The leader of Midlands and Upstate Episcopalians said this week he remains in prayer and open talks with his fellow bishop in the Lowcountry in hopes of staving off a fracture within the state and the national church over gender issues.
The national church earlier this month approved a same-sex blessing rite and expanded ordination to include transgendered persons.
Bishop W. Andrew Waldo has tried to keep his diverse Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina unified despite theological differences over the controversial issues. He said this week he hopes that his friend, Bishop Mark J. Lawrence, leader of the more conservative and traditional Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, in the Lowcountry, will remain on that same path.
“The times are tense,” Waldo wrote in a letter to the 29,000 members of the upper diocese. “Our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina are in deep pain struggling with the decisions of General Convention 2012.”
Saying he was “in direct conversation” with Lawrence, Waldo said, “I ask your prayers for Mark and for the Diocese of South Carolina and for me and for this Diocese as we seek to discern God’s will for us, and his challenge to us as his disciples.”
Lawrence and Lowcountry deputies to the national Episcopal General Convention walked out of the proceedings in Indianapolis after the national church approved a blessings rite for gay couples and cleared the way for the ordination of transgendered persons.
In a letter to his parishioners that was read Sunday in Lowcountry congregations, Lawrence said the latest actions of the national church represented “a significant and distressing departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them.” Lawrence also opposed the 2003 ordination of the church’s first non-celibate gay bishop, Gene Robinson, saying the ordination violated biblical doctrine. Robinson’s election created a rift in the Anglican church, pitting the more liberal United States church against most of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Waldo has tried to walk a more moderate path, although, like Lawrence, he voted against the same-sex blessing rite and refused to expand the rights of transgendered persons when the resolutions were brought before the General Convention.
Waldo has said he does not believe the church has, as yet, provided a strong enough theological basis for the blessings rite. He spoke against expanding access to holy orders among “persons of different gender expression and identity” because he said the wider church is still confused about what “transgender” and gender identity” really mean.
“My discipline is this: to listen deeply to the challenges and questions of all, from my position in that radical – and, I’m discovering, somewhat dangerous – center,” he wrote in his letter to the upper diocese members. “My long-held and still-present desire to move forward on same-sex blessings has been given a new discipline upon listening to the questions of those who object to it and the questions of those who support it. Being the bishop of all requires of me an internal discipline that I am not free to ignore.”
In his letter, Waldo posed a series of questions for those who support, and oppose, same-sex blessings and asked that his fellow Episcopalians ponder the questions deeply. Meanwhile, Lawrence was moving to meet with key officials in his diocese to determine what’s next for their membership.