In the past week and a half there have been three odd repeats. One the very serious and frightening second assult on the home of the Bishop of Jos, Ben Kwashi, reported on Anglican Mainstream. Then there is the repeat election of Mark J. Lawrence as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. And now, today, there is a report that Bishop Clarence Pope has gone to Rome a second time.
It is hard to know just why Bishop Kwashi's home has been attacked twice and members of his family beaten. Perhaps it is enough that thugs are opportunistic and perhaps his house a opportunity. Perhaps it is more. The bishop said about all this, "People will laugh at us, call us names, abuse us, but that is nothing new. The gospel is worth living for; it is also worth dying for. Persecution has never, and will never, kill the church. Conditions may be difficult or dangerous for a time; but the seed is in the ground and at the right time it will burst out." The persecution may be the persecution that belongs to anyone who has high visibility in a dangerous time. It may be the persecution that comes with being a visible voice of the Church. It may be a direct attack on a church leader. None of that is clear. But supposing it is the work of criminals, that is enough. Bishop Kwashi's response – to hold fast to his work and ministry – is commendable whatever the cause.
The Rev. Mark Lawrence has been elected a second time as Bishop of South Carolina. On the first round I did not believe consents by bishops and Standing Committees should have been given for his ordination, on grounds that many others and I have stated publically. It will be important to attend to his responses to questions this time. In all likelihood he will get the required consents this round, in the form and manner required and on time. It will then be a matter of testing by results. If it is Bishop Lawrence, and he is a member of a loyal opposition, well and good. If he wanders off into the wasteland of those who have decided that The Episcopal Church is a lost cause, that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference are looser propositions, and that a new Anglican entity needs to replace The Episcopal Church and that he needs to be part of the effort "to ensure an orthodox Anglican Province in North America that remains connected to a faithful global Communion," then there will be a need for accountability. It will not be pretty, and the track record on calling bishops to account concerning their vows has not been great, but still, Bishop Lawrence will be known by what he does.
Bishop Clarence Pope left The Episcopal Church, went to the Roman Catholic Church, returned unsettled by what happened to him there, and now, after being part of The Episcopal Synod of America /Forward in Faith and the continuing effort to rid the church of women who pretend to be priests, he has decided to return again to Rome. Katie Sherrod's post on this spells out the details. Nothing much has happened in Rome in the meantime to make things easier for his entry, but perhaps now he is not as interested in Episcopal orders there, or for that matter priestly orders. In any event the welcome by Rome is accompanied by the requirement that he be re-ordained if he is to serve as a priest there. What are we to make of this second return to Rome? I don't know, and frankly Bishop Pope's future is increasingly one of full retirement and hopefully quiet. I think Bishop Iker's comment is about right: "Do join me in thanking God for both of these faithful Christians and praying His continued blessing upon them in the years ahead."
Retirement into Rome means no sacramental duties as an ordained person combined with a good pension. While it might be hard to give up being in orders, at least it makes retirement a reality. I suspect he leaves behind a range of fairly puzzled colleagues. When he left the first time there was the shock of those who realized that he had for some time been thinking of doing this. When he returned and continued to associate with ESA and Forward in Faith North America (FiFNA) it was, one would suppose, to support the development of a new alignment in North America (FiFNA is part of the Common Cause Partnership.) So his leaving even that part of the Episcopal/ Anglican community means what? That he believes that even they are a lost cause? Maybe he is just tired.
On reflection the phrase that comes to mind about all three double events is this: "They will have their reward."
Bishop Kwashi promised to tough it out, and he has done so, twice. He will have his reward.
Bishop Elect Lawrence has been elected twice and seems likely to be the next Bishop of South Carolina. He will have his reward.
Bishop Pope has left for Rome twice. He too will have his reward.
Then again, each of these pair of events may simply point to a reality we all face: being faithful is a full time proposition, filled with surprises, strange times and moments of joy. Along with these three and their families, we could all do with some prayers.
As W.H. Auden says, we will "see strange beasts and have unique adventures."