South Carolina Visit, May 2014
For a number of years now the dioceses of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, has had a warm working relationship with the diocese of South Carolina in the United States. This relationship grew from Bishop Ken and Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina (pictured above) meeting at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. Over the years people from both dioceses have crossed the Atlantic to further the relationship.
Last month, I was the latest to visit South Carolina. It was my first time there. What did I find? On a personal level, I was met by warmth and friendliness. People could not have been more welcoming and considerate. I felt very much at home. It was a reminder to me that we belong to God’s Big Family—we have brothers and sisters the world over, in this case in South Carolina.
Secondly, I found the place warm in terms of climate. Can you remember the great days of last summer? Well most days in my stay were like that, clear blue skies with temperatures in the mid-20s. Warm but not too hot. When it rained, as it did occasionally, it down poured for about 15 minutes before the normal sunshine resumed. The parish that I stayed in Bluffton, was warm as well. In the seventies, the county surrounding Bluffton was a kind of backwater. At that time around 50 people normally attended Sunday worship in an historic wooden church by the river. Then the area started to develop as a tourist destination with good weather, lovely beaches and big rivers. It became popular with the over 50s as a retirement resort. People then began to move and settle in the area as infrastructure and reputation was built. In the nineties, the Rev. Chuck Owens, was appointed rector of Bluffton. Chuck came from a teaching background and he and his wife Becky began to mobilise the modest and oldish congregation.
Since then the parish has taken off based on the Biblical principles enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer. Today, some 1500 people worship most Sundays in two centres in the parish. I preached at 3 services in the historic church: one at 5:28, ‘Gracetime’ on Saturday evening. Then at the 8am and 10am Holy Communion services on Sunday. These were Prayer Book services that we would recognize although done in a distinctive style. I also managed to catch a bit of the 9 am service held in the parish school, which was contemporary and informal in style. Since Easter of this year, a second service at the school has started to cope with ever increasing numbers. In 15 years things in Bluffton parish have flourished.
What do you put that down to? They are Christ-centred, take the Bible seriously, have inspiring leadership (clerical and lay), get involved, are outward looking and generous in Spirit. As a result, they have grown not just numerically but also in depth as well. We could learn so much in the dioceses from their experience, for they not so long ago were very much like many of our parishes.
I also had the privilege of meeting Bishop Mark, who lives in Charleston (of the dance fame). He is a very courageous church leader, who has overseen the diocese disassociating itself from the American Episcopal Church (TEC). Indeed 4 other dioceses have had to take the same course of action. Although independent of TEC, the diocese takes its place in worldwide Anglicanism.
What happened for this divorce to take place? Dioceses like South Carolina saw TEC drifting away from its historic and Biblical roots. TEC was driving a social and cultural agenda which was at serious odds against the Scriptures. Bishop Mark put it like this….. “When there is no norm, what guards one generation to the next? The Word of God is our anchor in the sea of cultural confusion”.
I returned from South Carolina refreshed and strengthened in faith. I wish to continue and develop our links. In the isolated place they find themselves through no fault of their own, they need friends in the Anglican Communion. I assured Bishop Mark, that we would be firm friends. In a changing world we need to learn from them how to be principled and how to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. Will you join me to pray for:
- Bishop Mark Lawrence
- Very Rev. Chuck Owens
- The Diocese of South Carolina as a whole
- The Church of the Cross, Bluffton
Like me, why don’t you follow their story on the diocesan and parish websites and commit to support them as partners in prayer.
Church of the Cross:
Diocese of South Carolina: