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San Joaquin priest elected Episcopal bishop of South Carolina

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
9/16/2006

The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence elected Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina on September 16.  

 
[Episcopal News Service]  The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence was elected September 16 as the fourteenth bishop of South Carolina.

Lawrence, 56, was elected out of a field of three nominees on the first ballot. According to unofficial results released by the Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon, canon theologian and communications coordinator for the diocese, Lawrence was elected with 42.5 lay votes and 72 clergy votes. An election required 29 votes in the lay order and 54 in the clergy order.

In South Carolina, "lay votes" actually represent the votes of parishes and missions, which vote as a block. Each parish gets a single vote which must be cast by four people. At least three people within that delegation need to vote for a particular individual in order for them to cast a positive vote for a nominee. If the vote is two-two among a parish’s delegates, that result is counted as a no vote. Missions are given half a vote. The two delegates must agree in order to have their half vote counted. There are 47 parishes in the diocese and 46 were present. There are 26 missions; 20 were present.

The electing convention met at St. Philip's Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Lawrence is the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish, in Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin.

He will succeed Bishop Edward L. Salmon Jr., 72. Salmon was elected in the fall of 1989 and consecrated on February 24, 1990.
 
Under the canons the Episcopal Church (III.16.4(a)), a majority of the bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan Standing Committees must consent to Lawrence’s ordination as bishop within 120 days of receiving notice of the election.

The consecration is planned for February 24, 2007.

The other two nominees were:

  • the Rev. Canon Ellis English Brust, 48, chief operating officer and chaplain to the president of the American Anglican Council, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia; and 
  • the Rev. Stephen D. Wood, 42, rector, St. Andrew's Church, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

South Carolina is one of seven dioceses in which a bishop and Standing Committee are seeking a relationship with a primate other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, citing 2003 and 2006 General Convention actions. The other dioceses are Central Florida (Orlando-based), Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Springfield (Illinois), and San Joaquin (California). None of the dioceses' conventions have ratified the requests.
 
Salmon was part of a group of bishops who met September 11-13 in New York City to discuss the Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO) requests, but which came to no agreement.

The constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Communion's main policy-making body, makes no provisions for alternative primatial oversight. Neither do the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

In response to a one of three questions presented to the candidates prior to a series of meetings with the diocese, Lawrence said he approved of the APO request.

The fabric of the Episcopal Church has been frayed "by our misguided passion to be culturally sensitive and intellectually flexible," Lawrence wrote.

"I am personally saddened for those gay and lesbian Christians within the church that so much of the debate has focused upon homosexual behavior and relationships," he said. "It has too often given way to bigotry or to an easy self-righteousness among heterosexuals. Nevertheless, it is for now the place where the battle lines have been drawn."

"This present crisis in the Anglican Communion is a sign that among other things we have entered into an ever-flattening world. We need to have an Anglican ecclesiology that takes seriously this new era," Lawrence wrote, calling the requests "a temporary gasp for air."

"At this point the ‘conservatives’ are being progressive, and the ‘progressives’ strike me as digging in their heels for the past," he wrote.

The names of the three men were announced July 27, a few days ahead of an August 1 deadline listed on the search committee's website. The committee’s timeline had said that the nominees would be chosen during June and July, and the slate "sealed until after General Convention 2006." On August 28, the diocesan Standing Committee rejected a request by 24 clergy delegates and seven lay delegates to allow its president, the Rev. Marshall Dow Sanderson, to be added to the list of candidates.

On September 5, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, whose mission is to "preserve unity with diversity in the diocese," [http://www.episcopalforumofsc.org] told the diocesan electors that the group was "concerned that the new bishop be committed, without reservation, to the ordination oath signed by every new bishop to conform to the 'doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.'

"We understand that commitment to include respecting the democratic actions of the General Convention, and the elected leadership of The Episcopal Church as it is now constituted. In recent years our diocesan leadership has voiced opposition to actions of General Convention and the Church's leaders," the group said in an open letter that ran in the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper. "The Diocese of South Carolina has joined fewer than 10% of all Episcopal dioceses in an alliance, The Anglican Communion Network, that threatens to lead us out of The Episcopal Church."