioceses: Fort Worth, Dallas, Quincy, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, South Carolina, Central Florida, Albany, and Springfield petitioned Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO). Their collective plea fell on deaf ears. Within a short period of time, the dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy left. The dioceses of Dallas, Central Florida, South Carolina, Albany and Springfield remained.

"Recognizing the faithfulness of Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina, and in appreciation for their contending for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, the Global South welcomes them as an active and faithful member within the Global South of the Anglican Communion, until such time as a permanent primatial affiliation can be found," wrote Egyptian Archbishop Mouneer Anis in 2014. The Archbishop is also the Chairman of the Global South Primates' Steering Committee.

Chile Archbishop, Hector Zavala, then Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America, welcomed the Diocese of South Carolina as his protectorate while Bishop Lawrence continued to seek God's ultimate will for the disaffiliated diocese. Archbishop Zavala was one of the many Global South bishops who visited the Diocese of South Carolina during its travels in uncharted territory, to provide encouragement and support to Bishop Lawrence and his flock.

However, the Anglican Communion Office takes a dim view of Southern Cone bishops providing oversight for dioceses and ecclesiastical bodies located outside of the Anglican Church of South America province which includes Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.

Once Bishop Lawrence found safety in the Southern Cone, just as the realigning dioceses of San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy and Pittsburgh had previously, he could turn his full attention to discerning God's next step for the extra-provincial diocese.

In 2016, another Anglican diocese separated from its Brazilian parent. The Anglican Church -- Diocese of Recife was born when Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, like the American Episcopal Church, "followed increasingly the direction of a liberal and revisionist theology that moved away from the Holy Scriptures preaching another gospel."

Now the Diocese of Recife is a part of GAFCON.

ACNA comes into being

The Anglican Church in North America was formed in 2009 as a result of the hard work that Pittsburgh Bishop Duncan (I ACNA) did to bring together various factions of the Anglican Continuum into a unified church body in North America. When ACNA was constituted, the four former TEC dioceses became founding dioceses of the new Anglican entity in the United States and Canada.

Slowly Bishop Lawrence was drawn toward ACNA. In 2013, a task force was established to explore affiliation with the Anglican Church in North America and the affiliation dance was begun. By 2015, the diocese explored more deeply the possible compatibility with an affiliation with ACNA.

ACNA may not be an "official" province of the Anglican Communion, but it is a provincial member of GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Archbishop Foley Beach (II ACNA) is also recognized as a seated and voting Global South primate and he participated in the 2016 Primates' Gathering at Lambeth. The Primates' Gathering was called by Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to try an initial polite conversation between the various Anglican primates. In the recent past, Global South primates have boycotted Primates' Meetings or refused to join in fellowship with then Episcopal Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Bishop Lawrence liked what he saw in ACNA. He was impressed with ACNA's focus on evangelism and mission, which is similar to his own. He also was pleased to see Archbishop Beach become a valued member of the GAFCON and voting member of the Primates' Council. It is also important for him to again be a part of a group of bishops. As a member of the ACNA College of Bishops, he'll be in the company of 65 brother bishops, some of whom he already knows from the Episcopal House of Bishops, including: William Wantland (IV Eau Claire); Edward MacBurney (VII Quincy); Andrew Fairfield (X North Dakota); Peter Beckwith (X Springfield); Jack Iker (III Fort Worth); Keith Ackerman (VIII Quincy) Robert Duncan (VII Pittsburg); and David Bena (Albany-suffragan).

By the time the 2017 Annual Convention rolled around, Bishop Lawrence was ready to shepherd his diocese into ACNA, five years after an earlier diocesan convention voted to disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church and the diocese entered into the wilderness.

Tuesday morning ACNA responded

American Anglican Council Canon, Phil Ashey, presented the "first action item" of the Provincial Council's meeting after Archbishop Beach called for the reception and seating of the Diocese South Carolina as a part of the Provincial Assembly, Provincial Council and Anglican Church in North America.

Canon Ashey explained that the Diocese of South Carolina made a very detailed 122-page application for admittance to the Anglican Church in North America. He was impressed with the paperwork and called it "exceptional in every regard," and that the jurisdiction under the oversight of Bishop Lawrence more than exceeded the minimum requirements for joining as a diocese.

ACNA canon law requires a new diocese have at least a dozen congregations with an individual ASA of 50 and a total diocesan ASA of one thousand. The Diocese of South Carolina far exceeds those minimum requirements. It has 53 congregations, of which 39 of them have an individual ASA of 50 or more with an diocesan ASA of 9,085, making it one of ACNA's larger dioceses. Other ACNA dioceses with more than 50 congregations include: the Anglican Network in Canada (72); Pittsburgh (70); Fort Worth (62); and the Great Lakes (58).

The Diocese of South Carolina has 53 congregations served by 138 clergy ministering to 22,149 baptized members. There is also a 2017 diocesan budget of $2,248,004. With the addition of more than 50 new worshipping communities, ACNA's congregation count is pushed past the one thousand mark, the goal ACNAs founding archbishop had hoped would be met quickly,

ACNA's Governance Task force, which combed though the Diocese of South Carolina's application, made an unanimous recommendation to the Executive Committee that the diocese be admitted. The Committee concurred, so Canon Ashey presented the Diocese of South Carolina's application for vote and approval with "great joy" to the Provincial Council.

When Archbishop Beach called for the vote, he was met with a loud and enthusiastic "Aye!" He was met with total silence when he asked, "All opposed?"

When Archbishop Beach said "motion carried", the room exploded in a thunderous, extended standing ovation.

Bishop Lawrence and his flock had finally found a spiritual home. The Anglican Church of North America opened its doors to the Anglican pilgrims.

"It gives me great pleasure to witness the move of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina to become an integral constituent of ACNA," Archbishop Mouneer Anis said following the vote, calling Bishop Lawrence "a faithful man of God" and also said that South Carolina's affiliation with ACNA "will bring joy to the heart of God."

A new chapter

Looking grayer, Bishop Lawrence, the newest member of the ACNA College of Bishops, addressed the assembly with a voice full of emotion.

Quoting poet Robert Frost, he said: "Home is that place that when you come to it, they have to let you in."

"Well ... you didn't have to let us in, but you have, and it feels today like a homecoming for the Diocese of South Carolina and for me, the bishop," continued Bishop Lawrence. "This is a new chapter we take up today along with you."

The Diocese of South Carolina has written many chapters since the Gospel was first spoken by a Church of England priest on South Carolina soil in 1660.

"We start a new chapter that will be formative for us and trust that it will be fruitful for the Anglican Church in North America," he said, explaining that it is not only men and women who have God-given vocations, but parishes do, provinces do and dioceses do.

Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina have found their new vocation as a part of the Anglican Church in North America in their continuing journey to proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the Sacraments and faithfully live out what God has revealed as the diocese's destiny after five years of prayer and struggle and sacrifice and waiting.

"Now that we're home ..." he concluded, "... it is a place that when we come here you have to let us in."

Following laughter, applause and a short prayer of thanksgiving, the audience spontaneously broke into the full-throated four-part singing of the Doxology.

By Tuesday evening, the Diocese of South Carolina was listed as ACNA's 30th diocese on Wikipedia.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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