All Saints Day – A Team Photo

Bishop Lawrence's high school wrestling teamThere are particular days in the Church calendar set aside to honor the heroes of the faith,   such as Peter, Andrew, and the Virgin Mary. All Saints’ Day, November 1st, however, comes as the Church year ends—the last of the major Saint’s days before Advent ushers in a new year.

In an age of the celebrity, All Saints’ Day is a needed reminder that the Church, indeed the Christian life, is a team photo, not an action shot of a franchise player making a spectacular game-winning catch in the closing seconds of the game. Luminaries in the Church may dazzle us with their accomplishments and holiness. Reading the biographies of such men and women as Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, St. Teresa of Avila or Susannah Wesley, often inspire us with their brilliance, sacrifices or indefatigable labors. Even people in our day, such as Billy Graham or Mother Teresa can awe us with their accomplishments. Yet these distinguished Christians would be the first to acknowledge the network of “rank and file saints” who enabled their ministries to shine brightly, and without whom their labors would have faltered.

The Collect for All Saints’ Day (BCP2019 p. 622) refers to the “…one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of [Christ].” It alludes to this vast network of believers from every tribe, language, people and nation who have been and are part of the team. All are included in the 360-degree team photo that surrounds us as a great cloud of witnesses. In the Eucharist, we join our voices with their voices and celebrate the communion we share with them in the life and worship of our Lord.

When I wrestled at Bakersfield High School, I used to look at the photographs of wrestlers and teams of the past above the practice mats. Strategically placed to inspire us during 3-4 hour workouts, the wrestlers in these photos took on legendary qualities, inspiring us to work harder. They made us realize we had a noble tradition to live up to. I suppose the wrestlers of earlier generations were not much different from us. Indeed, a photo of my teammates and me now hangs above the practice mats right there among the photos of other generations. We were certainly far from famous; closer to rank and file plodders; yet we challenged one another, set records, and in the end won championships that eluded others.

When you and I gather to worship this All Saints’ Day, whether in-person or virtually, it will be as a team, caught in snapshot fashion in the middle of our life’s course, hardly aware of how our faithfulness today may influence those who come after us. Knit together with believers around the world and down through the ages we follow both luminaries and ordinary saints “in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that [God] has prepared for those who truly love [Him].”

Hope to see you in the team photo!

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What Makes a Day Count? A Summer Journal Entry

Journal Entry August 13, 2020, (Farmhouse near Wytheville, VA)

Farmhouse near Wytheville

Farmhouse near Wytheville

I had a good four-mile jog this morning over these rolling hills and country roads near this farmhouse where we are staying for a few days. I stopped occasionally to take photos of the farmlands, hillsides and distant mountains, as well as the wildflowers along the road, or just to walk awhile to take things in and appreciate the scenery—to learn again to be attentive.

Lord, I am so oriented to making minutes, hours, and days “count”, which is not always the same as being attentive or even less getting “… a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) No, my focus is often more about getting things done or frankly sometimes just getting to the next thing. Even now, I find myself experiencing some inner stress that I will not make this vacation day “count”—while having no specific criteria for what “counts” or “matters” means or even looks like. Is it doing something like my morning jog over these rolling hills, farmlands and country roads? Yes, I believe so. Is it some reflective journaling—such as what I’m doing now? Yes, I think that is something that matters. But how much? And when is it that I’ve written something that I can point to on a vacation day and say, “That’s it!” that paragraph, that journal entry counts?  Do other people even think in these terms or look at life from this perspective?

Horses on farmEugene Peterson begins his book Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at It’s Best with a few sentences or questions that may at least be similar to what I’m trying to get at. “The puzzle is why so many people live so badly. Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly.” To mention this book by Peterson raises yet another check off point. Whether an unusual jog (like this morning); a hike (like I plan to do tomorrow); a meaningful journal entry; a significant family gathering (surely Macy’s baptism during the family outing to Presque Isle last Saturday “counts”); the tour of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum (that I did yesterday); Do each of these make a vacation day count? Does reading on a vacation day make the day matter? Well, it certainly seemed to during our vacations in Maine in the 1980s and 90s, especially when it was part of a study project I was pursuing, such as—Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, Phillips Brooks, and others. Because one is reading about someone significant or a significant work such as Dante’s Divine Comedy or Eliot’s Four Quartets does that make what one is doing significant? If I spend an hour or two this afternoon reading this good but not great book, Run with the Horses, will that help to make this vacation day count?

Fence and farm near WythevilleHow about just sitting on this farmhouse porch looking out on this pond and the green hillside, an opening patch of blue in an otherwise cloudy sky, the cattle and sheep grazing, a hawk flying overhead; hearing the birds chattering; and feeling the light wind across my face. The swallows start swirling about in their darting and dancing flight to feed, as butterflies float on the breeze, and the wasps busy above in the wooden eaves. I watch a dandelion seed drift in the wind above the white cross fence its destiny unlike mine all but assured.  When all suddenly changes with a banging thunderclap and a torrent of rain. The cattle, sheep and horses that were grazing together all huddle according to their kind and go their separate ways.  The horses first to leave making their way I assume to their stable and barn. The sheep go down the hill out of my sight. The huddled cattle remain on top of the hill.  The storm in time passes and a cool wind changes the temperature and a gaggle of geese land on the pond. Will all this count? Will this make the afternoon matter?

The American poet, James Wright, lying in a hammock on William Duffy’s farm in Minnesota, not all that different I suppose from this farm in Southern Virginia, lifted his eyes to see a chicken hawk floating over looking for home and experienced an epiphany of sorts that he had wasted his life. Did that, rather paradoxically, make the day or his life count? It certainly made a significant poem, at least for me; I have remembered it for 50 years as one of the better poems of his generation and of the “deep image” genre.

Finally, it may be best to pause and pose before myself an even more telling question. As Annie Dillard prophesied some years ago, “It’s not good days that are hard to come by but good lives.” So, here is an important question or two from early in Peterson’s book. “What does it mean to be a real man, a real woman?” What shape does mature, authentic humanity take in everyday life?” Here’s my catch—if good lives not good days are what are most needed and surely authentic humanity is defined by such, what things in a day or kind of days actually count in making for a good life? I no sooner write this sentence than Allison turns down the farmhouse road back from her day’s adventures gladdening my heart. I think in the overarching scheme and stretch of life every good life surely must include such days as I’ve spent here. Days or moments that allow one time to observe, reflect, and think.  As the psalmist prayed, “So teach each us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

 

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The Calling of a Bishop Coadjutor

On July 9, 2020, Bishop Lawrence sent the following message to the Diocese. 

Dear Friends in Christ,

Bishop LawrenceYesterday I announced to the clergy of the diocese my decision to call for a bishop coadjutor.  This call for a bishop coadjutor is not an announcement of my retirement nor my resignation. Retirement is a relatively recent development—before the mid-20th Century very few people “retired” or could.  Certainly one can hardly imagine the apostle Paul or any other apostle for that matter retiring.  Nor is it my resignation as your bishop. It is, however, a necessary and important step for this latter to take place in the future.

A bishop coadjutor is elected to succeed the diocesan bishop upon his resignation. Several things led me to this decision at this time—foremost of which is prayer. On March 19 of this year I turned 70. Of course, we were already in the early pandemic quarantine across the country. As it dragged into April, I began to prayerfully consider several matters that were converging. Recently, by which I mean at least the last 60 years, the bishops of the diocese were required to resign at 72 years of age. While there is nothing in our diocesan canons or in the canons of our province that require a bishop to resign from his diocese at 72, it does seem prudent to honor the practice of recent predecessors rather than establish a new precedent. Since an election process, with the consent of the College of Bishops, and planning for a consecration can normally take eighteen months to 2 years it seemed prudent to begin the process now.

Secondly, Allison and I have 19 grandchildren some are all but grown and others are moving quickly through life’s early stages.  Being with them at important life passages becomes increasingly challenging for a bishop with a full diocesan schedule. With our family spread across South Carolina and Pennsylvania, and extended family still in California, these primary loyalties of the heart call to be honored.

Thirdly, there are many opportunities waiting to be explored in the years ahead if God should so will. The French essayist, Montaigne said, “There is nothing more remarkable in the life of Socrates than that he found time in old age to learn to dance and play on instruments and thought it was time well spent.” Well I hasten to add I am not there yet—resignation as bishop that is. No, I have many tasks, duties and commitments here before this can take place. Yet it is essential for me to take this step of calling for a bishop coadjutor in a timely fashion.

Here is the path ahead as clearly as I can see it.  At our Standing Committee meeting on May 5, 2020 I announced my decision.  Our diocesan canons places  the search process under the authority of the Standing Committee. For the past two months, they have been working on the details of the search process. I will leave it to them to outline the details in the days ahead. However, the preliminary plan is for an election to take place sometime in May of 2021. This would allow the elected candidate to meet with the ACNA College of Bishops in June of that year. The candidate if confirmed by the college would then be consecrated at a date scheduled by the Archbishop and the Standing Committee in mid to late fall of 2021. The time at which I hand the crozier to my successor can be decided at a future date, but beginning the process of succession now at least allows it to take place in a timely manner before my 72nd birthday in March of 2022. While some have asked, what is next for Allison and me and “Where will you go?”  I can only say, “I haven’t the slightest idea.” I have long felt the best way to prepare for what’s next in one’s life is to finish well where one is. I have a full-time job at present and, frankly, I do not see that changing in the foreseeable future. So let us all press on to the upward call in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yours in Christ,

The Right Reverend Mark Joseph Lawrence
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina

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Standing in the Breach

The second meditation in a series on the national unrest and call to prayer by Bishop Mark Lawrence

man prayingIf it is true as author Shelby Steele has stated in a recent interview that “racism is endemic to the human condition,” and, I believe it is, it is so because sin itself is endemic to the human condition. To address endemic racism in ourselves, others or our institutions whether it is a prejudice, bigotry, guilt or shame, which hides in the shadows, or that, which parades itself in public, we shall be more successful if we invite the Holy Spirit to journey with us. He after all is not only the promised “Helper,” the One Jesus taught would be sent; he is also the One who shall convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement. (John 16:7-8)

Racism is a dark dimension of sin that is difficult for most of us, regardless of our ethnicity, to admit is in us. We sometimes hear someone say, “There is not a racist bone in his body!” One might as well say, “There is not a sinful bone in his body.” For most people such a statement would be nonsense. Perhaps for some of us it is more accurate to say, “God’s grace is bringing me forgiveness for and deliverance from the sin that clings so closely to me, including prejudice.” That at least is my prayer.

Therefore, as we continue in this octave of prayer for our nation while in the midst of this crisis of pandemic and quarantine, with tensions about policing, protests, violence and race, and throw in political jousting for good measure, I invite you to what I believe God’s Spirit has been urging us—that is, to step into the breach. The prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah spoke of standing in this breach—through both prayer and action.

Thus says the Lord GOD, And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.” (Ezekiel 22:30) 

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; /you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;/ you shall be called the repairer of the breach,/the restorer of streets to dwell in. (Isaiah 58:12)

This begins for many of us with intercessory prayer and should lead to prayerful action. Consider the juxtaposition of two black men killed in recent acts of violence.

Most reading this meditation will have heard of George Floyd and his last words, “I can’t breathe.”  His name and words are placarded around the world.  His funeral watched by millions. The context of his death and the words so painfully uttered form a simple eloquence Shakespeare described well when he penned the lines, “O! but they say the tongues of dying men/Enforce attention like deep harmony:/Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,/For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.” George Floyd through social media has become the archetypal victim and his dying words the rallying cry of a generation that has taken to the streets by the thousands. Upon the archetype whether inherent or not virtue is conferred. To watch even a portion of the eight-minute video clip is to feel the painful scab ripped from the deep wounds of those who have suffered from centuries’ old prejudice and the futility of any who would seek to deny it or put on a band aid to stay the bleeding.

The name of retired police captain, David Dorn, a 77 year old black man murdered during the lootings that accompanied the protests in St. Louis on June 2 fewer have heard of.  He died defending a friend’s pawnshop. His body was found on the sidewalk at 2:30 a.m. He served his community as an officer for 38 years and dedicated his free time to helping disadvantaged youth. His widow, Ann Marie Dorn, remains a sergeant on the police force. The Ethical Society of Police, which has represented black officers in St. Louis since 1972 in  addressing race-based discrimination, said of David Dorn, he was “the type of brother that would’ve given his life to serve them if he had to.”  As it turns out, he did. Nevertheless, he like Floyd is a symbol now, not of victimhood but of individual and community initiative. Yet this will never play so well on the screen or in the street. Frankly, that is about all that I know of him. Except this, one of those young black men fleeing the scene of the crime is overheard on the pawnshop camera saying “C’mon, man, that’s somebody’s granddaddy!” These words spoken by a young man in the midst of violent crime testify to a conscience and heart that is still able to care. This too is the human condition: that in the midst of violence a young man’s heart can still care and he the sort of young person retired Police Captain David Dorn was set on reaching.

To stand in the breach, to kneel in the place prayer is to hold all of this in our hearts before God: the young marching in peaceful protest; a looter and burglar fleeing the scene of  violence perpetrated by his companion in crime; and all the George Floyds and David Dorns of the world . It is not only to stand in the breach, it is to have one’s heart enlarged. In the words of Edwin Corley, intercession “… is the principle by which praying people allow their own spiritual hearts to become enlarged enough to take on [through prayer] the care of others.” To share in the compassion of Jesus Christ for this world where so many people are like sheep without shepherds. To ask God’s Spirit to address our own “…feelings that have become calloused and remote for most of the people around [us].”  May God work in us a deep feeling of love and compassion for His people. So we lift up those suffering from the Covid-19; those working for a vaccine and cure; those burying their loved ones either from the pandemic, the street violence or the normal stuff of life; for those who have lost their business and jobs from quarantine or fire, rioting and looting; for those who continue to suffer the weight of racial injustice; for police officers who risk their lives in their daily round of duty; and those for whom the killing of George Floyd makes the world feel less safe.  That may sound almost like a litany. It is—or at least a prayer list. We pray for the light of Christ to come into our darkened world, and after this week of prayer and fasting to show each of us what the next step is, so we might fulfill the promise of our Lord. “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

 

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With Groanings too Deep for Words; Meditation 1

The first meditation in a series on the national unrest and the call to prayer by Bishop Mark Lawrence

Early Saturday evening I was driving back from Summerville having just ordained one of our transitional deacons. Nearing Charleston, quite at the spur of the moment, I chose to take the Meeting Street off ramp. As I rounded the curve, the traffic was backed up in the way I would usually say to myself, “Darn I made a wrong choice.” Now I know it wasn’t a wrong choice. Protesters, most of them young, some black some white some brown, accompanied by several police officers were walking up the off ramp onto I-26. Some chanted, raised fists, or carried signs reading “I Can’t Breath” and “BLM” as they walked between the cars in front and behind me. Later Saturday evening the looting began and the helicopters were flying over the Charleston peninsula well into the wee hours of the morning. Charleston like many cities across the country was in travail.

The words in The Exhortation during the ordination of a deacon ring in my ears, “Furthermore, you are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.” And elsewhere, “You…are to guide the intercessions of the Congregation….” Those words too ring in my ears. For as clergy are fond of saying, “Once a deacon always a deacon.” So even as a bishop my diaconal calling still grips me. It is now five days later, ten days after the cruel killing of George Floyd, and three months into this pandemic, and my spirit is still not at rest. It should not be. Tuesday morning I expressed my unrest to our Standing Committee and later to our diocesan staff. Some priests have asked me if I was going to be addressing our present crisis. “Bishop, we need to know what you think—we need to hear from you.” Frankly, I do not know what I think. I am still struggling to know what I feel. I suspect I am not alone.

I have resisted writing until now because I’m weary of reading and hearing words about this present crisis—this pandemic, quarantine, rising unemployment, racial injustice, violence, the Catch-22 of policing—and the rage and fear that dominate so many in our citizenry today. I cannot but believe many in the world too, like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, cry out “Words! Words! I’m so sick of words! Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme. Don’t waste my time. Show me!” Nevertheless, as a Christian I remind myself that I am not to grow weary of well doing in the midst of this or any other travail.

So let me turn to what I know. This convergence of sufferings is among other things a call to prayer. A cry—perhaps a howl—shared by all the creation for freedom from the havoc and corruption of sin. Moreover, it is equally a call for positive action from us who, in spite of our insufficiencies, are the aroma of Christ to God for our world. There are things we can do as individuals, as the Church, and as a nation. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a recent op-ed wrote that while protests will take our country only so far, “The road to healing must begin with respectful but honest and deep conversations not judgements, about who we were, who we are and who we want to become.” Notice she wrote “begin” not end. Some of us who lived through the 60s and 70s have had those conversations. We may have had them in the 80s and 90s as well. Nevertheless, yesterday’s conversations are not sufficient for today. Whatever conversations long time members of the diocese have had in the past—and some of you will know—it is clearly time now for another today.

St. Paul writes that creation has been subjected to futility and is groaning to be set free from its bondage to corruption; it yearns for freedom like one groaning in the pains of childbirth. Therefore, we as believers also groan inwardly. Nevertheless, the apostle offers us the promise and hope that we are not in this alone. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) While some may interpret this as groanings for our individual struggles, and it certainly is, I believe it is also the groaning of the indwelling Spirit for our sisters and brothers around us. It is the Spirit’s call to prayer as well as a call to action; one we dare not resist, quench or grieve.

This is the first of several meditations I will be writing for those making this journey of prayer and fasting, a journey Archbishop Foley Beach has requested of our Province to undertake during this octave. Along with specific prayers, such as those the Archbishop referenced in his letter to the Church, may I also suggest that you allow yourself time to listen to the Holy Spirit’s groanings within you. Sometimes such groanings of the Spirit are not only too deep for words; it is also painful for us to allow ourselves to follow where it leads. Still, to walk in step with the Spirit is to walk with the Lord and Giver of life “… who will cause all things to work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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Easter and the Coronavirus; In Interview with Bishop Lawrence

An Interview with Bishop Mark Lawrence by Joy Hunter

Bishop, for many of us this will be the first time in our lives we won’t be in church on Easter morning. No Easter lilies; No packed crowd singing “Welcome Happy Morning;” No flowering of the cross. No big Easter dinner with extended family. The feeling of malaise is giving way to something darker. How are we to approach Easter this year?

Lilies and "Easter & Coronavirus"There’s some remarkable irony there. Just think about that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb on the first day of the week just as the sun was rising. They were not going in the way you and I go to the Easter morning service with a great deal of expectation and hope, waiting to say, “Alleluia, the Lord is risen,” and hear one another say, “He is risen indeed, Alleluia!” They were going with spices to anoint the buried body of Jesus. They were hardly in a mood of expectation, of joy, of hope. They were going there overwhelmed by life, overwhelmed with what they had lost, what they did not have, who they could not see, the one they could not hold.

If we go through all of the Easter stories, one after another it is of Jesus appearing to a relatively small group of people. Not in a religious setting. Not in a synagogue, not in a temple, but in a home. It may be that we need to rediscover the power of the resurrection to lift us in the midst of our gloom, in the midst of our daily lives. It’s not something we have to go to to experience him, but whenever we gather in his name, he can be among us. That’s one aspect we need to cultivate and, perhaps, rediscover.

To be honest, I will miss it too—Easter morning at church. I will miss singing, “Welcome happy morning.” “The Day of Resurrection,” all of those great Easter hymns. I think I can play them here at home. In fact, I think I will!

Is there a way to enter Holy Week and Easter on a deeper level during this time of social isolation?

The power of Jesus’ resurrection in the daily life of believers doesn’t have to be related to us walking through these (Holy Week) events in the way we’re used to doing them. We can allow him to meet us in the ways that he wants.

I think of those two disciples walking to Emmaus on Easter day. They met him as they traveled along the road, which is the way most of us meet him, as we’re traveling along the road of life. They met him while they were in the middle of their need, which is how most of us meet him. They met him without recognizing who he was, which is the way most of us first approach him. And they met him thinking, at first, he was a stranger, which is who he is to most of us when we first encounter him. It is strange – this whole situation we’re in. But we can still meet him or he us. We can encounter him and it can be life transforming. Sometimes you have to let go of what you think is most precious in order to discover He who is most precious of all.

How will this Easter be different for you?

Well, I won’t be in church on Sunday. I’ll be in church on Saturday doing a video recording which will be used on Sunday. Easter I will be home. To be honest, I don’t know what that will be like. It might be quite enjoyable. It will be very different, too, because usually we have a large family gathering. We may have some family come, but we won’t have all of them here. If we did and someone got sick, a lot of people would have to go into quarantine!

Is there anything you’ve been struggling with, personally as we go through the pandemic?

You know what I struggle with? I struggle with what to make of it. Is it some aspect of our fallen human state and world, an evil which is manifesting itself in ways that we need to eradicate? Or is there something more that we as a people need to grapple with, things we need to reflect upon?

In some ways I’m eager to get back to normal, but in some ways there was a lot about the normal that wasn’t necessarily wholesome. Life for many of us has been busier. As TS Eliot put it years ago, we find ourselves “distracted from distraction by distraction.” That’s the normal. During this pandemic there have been more distractions for me than there were before and more disorienting distractions than there were before. The pace hasn’t stopped, the busyness hasn’t stopped, the phone calls have increased, the text messages have increased. I’m thinking to myself, I ought to be using this quarantine to go deeper with God, deeper in prayer, deeper in intercession for the world, and preparing myself, the Diocese and the church for whatever is going to be on the far side of this, that God might want to do.

If all we’re doing is filling our lives with busyness, making more and more videos, and spending all our time trying to learn this technology so we provide things for and stay connected with people but get no connection with God, no connection with the deeper things of the soul, it’s been a profound waste of a crisis.

It’s true, that much of our church life, as we know it, has been removed. And our clergy are desperate to find a way to replace it, to try to stay connected with their people; meet their people’s needs. But what if that’s not what we should be about? What if we need to be still and know that he is God? That he will be exalted among the nations. That he will be exalted among the earth.

I feel an odd sense of disconnect from what I think I ought to be connected with during this time of quarantine; consumed with busyness when I wonder if what I’m really being called to is the quiet place of prayer, reflection and study and time of soul.

Jesus’ appearance to Mary was one on one. The appearance of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel at the tomb was to three women. The appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus was to two disciples. He appeared to Peter and even on Easter night when he appeared to the disciples in the upper room, Thomas wasn’t there. None of the appearances until much later was to any number greater than what would appear the 10 of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) request. So evidently, you can have the hope, and the power, the joy and the reality of the resurrection without a big building filled with people and so maybe what we need to focus on is the power of the resurrection in our homes, in our day-to-day lives, in the midst of our immediate family.

How has social distancing affected your work-life? Home-life?

It really hasn’t affected my home life at all except that I haven’t been around my adult children and grandchildren as much as I would like and so I miss that. Work life? Some, because I’m usually on the road a lot. I suppose it’s affected work the most because when I meet with people I meet them as a whole entity, a physical person. You pick up things from them that you don’t pick up through a virtual meeting. So it’s a really strange environment. One becomes more and more aware of the importance of the incarnation that God took on our human form, our human condition. In one way that’s limiting. But to appear to everyone on a screen is not the same as embodied human interaction. There’s no virtual substitute for life lived in relationship to people.

Right now, there’s no method to prevent and no medicine to cure this deadly infection. What is your spiritual prescription for us, as the people of this Diocese?

Part of the Christian answer to that is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has removed the sting of death. We don’t sit lightly towards it. We grieve just like other people at the loss of loved ones. We don’t seek to be foolish as we look at death, but we don’t have to fear what comes next. The Christian answer to all of that is “We are more than conquers through Christ who strengthens us.” “He who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion” so be still and know that he is God. “He will be exalted among the nations. He will be exalted in the earth.”

That is part of the Christian answer to all of this. Along with the fact that we need to be in intercession and in prayer for our world, for those who are fearful, for those who are suffering, for those who are dying without the hope that the gospel brings, for those who are on the front lines caring for those who are coming into the hospitals and the ICU units, many of whom may be there because of their commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ, who have entered into this life as a nurse or as a doctor as their Christian calling. Others are serving as missionary doctors, many with inadequate tools, no ventilators at all. For researchers in medicines and vaccinations. And for our political leaders.

So in the midst of that we need to be in prayer. There’s plenty to keep us occupied if we only look at it through the priorities that God has for us at this time. We can go about our daily lives with a sense of purpose, faithfulness and love.

I told some clergy in our smaller congregations during a recent Zoom call of a scene in the movie version of The Hobbit. Lady Galadriel asks Gandalf why he included Bilbo Baggins in the dwarf’s dangerous mission against a dragon? Gandalf answered, “Saruman thinks that it is only power that keeps evil in check. But that is not what I have discovered. I’ve discovered it is often the small, kind, and loving act that keeps evil at bay.”

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The Viral Shuttering of Other Gods

Shutters with wordsThis is an edited version of a sermon given by Bishop Mark Lawrence on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 at St. Michael’s Church, Charleston SC. View the video.

I received an email last week that included a brief message that I’ve been ruminating on ever since. It was from an acquaintance of mine, Bishop James Wong, who is the Anglican Archbishop of the Indian Ocean. Let me share part of it with you.

“In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “You want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church.”

I imagine he could have mentioned others: You want to worship health; I will empty your gyms and fill your hospitals. You want to worship recreation; I will close the Magic Kingdom and gate your parks. You want to worship travel and exotic places; I will dock your cruise liners and ground your planes. You want to indulge in the nightlife; I will close your restaurants and bars and shutter your cities.

Well that has the ring of truth to it—mostly! Yet not entirely. It could be understood to mean God sent this coronavirus as a judgement on the world. Yet I for one am not ready to say that. I am inclined to say it is a judgement upon our idols. It reveals to us how frail life can be and how vain at times our pursuits. You will remember the first two commandments of the Decalogue. “God spoke these words and said: I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods but me. You shall not make for yourself any idol.” The reformer John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory for the making of idols.” When we give ourselves to idols, embracing God’s good gifts separate from Him they invariably turn empty and let us down—whether as individuals, communities, or even nations. “Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man….” (Romans 1:22-23)

The Judeo-Christian scriptures teach us that life is meaningful and good. That evil, which is parasitic, brings disorder into the healthy and good order of God’s creation. This evil includes destructive infectious disease like the coronavirus and non-infectious disease like cancer. It includes moral corruption such as human trafficking as well as the moral corruption that most of us partake in whenever we willfully choose to turn away from God and from what He has declared as good. This happens often in our daily lives. In big ways and in small ways.

Some years ago, when our children were young I was playing Monopoly with them. I understood strategy well. I purchased all the “green” property on the board as well as Boardwalk and Park Place and put up houses and hotels. I bought the railroads. Soon my oldest daughter close to bankruptcy left the game. Then my son Joseph landed on my hotels, and after mortgaging all his property, said, “Dad, I’m going up to bed.” I said, “Joe, I’ll loan you some money.” “No, Dad I’m sleepy.” That left only our daughter Emily. Soon she was left bankrupt. “Well, Dad, I’m going to bed.” “Please, Emily, here’s some money, stay in the game.” No, it’s late. I’m tired.” Left alone with my money, my property, my hotels and houses, I collected it all, folded the board and faced the fact that it all goes back in the box.

All too easily, we can live our lives without any reference to God. Yet as Dr. Christopher Wright notes, we do not live life without him. “He is the source of our lives, of our health. It is God’s creation that gives us the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.”

Whether it is the work we yearn to get back to, the sports we miss, the recreation, or travel we are presently denied, it is God who is the source of it all. The beauty in art and music; in the sunset over the creeks and marsh of the low country; the glow of the moonlight through the pines; the glistening of the gas lamps on a misty Charleston street at night; the surprise in the rush of a covey of quail flushed from the bush; the warmth of handshake, or the voice of a longtime friend who greets us from behind—God is the author, giver and invigorating power behind all that makes life worth living. The question this virus and quarantine forces upon us is what happens when we do return to “normal” life. Will we enjoy the gifts of a gracious God with or without a relationship to him?

Every blessing and every sorrow that comes our way is used by God to draw us to himself. The God who in the wonders of creation dazzles us with beauty comes to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is through him that we come into the eternal life of the Father—the giver of all that is true, and lovely and gracious.

When loss and sorrow break our hearts, he who wept at the death of his friend invites us with the words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

When life’s path seems obscure, the way ahead most foggy, faith brings us under the Lordship of Jesus Christ assuring us that the hands, which hold the future, are the same hands that touched the leper, healed the blind, and bore the nails upon the cross.

When our goodness fails, as it always does, the forgiveness of the cross washes us, heals us, and shall ultimately transform us. And when our lives draw to an end, or we close the eyes of a loved one at a bedside, he is the one who comforts us, “Let not your hearts be troubled, you believe in God believe also in me…I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also.” When all other gods fail: when all our idols are shuttered—He who is the beginning and the end will remain.

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Faithfulness in an Age of Pandemic

A Pastoral Letter from The Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence

March 17, 2020

Bishop LawrenceGreetings in the strong name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in whose fellowship we, by the grace of God, are most richly blessed and favored to abide.  Peace, hope and love in Christ Jesus!

As the coronavirus COVID-19 has increased its spread we have all received from local, state and national authorities ever more restricting guidelines for gatherings and social distancing. There is something hauntingly biblical as the guidelines have narrowed from 100 to 50 and now to 10 persons for public gatherings. And, of course, we remember St. Paul’s teaching, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)

In the 12 plus years I have been your bishop, I have known my share of joyous hours as well as those heavy of heart. These last few days since cancelling our Diocesan Convention have fallen in both categories. Giving a further directive to our clergy yesterday to cancel on-site worship services for the next two weeks has been troubling to them and to me. However, it has also been quite encouraging—alive with possibilities.  As I talked with our rectors in the Charleston deanery and with the deans of our diocese yesterday, I was heartened as they shared ideas and ways they are pastoring and caring for their parishioners during this season. What a godly and sacrificial group of clergy serve our congregations. Throughout this week, I will continue to have conference calls with the clergy in our deaneries to share ideas for ministry and support.

The church down through the centuries has faced many crises.  During the Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793 Christian clergy and laity distinguished themselves in caring for sick; the plagues that visited London and other cities and towns of Europe during the Middle Ages and later, became the things that saints were made of. During wars and rumors of war, on battlefields and through bombing raids, the church continued to gather, lifting high the cross of Christ. Missionary doctors and nurses, military chaplains, parish clergy, nuns, and mendicants, like St. Francis embracing confidently the leprous, caring for the sick and dying, have been hallmarks of our history that we as believers rightly celebrate.

Nevertheless, I suggest that faithfulness in an age of pandemic means a church united and confident enough not to meet, at least not in the buildings we normally call the church. To live out our faith in our homes and with our families offers us an opportunity to grow deeper in prayer and in the fruit of the Spirit. This time of social distancing, worshipping and keeping in touch with others online and through small group fellowships provide us an opportunity to cultivate the spiritual disciplines of silence, solitude, journaling and reading and mediating on Holy Scripture. Increasing our family time and personal devotions might make this the most fruitful and memorable Lent ever. For the busy parent with children out of school and restless, Brother Lawrence’s little classic, Practicing the Presence of God, might be just the perfect Lenten reading!

As Anglicans, part of our heritage has been to maintain a sense of care and engagement with our community at large, including a sense of national responsibility.  Ours has not been a separatist tradition. Our history traces back to having been a national church as the Church of England. One of the strengths from this heritage is that we have had a sense of sacrificing for the common good, of laboring for the betterment of society, and for contributing and preserving the richness of our culture and civilization. I believe it is time to draw upon that now.

Quite simply we need to think of the good of our community, bearing witness that by moving our worship services online and practicing social distancing we are protecting our neighborhoods, towns and cities, our nation, and our world. As the Rev. Dr. Greg Snyder put it in a letter to his congregation, we are like a forest fire crew fighting a wildfire by cutting a swath in the forest, creating a fire break in order to prevent its spread. As the saying goes, we all need to do what we can to Flatten the Curve.

The President designated last Sunday a Day of Prayer and our Archbishop Foley Beach encouraged us to participate. Perhaps your church did. May I encourage you to continue with his call. You can find it here.

I also ask you to pray for our clergy and parish leaders as they look for creative ways to minister to our people and explore technological ways to shepherd the congregations under their care through live stream services and gatherings during this unusual season.

On a diocesan level, we are working to assist every congregation in exploring live streaming or online worship for their parishioners. Our Canon to the Ordinary, Jim Lewis, forwarded a listing of resources to the clergy yesterday for training in that technology.  In addition, churches offering livestream worship services in the Diocese may be found here.  You and your family may want to follow the service in the ACNA prayer book.

As a lowering in on-site attendance lessens financial giving, remember to be faithful in your offerings and, for those able, to give additionally to help your church meet needs of those who will experience extreme financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus restrictions. The Diocese is working to assist congregations who have not yet developed online giving, to do so.

Allison and I will be praying for you, your family and congregations daily that we will be more than conquerors through Christ who strengthens us.  We love you and, more important, God loves you!

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24) 

Yours in Christ

The Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence
Bishop of The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina

 

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Springtime: The Seedtimes of Your Life

What are you sowing?

planting seedsToday is an Ember Day in the Church’s Calendar. So is this Friday and Saturday. Mostly they go unnoticed—you may have never heard of them.  Ember Days in the Western Church trace back as far as Bishop Callistus of Rome in A.D. 220.  Pope Leo the Great (440-461) gave a series of Ember tide sermons—harvest (fall), vintage (or summer), seedtime (spring) to sanctify the agricultural society of his day.  These sermons, timed with the seasons and crops, reflect an era when Christians (and others) lived closer with the earth and the agrarian life.

The Church’s calendar later connected these seasons with other holy occasions; St. Lucy Day (December13th) for the winter or fallow season; Ash Wednesday with spring or seedtime; Pentecost with the vintage season or summer; and Holy Cross Day (September 14th) initiating fall or the harvest.  These turnings of the year sanctify the seasons.

This Ember day, coming as it does right before spring, is a season focused on sowing, but it is of interest to more than gardeners and farmers. The agricultural practice of sowing seed became for the biblical writers a metaphor of the spiritual life.  Hosea used it figuratively of God sowing Israel in the Promised Land; Jeremiah, for God making Israel fruitful; Zechariah for sowing Israel abroad in the diaspora; and the Psalmist by fashioning his prayer from the metaphor:

 “He who goes out weeping, /bearing the seed for sowing,
 Shall come home with shouts of joy, /bringing his sheaves with him.”(Ps. 126)

 Later Jewish writers told of “God sowing virtues in the soul” much as we approach the Lenten disciplines as cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s work and God’s word in sowing the new life of the Spirit and the rhythms of grace into ever-deeper aspects of our lives.

Jesus uses this image of sowing in his well-known Parable of the Sower to teach about the Kingdom of God.  The Sower going out to sow tossed the seed abroad in the field of the world.  That is trust God and share the Gospel.  Share the Gospel and trust God.  So also in other parables such as the Growing Grain and the Mustard Seed the sowing metaphor found a place in his teaching (Mark 4:26-32).

 St. Paul, likewise, used the metaphor of sowing to teach essential principles of the spiritual life.  As he notes in Galatians 6:7-10: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary in well- doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Then again, in 2 Corinthians 9:6 he takes up this metaphor afresh: “The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully  Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

So, too, with these spring Ember days or seedtime. It is an opportunity to reflect upon the simple but profound truth that there can be many spring times in our lives—days for sowing and planting.  Spring is not just a season for the young. Sowing and planting can refer to sowing words of encouragement; to prayers cultivated in private; gifts and alms planted in secret; sharing an experience of God’s faithfulness; writing a letter, email or text to friend; a note to someone going through a difficult time; a hug, a hand on the shoulder, or a greeting on the street.

What are we sowing in the lives of others throughout our day?  There can be spring times everywhere—the seed of good words, prayers, and alms.  And, of course, the cultivation of virtue in our lives, which will yield the fruitful harvest of a happy life for oneself and for those with whom we share our home.

It may be the summer—autumn—even winter in your life but a season of sowing can still be yours. I think often about what I can sow in the lives of my grandchildren and for the next generations. Remember David’s words in Psalm 71:17-18: “O God, from my youth thou has taught me, and I still proclaim thy wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim thy might to all the generations to come.”  He is sowing for a harvest he may never live to see but will bless the generations yet to come.

Theodore of Tarsus was a Greek monk who came to Rome to teach in AD 667.  When the Archbishop of Canterbury died the Pope turned to Theodore for what he thought would be a transitional primacy.  Theodore arrived in Canterbury in 669.  He immediately began visiting all the dioceses in England.   When he died 20 years later at the age of 89 he had ordained indigenous Anglo-Saxon Bishops and leaders throughout England and established the two fold provincial system of Canterbury and York, which is still in place today. He may have accomplished more for the English Church than any Archbishop in history.  Who could have anticipated when he arrived in Rome at 66 that within two years he would have another spring—a great seedtime—a transformative season of sowing?  It would bring forth in the next century the high water mark of Anglo-Saxon Christianity influencing all of Europe with its intellectual and missionary thrust.

I could go on to name others who experienced a seedtime in the winter years of life.  Take the British Vicar, William Keble Martin, who spent what precious free time he had from his parish work studying flowers.  Serving in the parish well into his seventies he simultaneously carried out a passion for gardening.  Robert Morley, in his book, The Pleasures of Age (written when the British actor was in his ninth decade), noted that Fr. Marten was 88 when he sowed the seeds of his great avocational pursuit, finally publishing, The Concise British Flora in Color, a bestseller of its day! Like Martin Luther, when asked what he would do if he knew Jesus was coming tomorrow, said, “I would plant a tree.”

What, my friend, are you planting?

 

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“Shopmas,” Advent & Christmas

An Advent/Christmas Interview with Bishop Mark Lawrence

In late November 2019, I had an opportunity to chat with Bishop Lawrence about Christmas and Advent. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation – Joy Hunter, Diocesan Communications Director


Door of the Bishop's residence

Bishop, How do you observe Advent?

It’s different now from how I observed it as a parish priest. As a priest I lived through it with a congregation. We’d begin by making Advent wreaths. Sometimes we’d put lights on trees and bushes around the church. We put out the Christmas crèche and each Sunday add one more figurine.

During Advent I’d begin the services saying: “One candle lighted.” I’d look at the crèche, “No baby Jesus in the manger! It’s the First Sunday of Advent! Good morning!” Then the next Sunday it would be: “Two candles lighted. No baby Jesus in the manger. It’s the Second Sunday of Advent.” And so on. Then on Christmas Eve or Day I’d say: “Five candles lighted. Baby Jesus in the manger. Must be Christmas. Merry Christmas!”

Those were things we did as a community. They build the sense that this is a season of expectation. But as a Bishop I’m in a different church every Sunday. So I don’t go through the season with a community. I look forward to getting back to it someday!

What do you think of the secularization of the season, all the commercialism?

I like to call the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas the “Shopmas” season. Santa Claus is everywhere. The lights are sparkling. Christmas trees are aglow. Everything’s out for Christmas. But it’s really focused on and driven by shopping and nostalgia.

Some clergy rage against it, but I actually like Shopmas.  I’m nostalgic about it. I love going through the stores hearing “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” or “The weather outside is frightful.”  I like the songs. I enjoy them.

My problem is right in the middle of that secular, nostalgic season: the church pulls out of the mothballs John the Baptist. He’s raging like a furnace, calling us to repentance. He kind of ruins the whole thing, but he’s there in a good way. He’s kind of the spiritual Scrooge. He works against the secularism of the culture.

So two warring factions?

Bishop's snowy fenceAdvent is filled with a paradox. There’s the paradox of the works of darkness and the armor of light; mortal life and immortality; humility and the glorious majesty; the second coming of Christ in glory and his coming in humility at Christmas. For those who like paradox, it is a glorious season that we don’t want to sweep away too soon with Christmas.  The Collect for the First Sunday of Advent encapsulates it well.

The church year always begins with Advent, right? And the lessons focus on the Second Coming of Christ at the close of the age. We begin with the end in mind.

If you know how all of human history ends, you know where to put your weight. You know how to live your life. And the Church says it all ends with the Second Coming of Jesus, his Parousia—the coming of Jesus in glory to restore all things and judge the living and the dead.  It’s a brilliant thing the church has done. If we jump too soon to preparing only for Christmas—and Jesus coming among us in great humility—we miss that.

The business world understands this. They could have gotten it from the church year because we begin with the end in mind, then go right into Jesus coming in great humility—which of course lasts for 12 days. With that we’re counter cultural, because the world has already moved on after Christmas day, but we continue on with it for 11 more.

So I’m guessing you don’t do any decorating until Christmas Eve?

Oh, no! Here in Charleston I usually put out greens along the wrought iron fence the first Sunday in Advent. And decorating inside is a long process because we’ve collected all kinds of things over the years. Allison has a whole collection of Santa Claus figurines. I carry down all the boxes from the fourth floor to the second or first floors. I put up the Christmas tree and decorate it, but Allison does all the rest. It’s a big job. It’s part of our ritual.

Will you be using an Advent devotional this year?

I pray Morning Prayer every day, but in Advent I’ll also pick a Christmas or Advent book to read during that month. Last year it was Advent with Evelyn Underhill. The year before Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany by Malcolm Guite. And the year before that, The Meaning is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent by Paula Gooder. That’s the usual thing I do.

Allison and I usually watch our favorite Christmas movies like “The Muppets Christmas Carol.”

You’ve got to be kidding me!

Bishop Lawrence reads "A Christmas Carol" to Diocesan staff at Christmas partyNo! It’s one of the best Christmas Carol productions. Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as his clerk.  They really keep to the heart of the story and do it well.  And there are wonderful songs in it. When the grandkids are here, we watch “Home Alone”, “Polar Express” and “The Santa Clause.”  Allison and I will watch “While you were Sleeping” among others.

That’s not a Christmas movie! That’s a rom-com.

It takes place at Christmas! It’s all about the loneliness at Christmas and how important family is at the holidays.

Any Christmas memories from your childhood you’d like to share?

Oh, many, many. I remember when I was a kid, and it started to get cold, I’d lie next to the floor heater behind my father’s lounge chair and figure out odd jobs I could do to earn money to buy presents for my brother and sister and mother and father. I’d rake yards, deliver newspapers, mow lawns, collect bottles. My advent devotion was looking through the Sears catalog for things I wanted for Christmas (though sometimes my mother had an Advent Calendar on the fridge).

And I’d clean out the fireplace because I always liked fires. That’s one thing I miss, there’s no fireplace in the Episcopal Residence.

How is the celebration you grew up with different from the one you and Allison created with your own children?

Clearly the one our kids grew up with was far more focused on the community of the church, decorating the church as well as our house. And our kids growing up always had parishioners around, and were performing in Christmas Pageants, singing in the Jr. Choir or acolyting at Midnight Eucharist or the New Year’s Eve Vigil and Party at the Church.

We might go to church on Christmas morning, and Allison would ask someone, “What are you doing today?” If she’d hear, “Oh, we’re not doing anything” or “We’re alone,” she’d invite the person to our Christmas dinner. That might also happen on Christmas Eve, too. Our kids always grew up with people from the church at our home and family gatherings.

Favorite holiday food?

allison's_santa_cookiesAllison makes galettes and raisin cookies and a spinach casserole that’s just delicious.

Do you have any words of advice for new parents on how to celebrate Christmas well?

I would say it’s important to build family traditions—give your children a heritage and rituals but don’t get hyper about them.  Build in a rhythm of seasonal expectation and joy. You balance the season of Advent with Christmas.  Don’t make Christmas day alone the thrust of everything. There’s a reason why the church has 12 days of Christmas. One day cannot live up to the expectations we put upon it.

What do you look forward to most?

When we lived in Pennsylvania, it was getting a fire going in the fireplace, a cup of coffee and a good book especially on a snowy day. Everything slows down. Everything is quiet. Just enjoying the season. I was also on the board of the local Salvation Army and rang the bell at the kettle.

But now I look forward to our family coming, which as you know is quite large, and having a few days after Christmas to do things with grandkids or our adult children, and the good holiday food. I look forward to the Advent season with all its paradoxes. I look forward to the literature of Advent and Christmas (George MacDonald’s Gifts of the Christ Child, Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, and so many others), the CSO concerts, and the movies of Christmas.

Oh, and as a clergyman I looked forward to a few days off after Christmas and still do. There’s a thousand things to do between Thanksgiving and Christmas when you’re in parish ministry and for your parishioners too.  And though I had lay Eucharistic ministers and deacons, I tried to get to our shut-ins between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

What about the services?

I always used to look forward to the Christmas Eve service. It’s one of my favorite services, but it’s complicated. It’s not always an easy sermon to preach. And sometimes I put too much expectation on it. You’re trying to balance all kinds of things and all kinds of expectations.  But it can also be just wonderful.

So managing expectations is important?

You have to let each season fit in with what happens that year. If you try to relive everything, you just make yourself frustrated and unhappy trying to make the perfect Christmas. Christmas is rarely perfect. And it’s always going to be different, but you may look back upon it and think, “There was something quite lovely about that year.” You remember January 3, 2018? It snowed in South Carolina right during the Twelve Days of Christmas—what a gift for us in the lowcountry!

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