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South Carolina: Historic diocese joins new church body

Archbishop Foley Beach and Bishop Mark Lawrence stand together in Charleston after the Diocese of South Carolina voted unanimously to affiliate with the Anglican Church of North America. (Photo: Joy Hunter/Diocese of South Carolina)

(Staff)  THE DIOCESE of South Carolina has voted unanimously to affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  The Diocese had separated from the Episcopal Church in 2012 for theological and canonical reasons.

On March 11th more than 350 delegates from 52 churches across the eastern and coastal part of the state, as well as South Carolina’s bishop, voted to realign.

“I cast my vote to affiliate with the ACNA with eager and expectant faith,” said the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, 14th Bishop of South Carolina, in his address to the 226th Annual Convention. “I believe God has called us to this and I believe we will find a deeper richness in our vocation; fuller fellowship in the Spirit; a more zealous thrust in mission. But most of all, I believe a door will be opened, the fresh winds of the Spirit will blow, and a caged eagle will soar.”

The Diocese of South Carolina was founded in 1785 by the parishes of the former South Carolina colony. Based in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Diocese is one of the oldest religious districts in the United States and includes several of the oldest operating churches in the nation.

ACNA was founded in 2009 at the urging of Anglican primates of the Global South, and includes evangelicals, charismatics and Anglo-catholics. Currently it has 111,853 members in 966 churches and 32 dioceses spread across the United States, Mexico and Canada. (Here it is known as the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC)).

When it meets in June, the ACNA Provincial Assembly is expected to welcome enthusiastically the application of the Diocese for affiliation. The Diocese of South Carolina, with 22,000 members, would then be the largest Diocese in ACNA and would bring ACNA’s membership up to 133,853 in 1,018 churches.

Over four years have passed since the Diocese of South Carolina left TEC. When asked why the Diocese did not affiliate sooner with ACNA, the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, spokesperson for the Diocese, told The Anglican Planet: 

“First, there really did need to be a work of meaningful discernment about this decision, and it wasn’t something the diocese or its parishes were ready to do immediately. Secondly, even after the appointed Task Force completed its work and made a recommendation, it did not mean that the parishes were ready. While clergy had invested a good deal of time and energy on this subject, their parishioners had not. Further time was needed to bring the congregations up to speed. Finally, we were clear from the beginning that this would be a decision made by Diocesan Convention. Together, all those factors lead to what some might call a “long courtship.” The fact that the vote was unanimous was a great blessing and a measure of how successful this whole process actually was in achieving that result.

Lewis was also asked if he expected any legal retaliation from TEC now the Diocese has joined ACNA.

“The litigation is ongoing in both the state and federal courts. I don’t imagine that our decision can or will precipitate any further legal action than what is already in progress. All the pertinent issues are already before the courts. This decision by the Diocese changes none of that.”

The Most Rev. Foley Beach, Archbishop of ACNA, spoke to the Convention following the vote and said, “I am thankful for Bishop Mark Lawrence, for his steadfast and godly leadership, for his friendship and for his humility throughout this entire process. Your witness in mission, in scholarship and steadfast commitment to the historical teaching of the Bible is commendable. You are bringing with you many gifts that will further strengthen our Province, and the larger Anglican world.”

“From Pentecost on Christians are meant to be connected,” said the Very Rev. Craige Borrett, who served as Chairman of the Provincial Affiliation Task Force. “We’re family. And with this decision we’re uniting ourselves with a diverse group of biblical, orthodox Anglicans who are recognized by the majority of the Anglican Communion. I’m excited about the impact we can have as well.”

“The ACNA is full of ministry friends and colleagues we have known and worked with for many years,” said the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis. “It is a joy to now be under one roof with them. We’ll be blessed to have the benefit of the work they’re doing in important areas like church planting. And we look forward to sharing our assets as well – things like our strong youth and grandparenting ministries and our beachfront camp and conference center, St. Christopher’s.”

Two leaders in the Anglican Communion’s GAFCON movement, The Most Rev. Peter Jensen and the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, sent a recorded greeting to the Convention: “In times like these we need to be able to partner with fellow Christians who share common faith with us,” said Archbishop Akinola. “We need to stand together to make a difference in this world of darkness where people are deviating day by day from the standards of Scripture. We know that in the ACNA we can stand together to work for the glory of God.”   TAP

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