At the beginning of this week there were reports that the Presiding Bishop was inviting some rectors of large parishes for a conversation and dinner. One of these, The Rev. Steve Wood, rector St. Andrew's Mt. Pleasant, S.C., wrote about this on his blog. He seemed pleased to be invited and just a bit puzzled.
So, who is the Rev. Steve Wood? Well, that at least was easy to discover. If you go to Steve’s personal website, or the website of the parish you can find out more. He announces himself as the senior pastor rather than the rector of St Andrews Church, denomination unspecified.
I got quite fascinated by the website and the church. The language of the Episcopal Church and more generally the Anglican parish is mostly absent. There are some few exceptions: There is a button titled “Vestry.” If you go to “Friends” a good number are Anglican bishops. But there is very little mention of anything Anglican, and no mention, as far as I can tell, that this is an Episcopal Church and that it is part of the Diocese of South Carolina, save for one connection I will mention shortly.
The membership of St. Andrews is described as “Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Non-Denomers.” It references the “troubles” in the Episcopal Church only in a sidebar link by saying, (under “links” in resources) “The Episcopal Church is in Disarray”. There is a copy of the Episcopal Church shield upside down, the distress signal. The links are to Virtuosity and to Titus One Nine.
By wandering through the website I finally found the “link” between The Rev Steve Wood, St. Andrew’s and the Episcopal Church. In the “Happenings” section, under “current events and culture” there is a note that “The Diocese of South Carolina recently hosted the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church at St. Andrew's.” If you click on that you go to THIS PAGE: There at last there is a picture of Bishop Mark Lawrence and greater mention of the Episcopal Church.
Almost all of the few mentions of the Episcopal Church were far away from the presenting materials on the website. There is, as far as I can tell, one mention of the Book of Common Prayer, none to the Thirty Nine Articles ( a conservative favorite) , the Creeds, or the Lambeth Quadrilateral.
Now none of this is to detract from what seems to be a vibrant and active congregation. The website is inviting precisely to those people who are seeking a church home and have no interest in polity matters outside the congregation itself. The clergy are pictured as inviting people, not separated by collar or uniform or vestments. And I have every confidence that they are.
Still, if this is a beacon of Anglican worship that reaches out evangelically and in a contemporary way, it is not very Anglican at all? The church is almost entirely congregational in outlook. As far as the website is concerned, it is not in any way connected to The Episcopal Church.
What it means, I suspect, is that the website is meant for seekers who would either be turned off by the name “Episcopal,” or would find it simply strange and foreign. What actually happens there may include the Book of Common Prayer, concerns about the Episcopal Church, prayers for the Presiding Bishop and the Anglican Communion, etc. But you can’t tell it here.
I am given to understand that people in the Emerging Church movement argue that denominationalism is of little value to many folk these days. Mostly that is good news. A lot of poisoned water has flowed from the denominational streams, mostly from the higher houses upstream.
The problem is that without denominational identity some of the sharp divisions among Christian groups begin to disappear into the squishy mud of generic protestant mush. We Episcopalians, for example, can be pretty clear that we are open to people across the board who are willing with us to subscribe to the Scripture, Creeds, Sacraments and Episcopacy (the Lambeth Quadrilateral.) But what about the generic protestant community that does not buy into the need to use the creeds? or who see the Scripture as “plainly written” without need of the wisdom (or foolishness ) of the church? or who think that the Episcopacy is totally unnecessary and are therefore completely congregational?
I must agree that Christianity is not in any way bound by denominationalism and can be expressed in ways that have nothing to do with the past or even present quarrels. But I don’t agree that those differences make no difference.
You kind of have to come down on some questions: Is it right to baptize children or no? Can people receive communion who are not members of your church or faith group? Who can be blessed? Is shunning by a Church right action? It goes on and on.
Who is the Rev. Steve Wood? Quite a pastor, clearly. I gather Steve Wood was at one time considered a possible candidate for Bishop and I suspect he is a stakeholder in Episcopal Church matters, even if his church does not seem to be.
I am less sure that St. Andrew’s Church is a stakeholder in the Episcopal Church. This in the long run should concern the diocese.
But meanwhile, The Rev. Steve Wood has been invited to a conversation because it is a large and vibrant church in the Episcopal Church anyway, and it returns the favor. The PB came to his church, he gets invited to a conversation. He is strangely pleased. It must be a meeting of Episcopalians with good manners.