South Carolina bishop asked to explain property action

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Dec 5, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] The bishops of the Episcopal Church’s Province IV have asked their colleague, Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence, to meet with them “to have a clarifying conversation” about his decision to issue property deeds to each diocesan congregation.

Diocese of East Carolina Bishop Clifton Daniel, provincial vice president, requested the meeting with Lawrence. He said in a letter to him that that bishops had “determined that it is our duty as bishops of this province to address these concerns in direct communication with you, as Jesus exhorts his followers in Matthew’s Gospel (18:15-20), and in accord with our ordination vows regarding the unity and governance of the church.”

He noted that “we have had no direct communication from you regarding these reported actions.”

At Lawrence’s direction, Diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan Nov. 16 sent a quitclaim deed to every parish in the diocese. A quitclaim deed generally transfers ownership of the property from the party issuing the deed to the recipient.

“For 190 years (1789-1979) there had never been any idea that somehow the parishes did not completely and fully own their property,” Logan said in his letter posted here. He said the diocese could issue quitclaim deeds because the state Supreme Court has said that the 1979 passage by the General Convention of the so-called “Dennis Canon” was not binding on the parish of All Saints, Pawley’s Island, South Carolina.

The “Dennis Canon” (Canon 1.7.4) states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

Logan said in his Nov. 16 letter to parishes that removing the accession clause was part of the “continued pursuit of our historic unity based on common vision rather than legal coercion.”

Daniel said that Lawrence’s fellow bishops discussed his action “with some concern” at the Nov. 29 – Dec. 1 meeting of the provincial House of Bishops. He told Lawrence that the other bishops want to know under what canonical authority he proceeded, whether he involved the diocesan Standing Committee, and whether the members of the Standing Committee were in accord with his action. Daniel also asked who signed the quitclaim deeds.

Daniel asked Lawrence to provide a sample copy of a deed and the letter of explanation that accompanied it.

The provincial bishops “respectfully request,” Daniel wrote, that Lawrence meet with several of them in Charleston, the seat of the South Carolina diocese, “or elsewhere if you desire.”

Lawrence told the Living Church on Nov. 23 that he issued the quitclaim deeds in part because “the threat of property disputes” should not be “the only thing that holds us together.”

“Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, not the keys to the building,” he said.

Lawrence said that when he awoke the day after having decided to issue the deeds he felt that “for the first time, I am the bishop of this diocese.”

Lawrence had the quitclaim deeds issued about two weeks before the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops Nov. 28 said it could not certify an allegation made to it that he has abandoned the communion of the church. The quitclaim action was not included in the original material submitted to the board.


Comments (3)

  1. The Rev. Paul Canady says:

    Excellent story. The Bishop of East Carolina is Clifton Daniel. No “s” at the end.

    1. Matthew Davies says:

      Thanks, Paul. Story corrected.

  2. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    We know that some bishops have been in contact with Bp Lawrence, but we do not know to what extent. Lawrence does not reveal publicly these contacts. This letter is a bit late, but better late than never. Apparently, the most conservative parishes have already registered the deeds in the court house. Legally it is unclear what can be done now to enforce the Dennis Canon in SC.

    Lawrence is carving out a third path in the conservative response to the Episcopal Church’s positions on homosexuality (2003+). The three paths are: 1-the OUTS, 2-the INS, and 3-the INBETWEENS. The Outs are the four dioceses that voted to leave TEC. In all court decisions rendered (Quincy is pending), TEC prevailed. This approach has not been successful for the conservatives. The Ins are the twelve invariably traditional dioceses. They protested loudly, appealed to the Anglican Communion, but remained, however unhappily, in TEC. The Anglican Covenant has gone nowhere. This parth has not been productive for them either. By design or by accident (I suspect the latter), Lawrence has cut a third path, Inbetween: declare “sovereignty,” nullify TEC canons deemed unacceptable, transfer property to the parishes in direct violation of TEC canons, and all while repeating aims to remain in TEC. Where he is going with this only time will tell. How far the disciplinary committee will let him go is equally unclear.

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