Continuing Episcopalians in South Carolina ‘looking to the future’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg and Sarah Moïse Young
Posted Nov 19, 2012

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopalians in South Carolina were “saddened” when others in the Diocese of South Carolina on Nov. 17 affirmed an earlier decision by the diocesan leadership to leave the Episcopal Church, but they said they also were “encouraged that many people, lay and clergy, are choosing to remain.”

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina also said in a statement from its president, Melinda A. Lucka, an attorney in the Charleston area, that “the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues in full communion with the Episcopal Church.”

Two days before the Nov. 17 meeting, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a pastoral letter to Episcopalians in the diocese offering prayers and support for those who wished to remain in the Episcopal Church, and noting that the diocese “continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed.”

Jefferts Schori did not issue a statement after the Nov. 17 meeting.

A steering committee has been formed “to guide and assist in the reorganization of the diocese,” according to a list of its members here. Bishop John Clark Buchanan, who lives in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and Bishop Charles vonRosenberg of Daniel Island, both retired Episcopal Church bishops, are listed as advisers to the steering committee.

Hillery Douglas, a Charleston businessman and senior warden of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church there, chairs the steering committee. The committee hopes “to ensure that all Episcopalians in this diocese are able to remain in the Episcopal Church,” Douglas said after the Nov. 17 meeting.

Despite the votes last month and on Nov. 17, he said, “Episcopalians will continue to worship together in this diocese,” he added.

Tom Tisdale, a former diocesan chancellor who has worked for the presiding bishop in the diocese in the past, agreed. “The invitation to return will always be there without condition,” he said. “But we are looking to the future.”

The continuing diocese has created a website, which includes a listing of 12 parishes and congregations in which a majority of the members have said they are remaining in the Episcopal Church. There are 78 congregations in the diocese.

Lawrence and the diocesan leaders loyal to him long have engaged in a series of moves to distance the diocese from the Episcopal Church, actions ultimately stemming from disagreements over human-sexuality issues and theological interpretation. Those actions came to a head after Jefferts Schori restricted Lawrence’s ministry on Oct. 17 after the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops had certified to her that he had abandoned the Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the discipline of the church.”

The board cited three instances, including Lawrence’s support of diocesan convention resolutions in 2010 meant to repudiate most of the diocese’s adherence to the church’s constitution and canons, his action to amend the diocese’s corporate charter to delete all references to the church and obedience to its constitution and canons and his directions to Diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan to send 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. The “Dennis Canon” (Canon 1.7.4) states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

On the same day the disciplinary board acted, the diocesan Standing Committee announced that the board’s action “triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the diocese from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention.”

During that convention on Nov. 17, Lawrence asked for and received affirmation of his actions and those of the Standing Committee to disaffiliate the diocese.

The convention passed three resolutions. The first resolution affirmed Lawrence’s actions and those of the Standing Committee, severing any relationship with the Episcopal Church. The resolution also had the convention declare Lawrence the diocese’s “rightful bishop” and “declare that as God has sent Bishop Lawrence to be our bishop, only he [God] has the authority to declare otherwise.”

The second resolution amended the diocesan constitution to remove all mention of the Episcopal Church or its General Convention. This resolution technically requires a second reading and approval. The third resolution removed all references to the Episcopal Church from the diocesan canons.

The first two passed on voice votes, while the third passed by vote of 96 percent in the clergy order (71 yes votes and 3 abstentions) and 90 percent in the lay order (47 yes with 5 abstentions), according to information here.

Forty-two parishes attended the special convention along with 12 missions, sending a total of 170 lay delegates.

During the voting on the resolutions, the Rev. Daniel Hank of Barnwell, who abstained, said that despite personal conflict with the Episcopal Church, “the unity of the church is not the work of human hands nor of human minds, but the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished through the sacraments.”

“The mother church is the flesh that bore us, brought us into this world as Christians,” he said. “I have diligently searched Scriptures and prayer book and have found no ceremony where one can divorce one’s mother.”

Copies of the resolutions are here.

The South Carolina diocese had set its next annual convention for March 8, 2013, and the continuing diocese plans to adhere to that date. Leadership positions will be filled and other actions taken to move the reorganization along. Meanwhile, the steering committee, while not the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese, will serve as a way for South Carolina Episcopalians to communicate with the wider Episcopal Church and take other steps to allow the diocese of reorganize and function, according to a question-and-answer section on the continuing diocese’s website.

The steering committee is working via several subcommittees, including a pastoral-care subcommittee for lay and clergy; a convention subcommittee to prepare for the March convention; a communications subcommittee; a clergy subcommittee to assist priests with their ongoing ministries; and an administration subcommittee to handle human-resources issues.

“People have questions, but once they’ve understand what’s going on, we have seen a tremendous amount of support to continue the Episcopal diocese,” said Holly Behre, communications subcommittee chair. “Right now, we are working on our infrastructure to get an alternate voice out there for loyal Episcopalians.”

The Rev. Wilmot T. Merchant II, chair of the administration subcommittee, said he intended to continue the church’s mission.

“I am not prepared to leave, because you will always have family disagreement,” he said. “There has never been a time when the church was argument-free, especially when it comes to biblical interpretation. The Episcopal Church has historically stood with people on different sides of issues, and we have survived.”

Bishop vonRosenberg hosted a clergy day two days before the Nov. 17 meeting. They day was open to all diocesan clergy, and about 70 met to worship together and to ask questions of the steering committee. Some of those questions concerned the nuts and bolts of the reorganization process, such as the diocesan name, property possession, the status of pledge dollars, who could consider applications by new congregations for recognition and whether the Episcopal Church supported the committee. Clergy also asked how to care pastorally for parishioners who had been given what some people deemed incorrect information about events surrounding the disaffiliation and wanted to remain Episcopalians, and how to help congregations whose members were split but wanted to worship together.

The Rev. Marshall Huey, rector of Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church Charleston, said during the clergy day he appreciated that “there has been not one disparaging remark about our brothers and sisters who have chosen a different path.”

“We have a growing parish and are united in our resolve to take in as much information as we can before making an informed decision,” he said. “I feel like a child watching his divorcing parents fight it out. I am hurt by it and grieved by it. It is damaging to our Christian witness.”

VonRosenberg assured those at the clergy gathering that “the church will be okay and, eventually, may even thrive.”

“As the Episcopal Church, we are connected to caring people and to institutions of support beyond South Carolina,” he said.

The bishop urged clergy to take care of themselves in this time of confusion and stress.

“The active clergy in the parishes are the ones on the front line of this confusing time,” he said. “So they are trying to be pastoral caregivers for folks who are confused themselves … Keep the fire of that first love for ministry burning. Let others remind you of why you got into all this in the first place.”

How the diocese reached this point
Lawrence and the diocesan leadership have been distancing themselves from the Episcopal Church for at least three years, including through the actions cited by the disciplinary board. Questions were raised about Lawrence’s intentions, however, from the time he was nominated in 2006 to become the diocese’s 14th bishop.

When Lawrence first was elected bishop in September 2006, he faced numerous questions about whether he would attempt to convince Episcopalians in the diocese to leave the church. In a Nov. 6, 2006, letter to the wider church, he wrote that he would “work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in the Episcopal Church as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping the Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion.”

Lawrence did not receive the required consents to his consecration in 2007 because some standing-committee consent forms were canonically improper. He subsequently was re-elected, received the consents required for all bishops-elect and was consecrated January 26, 2008.

In October 2009, the diocese authorized Lawrence and the Standing Committee to begin withdrawing from churchwide bodies that assent to “actions deemed contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them, the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference which have expressed the mind of the communion, the Book of Common Prayer and our constitution and canons, until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions.”

That authorization came in response to two 2009 General Convention resolutions passed two months earlier that focused on human sexuality and reaffirmed the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the Anglican Communion. Resolution D025 affirmed “that God has called and may call” gay and lesbian people “to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.” Resolution C056 called for collecting and developing theological resources for blessing same-gender relationships and allows bishops to provide “a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.”

A diocesan news report at the time said, “These resolutions seek to protect the diocese from any attempt at unconstitutional intrusions in our corporate life in South Carolina and were in response to the revisions to the Title IV [disciplinary] canons of the Episcopal Church.”

Lawrence and most of the diocese’s deputation left the 2012 General Convention on July 11, objecting to the passage of resolutions that they said violated the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

The resolutions in question were A049, which allows for optional and provisional use of a rite to bless same-gender relationships, and D002 and D019, which affirm the full inclusion of transgender people in the life of the church (including the ordination process).

However, the Very Rev. John B. Burwell, the sole South Carolina clergy deputy who remained, told Episcopal News Service in an interview after the House of Deputies’ last session on July 11 that “we are not leaving the Episcopal Church.” And Lawrence made it clear the next day, noting that “a deputation to General Convention has no authority to make such a decision.”

Soon after convention, Lawrence added C029 to the list of resolutions deemed objectionable. The resolution had in its original form called for a “study of the theology underlying access to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion” and eventually was amended to state that “baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion.” Another resolution (C040), which would have allowed unbaptized people to receive Communion, did not make it out of committee.

Lawrence said that the amended C029 resolution “still moves the church further down the road toward encouraging the Communion of the unbaptized, which departs from 2,000 years of Christian practice” and “puts the undiscerning person in spiritual jeopardy.”

Lawrence said the resolutions about transgender people would lead to an abandonment of norms because “gender may be entirely self-defined, self-chosen,” thus “condemning ourselves, our children and grandchildren, as well as future generations to sheer sexual anarchy.”

“So long as I am bishop of this diocese I will not abandon its people to such darkness,” he promised.

A summary of events surrounding the latest South Carolina actions is here in a Nov. 9 fact sheet issued by the church Office of Public Affairs.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. Sarah Moïse Young is a freelance reporter based in Charleston, South Carolina.


Comments (13)

  1. John Poynter says:

    In both the Diocese of South Carolina as well as in the wider Episcopal Church, everyone knew that Lawrence was elected because he was a chum of Scofield, everyone knew that he would probably engineer his diocese away from the Episcopal Church, pretend to speak for god, all of which has to do with gender, the fear of having to abide by equality, equality of women, equality of glbt people, equality of race, these separatists want a church of, by, and for straight white men. So, bye bye bigots, we will have an easier time of full inclusion without you, in time you will have to deal with inclusion of your own relatives. Maybe we will see you then.

    1. Joseph F Foster says:

      No,you won’t. Better no church at all than the kind the Episcopal Church is becoming.

    2. Laura Ellen Truelove says:

      Mr. Poynter, your comments reveal a hateful, vindictive heart. Name calling and dismissal of other human beings has no place in the church. You betray your goal of full inclusion. Full inclusion of all like-minded people?

      1. Jeremy Bates says:

        “Name calling and dismissal of other human beings has no place in the church.”
        Agreed. There is no place in the church for homophobia or misogyny.

  2. Christopher Cleveland says:

    My heart leaps up with hope and courage when I read about Bishop Lawrence’s refusal to embrace heretical and apostate teaching that is now the doctrine of TEC. Pray tell, if they win in the courts (and South Carolina plays ball differently than other states where TEC has won) what will 12 churches do with 60 empty buildings? Even if they win in court TEC will bankrupt the church in the process. How fitting that more and more it is empty churches won by litigation that represents TEC that claims to welcome you.

    Sincere regrets,
    a gay former Episcopalian

  3. bill macmullin says:

    We must be careful with name-calling. Is anyone who does not agree with me a bigot? I believe not. A liberal church should have a big-enough heart to make space for those who do not or cannot agree with them. If TEC can have room for glbt people and change doctrine for them why not make room for those who still believe what Episcopalians once did? Current actions and litigation hardly shows thee love that is a sign of being Christian.

  4. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    Thanks, authors, for this excellent review of the situation in SC. We can ask ourselves why has this happened in SC and not any other diocese in the southeast? Are the churchpeople there different than those in other nearby states? Certainly not. The people in the pews are no different than those in Georgia, North Carolina or other close states. The difference is the leadership. This was a revolution from the top down. Most communicants followed their leadership and they continue to place innate trust in them. All of this goes back to the issue of inclusion and exclusion. Some two decades ago, a distinctly conservative element gained control of the diocese and steerede it on an increasingly conservative course. They monopolized the apparati of the diocese and excluded everyone else. They put the diocese at odds with TEC even before the Robinson episode. When the old bishops retired, this clique brought in Lawrence from the original breakaway diocese, San Joaquin. He became their new standard bearer in their long running and increaingly bitter fight against TEC. His favorite subject became an ongoing denunciation of TEC for its “indiscriminate inclusivity.” Meanwhile those who had been excluded within the Diocese of South Carolina had no choice but to appeal to TEC. They did and the DBB ruled that Lawrence had abandoned the communion through his very deliberate acts. The conservative ruling pact would have none of it. They played the Vietnam syndrome card and destroyed the diocese to save it. They broke away from TEC even though they knew a large minority would remain. Lawrence voiced surprise that those who had been excluded within the old diocese were not going along with him. Actually he may be even more surprised that a solid third of the old diocese is not going along with him. They are opting for inclusion.

    1. Lois Trimbur says:

      When I read what Ronald Caldwell wrote, I can’t help think that the exact same scenario took place earlier in the Pittsburgh Diocese when Robert Duncan became bishop. I have wondered for a decade what the root of the problem really is with this breakaway trend. The need for power and control can ride on any platform. A so called “leader” can justify any position, and people can be easily politically manouvered. Someone recently wrote how self-righteous egoism can be disguised as piety. How juvenile it is for one to say that I am on God’s side and you are not. What a waste of time and energy it is for someone to try and prove that they are right and you are wrong. And if they get into name calling and make accusations, then they are just sinking deeper into their own mire. The battle is futile because in the end, there is no winner. We all lose if we go that route. Someone convinced me a long time ago that it is more important to be happy than to be right.
      In changing the subject, would someone please be cognizant of the many Episcopalians who were members of the breakaway congregations and who still love TEC. Many of those faithful Episcopalians are churchless and have fallen through the cracks. Just because a congregation chooses to go Anglican doesn’t mean that we should forget about the minority within that congregation. Do you think that we would worship in the same church where people despise The Episcopal Church? Enough.

  5. Bishop Andrew Gerales Gentry says:

    One of my friends who is a “cradle Episcopalian” said to me very recently that he and his parish followed two basic realities: 1. No One listens to the House of Bishops and have not for over 20 years and 2. there is only one sin left in the Episcopal Church and that is getting mad and leaving. Satire aside I think for those of us outside looking in we see a microcosm of what is happening across the denominational spectrum in what is taken place in the Episcopal Church. The dramatic decline in membership and the closing of many parishes, the bitter and vitriolic legal battles over property which means lets face it, money and lots of it, and a ever widening divide between those who believe in an Incarnational theology and those who do not. There has been a developing rift for some time in the Episcopal and other mainline churches between Orthodoxy and a Multicultural Universalism. Again within TEC the election of a presiding bishop who denies the unique divinity of Jesus that tension began to create the fissures that led to the splintering. Issues of inclusion of gay folke and the role of women were just a convenient ground zero. In many mainline denominations the splintering continues and those who remain seem to adopt a neo-congregationalism as a “marketing strategy ” for the future. Many find a parish or congregation that fits their view of “church” and “spirituality” and it is there they put their energies.
    My friend was very saddened also when he read that some of his fellow Anglicans at an international gathering had refused to receive Communion from Bishop Schori but here again is a very dramatic example of the splintering mentioned above. If there is not “common faith” that is shared then how can we have communion one with another?
    As to the Romans who have made some very disparaging remarks about Anglican validity well I wouldn’t feel too badly about what they say about Anglican Sacraments being null and void becuase many Orthodox including many in the OCA believe Roman Orders are “dead”, Anglican and Protestant non-existent, and any others just plain anathema! Fortunately for all of us The Holy Spirit is not bound by our prejudices and narrow polities let alone our theologies!
    17 hours ago · Like

  6. RB Clay says:

    Ronald, I think the reason the pattern has not repeated in other neighboring states is because there were no orthodox leaders to follow in TEC, so most orthodox Anglicans have already left and joined ACNA. The gospel is more than the undifferentiated, sentimentality of “love” (ironically, the command to love is the height of law), but the announcement of the only Lord Jesus Christ’s work.

    Churches and people have the right to be wrong, and it’s a shame that so many resources have gone to the courts. TEC should have let the orthodox leave, but the orthodox should have been willing to leave empty-handed. If our assumptions are correct, we will be able to buy the empty properties back at a bargain, and if not, if grandma’s church goes off the deep end, that’s a price we must be willing to pay to try to be faithful. It’s hardly the same sacrifice our forebears made…

  7. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    RB: There are other “orthodox” leaders and orthodox dioceses across TEC. Central Florida is an outstanding example in the southeast. In fact, there are twelve dioceses (now 11 since SC left) that are solidly conservative and can be counted on to vote consistently as such in church matters. No one could call any of them unorthodox. Why are they not bolting from TEC? It’s is because they ignore the national church as much as they can and go on their merry way. Personally I have no problem with that. I think it is a good approach. Some of the conservative bishops have declared they will not allow the rite of the blessing of same sex unions, but anyone is free to go to a nearby diocese to have the rite. That is a reasonable solution. I say more power to them. Lawrence, however, tried to get his people to believe that TEC was requiring dioceses to do this or that. His most outrageous assertion was that he would be forced to employ transgendered clergy. Untrue. So let’s not say there is no room for orthodox in TEC. This is still a religion of the big tent.

  8. Kevin Adams says:

    I do find it very offensive when the people in the pews in SC are deemed to essentially be dumb and stupid sheep, and they are only taking this step because Bishop Lawrence is lying to them and leading them astray. I’ve heard this said before when other parishes and dioceses have left, and again, it is very offensive. Also throw in the angry, bigot, homophobe, “white boys, and other name calling of your choice. Good people can and do disagree about serious issues. While I believe that the property issues should be negotiated in good faith by both sides, it does not speak well for those of us still in TEC to be un-Christian in our discussions about those who have left. We should all be very sad and we need to take a look at ourselves to see what could we have done differently to have avoided this.

    Are we going to get to the point where (and yes, I have heard this mentioned) laity have to sign some sort of loyalty oath to even be considered for any position in the local parish? The Book of Common Prayer was intended to bring differing groups together to worship in common fashion, not to be conformity of thought and practice on whatever the General Convention votes on every three years.

    I am a member of the Episcopal Church, in good standing, I attend worship and pledge. My family and I volunteer at a local food bank, I have been a vestry member, senior warden, choir member, and a LEM. I also happen to be white, male, straight, orthodox, and a conservitive Republican who is a member of a church that has a female Presiding Bishop, a couple of openly gay bishops, priests that are female, and many priests that are openly gay. Please think before calling anyone names.

  9. Doug Desper says:

    Kevin –
    I think that the Book of Common Prayer and the canons pertaining to worship are not respected by enough people in our Church – therefore we are not as united. For example the National Cathedral (among many notable places of ideally Anglican worship) does not recognize that Holy Communion is received by baptized Christians, but they instead create their own canons and rubrics and their bulletin publicizes that anyone who wants to live a “deeper life” in Christ may receive. How can this Church be a church of strict laws about property but not about what is to unite us – worship. When various bishops, cathedrals, and parishes do to suit whatever their theological leanings dictate, whatever experimentation they blame on the Holy Spirit, and whatever makes the congregation giddy? How can a bishop in this Church perform a lesbian wedding in Massachucetts when this Church has not approved it? Answer: blame the Holy Spirit and make up your own canons. How can any TEC lawyers go to court in any of the five departing dioceses and explain how this church is hierarchical, united, and a Church of canon law standards when the last General Convention’s standards for marriage and receiving the Eucharist is mocked by the very leaders who want to be taken seriously?

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