Presiding Bishop’s pastoral letter to Episcopalians in South Carolina

Posted Nov 15, 2012

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

The following is the November 15 Pastoral Letter from the Presiding Bishop.

Katharine, a servant of Christ, to the saints in South Carolina.

May the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus our Savior be with you all.

You and the challenges you are facing in South Carolina remain in my own prayers and in those of many, many Episcopalians.  As the confusion increases, I would like to clarify a number of issues which I understand are being discussed.

1)  While some leaders have expressed a desire to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese has not left.  It cannot, by its own action.  The alteration, dissolution, or departure of a diocese of The Episcopal Church requires the consent of General Convention, which has not been consulted.  Examples of legitimate separation from The Episcopal Church include the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, which separated from The Episcopal Church in 1990 to form an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion.  Another is the Diocese of Liberia, which moved from The Episcopal Church to the Province of West Africa, by mutual consent, in the 1980s.  Both are now part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and continue in covenanted relationship with The Episcopal Church.  Nothing of the sort has transpired within the Diocese of South Carolina.

The decisions “announced” by leaders in South Carolina appear to be unilateral responses to anxiety about decisions made by General Convention and/or the actions of the Disciplinary Board concerning Bishop Lawrence.

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed.  If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with The Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognized by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our Constitution and Canons.

2)  I want to urge every parishioner and cleric in South Carolina to recognize that, as long as you wish to remain in The Episcopal Church, no leader, current or former, can exile you, remove you, or separate you from it without your consent.  That decision is yours alone.  It is one reason why we have imposed checks and balances on the authority of members of the clergy, including bishops.  In our tradition decisions about the Church are not made unilaterally.

Disagreement about a variety of issues is normal in this Church, and has historically been considered a healthy sign of diversity.  Since the time of the early Church we have recognized that none of us is fully cognizant of the mind of God.  The major struggles of the first generation of Christians were over much-debated issues of inclusion – could the uncircumcised be full members?  Who could be baptized?

Please know that The Episcopal Church wants you to remain!

Your presence adds to the ability of this community to discern the will of God, even if you disagree vehemently with one or another resolution passed by a particular General Convention.  There will be another General Convention in less than three years, and another after that.  Never in the history of Christianity have all the faithful agreed about everything, and I doubt very much that we will come to full agreement about everything before we join the saints in light at Jesus’ Second Coming!

3)  A number of charges have been raised by these apparently departing leaders around actions by the wider Episcopal Church.  They fall into two areas – one having to do with Bishop Mark Lawrence, concerning his actions in South Carolina, and the other having to do with several bishops who filed statements about Episcopal Church polity (governance) in courts in Illinois and Texas.  These are entirely separate matters, governed by independent processes.

Bishop Lawrence was charged by several members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with having “abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church” by making or condoning actions which repudiate the polity (violate the canons or rules) of The Episcopal Church.  These actions have to do with formally attempting to separate the Diocese of South Carolina, its congregations, and their property from the wider Episcopal Church without its consent.  The Diocese of South Carolina is a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, and that status cannot be altered without the action of General Convention.

The disciplinary processes of this Church carefully considered the matters with which Bishop Lawrence was charged, and the Disciplinary Board found that he had indeed repudiated the polity of this Church.  It then became my canonical responsibility and obligation to limit (“restrict”) his formal ability to function as bishop until the entire House of Bishops can consider these charges.  Bishop Lawrence has an extended period (60 days) in which he can repudiate those charges, and I stand ready to respond positively to any sign that he has done so.

The other matter concerns nine bishops of The Episcopal Church who have participated in court filings that deny the hierarchical nature of this Church.  Charges have been made by some Standing Committees and other bishops against those nine, and the parties involved are being asked to agree to seek conciliation under the disciplinary canons.  That means that those involved are trying to find a resolution that will end the disciplinary process.  I believe all involved see that as a positive endeavor.

4)  Clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina should be advised that they remain members of this Church until they renounce their orders or are otherwise removed by Title IV processes.  They may also continue to contribute to the Church Pension plan until such formal separation.  In any case, the contributions made while the member was active in The Episcopal Church remain vested in the plan and a pension may be drawn when the plan’s rules permit. The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support Episcopal clergy in South Carolina who wish to remain members of this Church.

5)  The same is true of all – The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support loyal Episcopalians who wish to remain members of this Church.  My desire, and that of most Episcopalians, is that every member of this Church find a home here that supports his or her spiritual growth in the love of God in Christ, and the love of neighbor.  The Episcopal Church has traditionally been broad and diverse enough to welcome and include a great variety of ways of pursuing that spiritual growth.  We want it to stay that way, because we believe that we have greater opportunity to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit when diverse voices are present.

At the same time, we recognize that an individual may decide that his or her spiritual growth means the individual needs to find another worshipping community.  After thorough discernment, if a person decides that the journey will lead elsewhere, our task is to bless and pray for that person.  Nevertheless, the saints have generally shown us that stability – remaining in relationship, even when it is challenging – is ultimately the healthier, if harder, choice.

6)  The Episcopal Church and its leaders are working hard to keep the doors and relationships open to all who wish to be part of this body.  We are far from perfect, but we do believe we have greater opportunity for repentance and redemption in dialogue with those who differ or disagree, because we believe God is likely speaking through those around us.  Together we pray in hope of discovering a fuller sense of God’s leading.

I give thanks for you and will pray for your decision making.  I remain

Your servant in Christ,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

November 15, 2012


Comments (124)

  1. Leslie Gregory says:

    Wanting to separate from the Episcopal Church is rather like a state wanting to secede from THE UNION, the UNITED STATES.

    I abhor the bumper stickers that say, “America; Love it or leave it”, and there are those times during which some of us do not LIKE what America is (allegedly) doing, but when was quitting ever an option? Are we not always a work in progress?

    Isn’t it the same for Episcopalians? When is quitting an option? If we want to QUIT, perhaps we weren’t really adherents to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church to begin with.

    And when is God the author of division?

    How can we ever be ‘one’, if every time we disagree, somebody takes their marbles and goes home?

    We are the Body of Christ….warts and all. What is to be gained from chopping off parts? (….cutting off our nose to spite our face….) We all share the same DNA.


  2. Robert Grindrod says:

    One might infer that the underlying cause of the recent troubles in TEC has to do with respect, or lack thereof, faithfulness to, or lack thereof, scripture. If that is so, then one might expect that some among our brothers and sisters would be living as carefully within the scripture as do our friends the Hasidim (the righteous ones). How can we engage in such vitriolic dialogue and take such precipitous actions in the name of faithfulness to scripture when there is so much there that we choose to ignore or invalidate? I’m just wonderin’

  3. Steven Robert Clark says:

    I am acknowledging the sincerity of thought present in all parties to the discussion. The Presiding Bishop is sheparding us in an effort to keep us together so that we may continue diolog for the benefit of the entire flock. Jesus preached the “Sermon on the Mound” under a big tent of inclusion, that is everyone, including those who have yet to receive the “good news” of Jesus Christ the author of our Salvation. I love the Episcopal church, it’s litury in worship, and even the tensions created by the disagreement we may have over a handful of issues. By tuning our message distilled from “the Word in Christ” and celebrating what we agree on, we can be a beacon for Christians and spiritualist seeking a community of acceptance and Love. That same love that Christ showed us through his sacrific on the rood wood.

  4. The Reverend Canon George I Chassey says:

    Having served under The Right Reverend Gray Temple in the Diocese of South Carolina for 19 years, 11 years as Canon to the Ordinary, it grieves me deeply to see the Diocese he left after 21 years in such disaray. I am grateful for the leadership the Presiding Bishop is providing. I am sure that Bishop Temple, who labored with vision and commitment to the cause of Christ and His Church, is saddened by what has transpired in the Lord’s vineyard, and would concur with the Presiding Bishop’s letter.

    1. Michael Strong says:

      Interesting comment from the Reverend Canon George I Chassey, apparently being the one growing TEC diocese in the US constitutes disarray. There is a pleasing irony about your spelling by the way. Reverend Canon, you might ponder Acts 2:13-15.

      1. Roger Brown says:

        There are several growing dioceses in the US, one of them being the PB’s former diocese, Nevada.

  5. The Rt. Rev. Neff Powell says:

    I think the Presiding Bishop’s words are gracious, thoughtful, and clear.

  6. Rebecca Alford says:

    As a lifelong Episcopalian, I am saddened and despondent that my clergy and Mark Lawrence have decided that they can steal my church from me and others who are loyal to TEC and respect the PB. How dare they declare that my church is “no longer Episcopalian? What gives them the right to just come in, decide what we believe is wrong and that they know what is “best” for me and steal my church, the property and it’s financial holdings? What if the Baptist Church down the street decided that? It’s no different. Clergy who have sworn to follow TEC now decide that they would rather worship at the feet of Mark Lawrence to their own detriment and eventual demise. What are you going to do when he is gone? What about your congregation? Do you have no loyalty to them? Since you now only have time and desire to serve those that agree with you and your faux leader? You should be ashamed. And immediately change your signs since you claim to not be a part of TEC to read “The Protestant __(TBD)__Church of SC Welcomes Y̶o̶u̶ those who agree to follow Mark Lawrence Only”

    1. Michael Strong says:

      Rebecca, those Episcopalians you so criticize owe allegiance to Jesus Christ. He is the Lord. As I understand the facts, a small minority in the S Carolina Diocese claimed, a claim denied by Bishop Lawrence, reported to the PB that Mark Lawrence had abandoned the church. Rather than talking to the bishop about this, she decided to follow her disciplinary committee using the supposed power in Title IV. Unless the PB steps back from the cliff, this matter will be resolved by canon lawyers and then our judiciary, Is that really how you would like the church you love so much to behave?? Can you verify one single charge you make in your mail? Do you feel that your contribution is building up the Body of Christ? Who are you referring to when you write ‘faux’ leader. Is raging like this how you normally solve problems??

  7. Heather Angus says:

    I’m concerned that we in TEC are relying on legal means to “solve” these spiritual problems. Paul says (I’ll look up the verse if anybody wants) that it’s a shameful thing for Christians to go to court against other Christians. He says that it would be better — more Christian — to let ourselves be harmed than to fight other Christians in court. I don’t really know anything about the PB besides what little I’ve read, and I agree she is in a tough spot. No one wants to preside over the dissolving of the institution they lead. But it seems to me that we should find a better way to solve our differences than by suing each other, or else cease to be surprised that “with a scornful wonder/men see us sore oppressed/by schisms rent asunder…”

    1. Michael Strong says:

      Amen Heather, Amen

  8. Michael Strong says:

    1 Corinthians 6:1-7

  9. Doug Desper says:

    Back in 2003 to 2009 the distress that many traditionalists in the Church felt over theological and pastoral experimentation was often dismissed as opposition by the “few who don’t want to be with us”. Forward now and we see that the Diocese of San Joaquin has to receive over $700,000 in order to keep it viable, a few other dioceses are separated/split off, thousands of members have left, and 815 has hired more attorneys while eliminating the program members for evangelism and Christian education. The “few” turned out to be more than that, and the dismissive press to reinterpret faith and practice in the Church has had devastating effects. In 2008 there were 783 churches (that’s 71%) who participated in the Faith Communities Today survey and they indicated that only 1/3 of the Church were liberal or very liberal. Yet the priorities and policies of the leadership and General Convention have been enacted as though there was a great desire to change the Church in every aspect; to revise faith and practice to be relevant to American culture. This was done in the name of prophetic witness, claiming that the Spirit was moving. This was wrong. The results show so. The Holy Spirit would not destroy the Church to redefine adultery, redefine marriage, and pursue the other theological revisionism that has lessened our call to present Christ as the only Savior and hope of the world. The Church in 2008 had a prophetic witness that was surveyed and then promptly ignored to pursue a narrow revisionist agenda that has irreparably split the Church. The dedicated revisionist will claim that people and dioceses can leave as long as they leave the fruit of their sacrifice (property) behind. For whom? Have we not seen that we have lost thousands and will continue to lose thousands more as long as our leaders pursue this agenda? Was that the goal? A smaller, leaner, more liberal Church that lives off the efforts and assets of those who have been driven away? Did 783 churches not make themselves clear enough?

    1. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

      The leadership of TEC has made it clear, even in the worldwide Anglican Communion, that it will pursue its radical, revisionist agenda no matter who disagrees with it. Such arrogance from our church leaders grieves my heart. While our denomination is being destroyed, TEC leadership gloats over its “victories” and applauds the demise of conservative leaders. Where are the peacemakers? Where are the loving shepherds? Where are the prophets in sackcloth and ashes?

  10. For me, this unhappy business is not about diversity in the Church, in the first line. There is diversity in the Church, there has been diversity, and there will be diversity; though it may be difficult to determine the limits of legitimate diversity. But that is not the point here. The point is how a majority treats a dissentient minority. “Go in peace but leave the property to us” – property, nota bene, which derives, in part at least, from their own offerings to the Church or their ancestors’ or like-minded friends’ -; “and if you won’t do this of your own free will we will employ the courts of the State to force it upon you.” The shepherd permits the sheep to leave his fold but not unshorn. Is that the love which is patient, kind, not envious, does not insist on its own way (1Cor 13:4)? Is it so far out of the world to imagine dissenting Christians to sit together, one part saying, “Our consciences constrain us to separate from you but we will save ur souls, not the money”, and the other part,”Not so, we will not let you go without taking a fair share of the property with you,” and both sides having the words of (tough) old St Paul in mind (as spoken to themselves, not to the other part), “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged?”

  11. Robert Ricker says:

    I read with interest the writings on this web site. It sounds as if the Presiding Bishop is saying go, but leave the goodies behind. This is sort like a divorce isn’t it? I am no expert on things legal or religious, so with due respect to those more learned than I: This issue will be settled in the courts of the State of South Carolina. Does anyone here think that will turn out well for TEC?

    1. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

      Mr. Ricker, in a divorce between two people of goodwill, there is compassion and a dose of common sense. Only the most unloving and unreasonable spouse demands, “Get out with the clothes on your back. Everything else belongs to me!” Isn’t this the attitude of a tyrant?

  12. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

    To stay strong, TEC needs the voice and ministry of the conservative, as well as the progressive, in its ranks. It weakens us when we become narrow in our acceptance of people and differing opinions. As a denomination, TEC seems to have become a good ole boys club where only progressives are invited and accepted. Those with differing opinions are suspect and ridiculed and eventually rooted out. I am deeply saddened by TEC’s relentless attacks on the bishop of South Carolina, beginning prior to his consecration as bishop. In my opinion, the big guns used in TEC’s power play against South Carolina will blast a mortal wound into the heart of TEC itself. If we want to survive as a denomination, I suggest we reexamine our tendency to shoot those in the family with whom we disagree.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Laura, I don’t think that lessons will be learned until there is more division. At this hour the Diocese of South Carolina, which could have taught failing dioceses how to grow their part of the Church, has voted to leave the Episcopal Church. We will likely continue to hear how they can’t do that. Look for a remnant diocese of a few churches that will be put on display and a large sustenance check to be written to that remnant to further say, “All is well”.

      1. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

        Mr. Desper, we all need to be raising our voices in protest over this great injustice to the people of South Carolina and its bishop, Mark Lawrence by those acting on behalf of TEC. Bishop Lawrence has been harassed from the beginning and the attacks culminated in his firing. Why? Why is Bishop Lawrence such a threat to TEC? Why will no expense be spared by TEC in continuing to harass the Diocese of South Carolina?

  13. Christopher Cleveland says:

    I myself am inclined to believe that in some sense, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori herself is a kind of victim – albeit one who should have known better, given her great intelligence – of the crisis in meaning brought about by the popularity of Bishop Spong’s deliberate re-defining so many terms of Christian belief. This is a habit with far-reaching consequences – one which ultimately, in this case, is perhaps erasing sensitivity when it comes to the bounds of propriety of metaphor in speech, to the point that language which was once “common” and clearly understandable, becomes so confabulated with accessory meanings and willful skewings that the bounds of clarity and trust are pushed to their outer limits. The Presiding Bishop seems to have had a liking for Spong’s method, as her diocese invited him to be the facilitator of a clergy conference when she was diocesan bishop of Nevada in 2003.

  14. Ron Reid says:

    I am troubled and saddened by the actions of some church members in South Carolina who would not only write, but openly publish words such as these. Not only are they seeking to leave, they also seek to publicly discredit the Episcopal Church as a whole.

    “An intentional effort by the ill-advised [Episcopal Church] organization to assume our identity, one that we have had since 1785,” and clarifies that “we continue to be The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, known also to our parishes and the wider community as The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and more simply, the Diocese of South Carolina of which I am the XIV Bishop in succession.”

    These are not the words of church members wishing an amicable split from the church, but words of defiance and self righteousness. The actions by Bishop Lawrence demanded a forceful response from the church. It is clear to me, his actions and inflammatory rhetoric were designed to publicly challenge the church which nurtured, guided and elevated him to the position he holds. It is a betrayal of the Episcopal communion as a whole.

    Does the Episcopal Church in South Carolina bless the marriages of divorced heterosexual couples? I suggest they read what Jesus says about that. Are other marriages blessed among those who have violated one of the Ten Commandments? I am sure they are. I apologize for the somewhat heated tone, but hypocrisy is the biggest threat to our church. It is the responsibility of the Bishop and the clergy to be a calming influence on the congregation and not a lightning rod. These issues like many others that face the Church could have been resolved over time in a respectful and Christian manner. It is disheartening the Bishop and his followers in one of our diocese have chosen another course.

    1. John Kerrison says:

      Fact is TEC is shrinking and drying up. You might ask why. Maybe it is preaching a false gospel. Hello!

      1. walter combs says:

        NAILED IT!!!

  15. Pete Glidewell says:

    I am and Episcopalian from North Carolina. I find the parallel between a number of coastal South Carolinian’s who would secede from their body of authority to further the bigotry of a minority (in this case two minorities), amazing. To those who wish to leave the Episcopal church, I hope you find peace in your new and call yourselves the Lawrencian Orthodox Church…….watch out for the fruit punch.

  16. Maggie McGill says:

    Please note that the above comments are about the break away group that is leaving the Diocese of SOUTH CAROLINA. NOT the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Please don’t confuse the two.

  17. Michael Strong says:

    Writing about +Welby and the challenges he faces, The Daily Mail noted “don’t expect theological absolutism, ecclesial autocracy or assertions of spiritual authority, for that simply isn’t the Anglican way. With authority dispersed, spiritual tyranny is prevented. And in this model of governance, we find the ‘broad church’ of England, incorporating Protestants, Evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, Anglo-Catholics, agnostics, humanists and permutations of various fusions of these held ‘in tension’. All things to all people – and thank God for that” Those who seek division should ponder these words. Incidentally how would the PB define the Episcopalian way? In diversity we can grow spiritually and serve our Lord better. Locally the growing churches are conservative or vigorously support conservatives and liberals in the name of Christ (with one notable exception). Whatever the political persuasion of the PB, I cannot begin to understand her preference for lawyers and disciplinary process over respectful human interaction.Surely scripture such as 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 can soften her heart.

    1. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

      Mr. Strong, I completely agree with everything you wrote here. May I ask your opinion of a matter that is greatly troubling me? Is there any hope for TEC? Is our collapse so well underway that there is no stopping it?

      1. Michael Strong says:

        Thank you Laura, the acrimony is fierce, I think we can only listen to Christ in our heart and pray. Whatever the Lord does with this situation will eventually service His purpose. Right now, I am profoundly saddened.

  18. John Kerrison says:

    Greetings from SC,
    The SC Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Pawleys Island and against the TEC. TEC needs another scalp and it put the bishop in its crosshairs. This is of course symptomatic of the rot at its core.
    Was it pastoral when TEC changed the rules so it could move against the bishop in violation of their own Canons? Was it pastoral when the bishop was accused anonymously and put on trial? Was it pastoral when he was tried in absentia? Was it pastoral when he was found not guilty and was later retried with anonymous accusers and in absentia with a reconstituted committee? Is it pastoral to carry on with a man who is looking for a peaceful solution while knowing he has been found to abandon the church?

    This is a spiritual battle. If you are a believer you know what I mean. TEC is dead spiritually from internally. Is it growing and producing fruit? No

    1. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

      Thank you, Mr. Kerrison. Yours is the most helpful letter written thus far which sheds light on what TEC has tried to shroud in darkness. It is good to know the “other” side of the presiding bishops’ “pastoral” letter. May God Almighty have mercy on the arrogant, vindictive leaders of TEC. May Bishop Lawrence and the diocese of South Carolina prosper spiritually and receive bountiful blessings as they continue to proclaim the glorious gospel and to reach out to hurting people. Blessings to all of you from Middle Tennessee.

  19. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    The loud denunciations against the Presiding Bishop in these pages and elsewhere in the blogosphere proves the point that she is doing a highly effective job in her constitutional duties. In her election she edged out the great Henry Parsley perhaps by gaining the votes of some conservative delegations even though Parsley was known to be more conservative than she. That may be because some conservatives assumed that as a woman she would be a push over, that she could not stand up to the big boys. The irony is that she has proved herself to be the strongest presiding bishop imaginable leaving conservatives to rend their garments. As an old history professor, I can guarantee everyone that Jefferts Schori and Lawrence will go down in the history books, and in very different ways. So go ahead Jefferts Schori critics out there, blast away. She can take it and she has given courage to the rest of us to take it too.

  20. Kenneth Franklin says:

    Don’t kid yourself! The TEC will spend whatever it has to in the courts to keep the money and buildings.

  21. Peter Cabbiness says:

    The letter was excellent. We are fortunate to have a thoughtful, intelligent P.B. who has demonstrated courage and tenancity in her work.

  22. buddy ver says:

    Lawrence says he left TEC. but he still considers himself a trustee of Sewanee: The Episcopal University. When will he “withdraw” himself from the privileges that come with Sewanee?

    South Carolina

    The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, D.D.
    The Rev. Dr. John MacReadie Barr III (Jan. 2014)
    William Clarkson (Feb. 2013)
    Elizabeth Lewis (March 2015)

  23. Kevin Vick says:

    I suppose a certain amount of vitriol is expected in situations like these, where people profoundly disagree and where there is injury. What strikes me in reading these commentaries is the use of inflammatory language, of accusatory remarks, of assuming the motivations of the other. Certainly we all hold our own opinions, of which we are all undoubtedly quite assured. Before we dissect the actions of others, let us turn our eyes inward. Are we addressing one another in love and humility? I say this not to minimize anyone’s concerns in the least. There have certainly been many points brought up that deserve to be addressed in prayer and discernment. May we all here, at the very least, come together and express our opinions with care, seeking to serve Christ in everyone. Peace and love to each of you.

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