Contingent that broke from Diocese of South Carolina files suit

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 4, 2013

[Episcopal News Service] Mark Lawrence, who led some members of the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church, on Jan. 4 joined with a group of those people to file suit in South Carolina Circuit Court against the Episcopal Church.

The action, the group said, was taken “to protect the diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.”

The suit also asks the court to prevent the Episcopal Church from “infringing on the protected marks of the diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent the church from assuming the diocese’s identity, which was established long before the Episcopal Church’s creation,” according to the press release.

Neva Rae Fox, public affairs officer for the Episcopal Church, said via e-mail that church officials had “not received the legal papers in any such lawsuit in South Carolina and therefore cannot comment at this time.”

The Rev. Jim Lewis, who serves as Lawrence’s canon to the ordinary, said in the group’s press release that its is seeking “to protect more than $500 million in real property, including churches, rectories and other buildings that South Carolinians built, paid for, maintained and expanded – and in some cases died to protect – without any support from the Episcopal Church.”

Many of the parishes are among the oldest operating churches in the nation and predate the establishment of the Episcopal Church, he said. “We want to protect these properties from a blatant land grab.”

According to Canon 1.7.4, enacted by General Convention in 1979 and known as the “Dennis Canon,” a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

A fact sheet on the Episcopal Church’s website notes: “Dioceses cannot leave the Episcopal Church. While some clergy and individuals may choose to leave, congregations and property remain in the diocese to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church.”

Lawrence wrote on Jan. 4 that “we are saddened that we feel it necessary to ask a court to protect our property rights, but recent actions compelled us to take this action.”

Lawrence said those actions include calling a convention to elect new leadership for the diocese, designing a website using the diocesan seal and “producing material that invokes the name and identity of the Diocese of South Carolina.”

That convention, set for Jan. 26, is meant for the remaining Episcopalians in the diocese to elect a bishop provisional and choose people to fill other diocesan offices made vacant by Lawrence’s actions.

The continuing Diocese of South Carolina needs a new episcopal leader because Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said Dec. 5 that Mark Lawrence had renounced his orders. She and her Council of Advice agreed that, in a  Nov. 17 speech to a special diocesan convention, Lawrence said the diocese had left the Episcopal Church a month earlier on Oct. 17 when she restricted his ministry 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 day the board’s decision was announced, the diocesan Standing Committee said that the action “triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the diocese from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention.”

Lawrence asked for and received affirmation from those at the Nov. 17 gathering of that departure.

It appears that, nine days before that gathering, Lawrence and other leaders submitted four applications to trademark various versions of the name of the diocese, according to a listing here.

In his Jan. 4 letter, Lawrence claimed that 22,244 of the 30,000 Episcopalians in the diocese’s 71 congregations chose to follow his leadership while 5,300 wanted to remain in the Episcopal Church and another 1,900 were “undecided.” However, the group called South Carolina Episcopalians said on its website that “in fact, no such survey has taken place.”

“Records show that only half of the parishes and missions in the diocese have formally indicated they want to join Lawrence, and only one-third of the canonically resident clergy have publicly declared their intent to do so,” the group said.

A full-page advertisement that ran Nov. 25 in The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, contained one list of clergy that backed Lawrence.

Lawrence and those he leads say that he is still the bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. He said in his Jan. 4 letter that “while the diocese has disassociated from the Episcopal Church, it remains a part of the Anglican Communion.”

This is similar to a claim he made during his address to the Nov. 17 convention when he said that “for now and the foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC, we remain an extra-provincial diocese within the larger Anglican Communion.”

Such a designation requires action by the Anglican Consultative Council, which concluded a 12-day meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, on Nov. 7. No action on South Carolina was taken during that meeting, and the council will not meet again until May 2016.

Meanwhile, Lawrence and his followers have touted a letter to Lawrence from a group of Anglican Communion leaders from the Global South saying, “We recognize your episcopal orders and your legitimate episcopal oversight of the Diocese of South Carolina within the Anglican Communion.”

A lengthy rationale for the suit, “Stewardship of the Gsopel — Stewardship of the Diocese,” is posted here.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (30)

  1. Doug Desper says:

    “..some members”? Didn’t their convention vote well beyond a majority to disassociate from the current Episcopal Church as organized and being led by General Convention?
    One very glaring trend continues in these types of stories, starting way back in 2003. Then, as now, there are those who minimize the exodus of tens of thousands of members and keep saying that they are just “a few that don’t want to be with us”. We now number below 650,000 ASA and nothing that is being attempted to redefine faith and practice is reversing that. Apparently things have to get much worse before leadership finally emerges to reconcile this Church. Or do we just keep shrinking until a few pockets of socially revisionist/progressive cosmopolitan parishes comprise the Episcopal Church? And, let’s stop this nonsense of calling people “followers”. As a layperson I am offended that such a relied-on label often reduces people to being mere dupes who are led about by loud voices and the wind, and can be blindly swayed by a mere bishop. It should (and must) finally occur to our leadership that people – intelligent, trained, well-reasoned people – have measured this Church and have found it wanting. They don’t “follow” anything.

    1. walter combs says:

      Although I continue with The Episcopal Church, I am frustrated that the leadership has done little toward reconciliation with those who have left us. And let’s be real here, there are many more than just ‘some members’. The Diocese of South Carolina was one of the largest and one of few growing diocese in TEC. Practically ALL of the diocese chose to leave us. This is a huge loss!

    2. Chris Walchesky says:

      Wow. Some common sense on ENS. Praise to You, Lord Christ!

    3. Paul Spengler says:

      The Episcopal Church will be reduced to a few pockets of socially revisionist/progressive cosmopolitan parishes? That is indeed the trend. Im 65 and have been an Episcopalian all my life, but stopped going to church a few months ago. I don’t always agree with the people who are seceding. I accept women clergy and would be willing to accept the idea of gay marriage for example. However, I have no confidence in the leadership of the national church or in most of the bishops. It’s very clear that, for them, Christianity is all about politics. They use the church as a platform for positioning themselves as advocates for various social and political issues and their chief concern within the church is to hang on to property and other tangible wealth. Whenever I think of Jesus referring to the synogogues of the pharisees as whited sepulchres, I am reminded of Bishop Schori and her followers.

  2. Elizabeth Von Wahlberg says:

    How many more of these insults must we take?

    1. As one of the inhabitants of a revisionist/pocket of the ECUSA let me assure you that you will have to endure limitless insults, Rev. Elizabeth, from the luddites and leftovers of the worst pockets ( with holes in them ) of the Anglican Communion who are supporting renegades like the Bishop of South Carolina and people forming various ” consultative councils whether Anglican, faux-Anglican, or faux-Christian. As a very NON cradle Episcopalian, I chose this Church for the same reason those of you who voted in Katharine Jefferts-Schori as PB did, and do, and that’s why I stay. I am luckier than most of you because I chose the ECUSA after looking around at various ways of manifesting my new found Christianity, ” discovered ” the same way that big mouth Saul of Tarsis discovered it….. by trashing Jesus enough to get His attention and be thoroughly chastised and humbled. Don’t bore me with how many people want to leave. Let them. Recruit real Christians……. ones who think that maybe ” God is Love ” is not just a slogan to put on the side of a church bus, but a way of life to be lived; and shuck off the shackles of racism, homophobia, and ” the good old days ” when y’all gave us Biblical authority for slavery. Gone with the wind……. and godspeed.

  3. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    This is another move in the Lawrenceites increasingly manic quest for legitimacy that has been going on since Lawrence was delegitimized in the Episcopal Church. In November, DSC filed petition with the U.S. patent office to own the titles and shield of the diocese (not granted yet). After Lawrence was deposed on 12-5, DSC fired off three statements within five days asserting its legitimacy and attacking that of TEC and its ongoing diocese, even presuming to tell the loyalists what they should do. Citing letters of support from Anglican prelates, the Lawrenceites proclaimed Anglican Communion legitimacy. 80 clergy of the diocese endorsed Lawrence along with 36 local churches with 16 of them joining the lawsuit of 1-4, more assertions of legitimacy.
    In reality the Lawrenceites have no legitimacy except among themselves. Lawrence has no status in TEC and therefore none in the Anglican Communion which is represented only by TEC in the U.S. There is no such thing as an extra-territorial diocese in the Anglican Communion. The prelates who endorsed Lawrence speak only for themselves, not the Archbishop of Canterbury has never recognized a splinter group in the U.S. and will not. The 80 clergy endorsing Lawrence in fact represent only 37% of the canonically resident clergy of the old diocese. The 36 local churches following him make up only half of those in the old diocese; and the 16 joining in the lawsuit represent less than a quarter of the parishes. While it is true that the majority of the communicants of the old diocese are following Lawrence, it is still embarrassingly true that more than half of the clergy have not endorsed him and only half the local churches. Perhaps this accounts for DSC’s increasingly shrill assertions of legitimacy.
    It does not take a bookie in Vegas to tell us who is going to win this one.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Here my case is made. Nowhere in Mr. Caldwell’s comment is credit given that the people of the diocese have independent thought. No credit for experience, spiritual formation, education, and critical reasoning; instead they are dispargingly called “Lawrenceites”. This patronizing type of commentary reduces those who dissent and act on convictions as incapable of weighing issues and erroneously ascribes to them the tendency of being mere followers. I do not agree with many of the diocese’s actions but with the overwhelming dismissive responses to their legitimate concerns, what is left? If we had true reconciling leadership in this Church we would not be at this point.

    2. Chris Walchesky says:

      LOL! Sucks the Dennis Canon is dead.

  4. Chris Walchesky says:

    This is downright hilarious. How will ENS and 815 refer to the REAL DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA (according to SC law, TEC is NOT hierarchical) when it wins the court case? Either way you’re going to have to eat your words. “People and parishes may leave but dioceses can’t.” Right. Just because I declare the sky to be green doesn’t make it so.

  5. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    Chris, there is nothing funny about this tragedy. In fact, there is a great deal and pain and suffering on both sides in SC, and it is only going to get worse. This is a time of sadness. In a few years all will look back in sorrow on what might have been.

    1. walter combs says:

      Surely this all could have been avoided. How are we truly an ‘inclusive’ church if we cannott tolerate the few conservatives that have not already left us.

  6. Scott Turner says:

    What is missed in the above comments are the provisions of the offending canons which give the diocesan bishop control of any liturgical innovation for same-sex couples. The Diocese of South Carolina did not have to go anywhere theologically that it did not want to. My deepest sadness is that the theologically conservative wing of the church didn’t have the fortitude to be the loyal minority, which many liberals remember being for decades. Schism is the worst sort of witness to the beliefs you hold dear.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      Scott: General Convention has not changed the definition of marriage (for now). According to our official liturgy and catechism of the Prayer Book, Christian Marriage is still as it has been for the entirety of Christian history. However, the National Cathedral has just announced that it will begin performing same-sex marriages – not the same gender blessings approved by General Convention – but a step beyond to a fully revisionist understanding of Christian Marriage. This development, like so many, many others just continues to demonstrate that only in matters of property is strict adherence to canons required – the rest is a theological free-for-all where nearly anything that can be blamed on the Holy Spirit becomes a new movement of God. Note this well: this Church has not redefined marriage (yet) but our nation’s leading cathedral has just gladly done so without any consequence. They also invite anyone to receive the Holy Eucharist despite General Convention’s latest word that the Sacrament is reserved for the baptized. There is the schism. In actions like this replicated for years by revisionists, there is the schism. The leaving of members, churches, and dioceses are just the response to these unrestrained movements currently tearing at this Church.

      1. Scott Turner says:

        Nothing I said above was intended to support those who do not restrain themselves from going beyond what has been agreed to in General Convention. Such actions are part of the problem. Schism is not a response that will help restrain the disobedience of others. Changing the meaning of schism is an intellectual mistake, Doug. Schism is disaffiliation, disobedience is the correct word for those who go beyond what is allowed. I agree that the unwillingness of many in leadership to hold those who have gone too far in pursuit of their own definitions of the truth are also responsible. Therefore, for me, the fault lies with lazy leadership on one side and schismatic leadership on the other. I have little respect for either. We are trying to do things differently in Colorado, but that has not kept some clergy from tearing congregations apart as they followed “their own conscience” and then insisted that the laity must follow them if they want to be ‘right’,’pure’, ‘ prophetic’, or any other word used to lead parishioners into either disobedience or schism. There can be only one body of Christ, the mystical union of Christ and those who believe in His saving grace and resurrection. Slicing and dicing the earthly church will never produce what already exists in God’s economy. Episcopalians who are nowing giving that strategy a try should simply look at the constantly fragmenting wreckage of protestantism in America to see that it never succeeds at forming a truly better church. No matter what, sooner or later, human sin and/or intellectual and spiritual laziness will foul the pond. The world will only think we have something profoundly new and divine when we love one another in the tension-filled bonds of restraint and freedom, no matter what. Something like I think Christ loved us on the Cross. I had great respect and affection for most of those who have left. I do not respect their leaving or the denial of how profoundly unchristian behaviour has attended that process by conservatives defending ‘the truth.’

    2. Jason Newton says:

      Some of us must follow our desire to take a clean communion.

  7. Fr. Miguel Rosada says:

    The spin on this article is pretty incredible. Maybe if we took things like this as serious as they are, our church would be in better shape. The fact is we have lost several dioceses in the last several years and continue to lose members even in those who have stayed! It is alarming and really sad! As far as “Canon 1.7.4, enacted by General Convention in 1979 and known as the “Dennis Canon,” it speaks about the property of a parish, it does not seem to address the status of a Diocese. Either way it may not be applicabe in SC given their Supreme Court decision in a recent case. Soon in Texas , SC and other places the courts will render their verdict, but I fear that no matter the outcome we come out a much impoverished church. Lord have mercy!

  8. Terry Francis says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Walter Combs. As a conservative I feel less and less a part of this church with each passing year. I have attended Episcopal services for well over 20 years but have chosen to not be formally confirmed as a way of protesting the church’s social and political stands on so many issues that I am against. And at the rate things are going I’m not sure if I’ll ever get confirmed. Bottom line the church simply doesn’t care about my concerns. At this point I’m not sure if it ever will.

    1. Scott Turner says:

      As your conservative soulmates choose schism over engagement, the legitimate expectation of give and take, point-counterpoint, in other words a church polity of representative democracy is weakened. If the only way conservatives can be part of a church is when they are the unquestioned majority, democratic processes are irrelevant. You might as well rejoin the monarchical Roman Church where liberal dissent is really squelched.

  9. Danny Anderson says:

    I have never seen such backbiting and arguing in church in all my life. The Southern Baptist Convention has reported a loss of baptized membership for 2 or 3 years in a row now. That tells you that its not just liberal Christ loving churches that are losing members ..

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      The total drop in SBC membership from 2007-11 was approximately 400,000 on a base of 16 million.

      TEC in the US dropped approximately 200,000 on a base of 2.4 million. This represents over three times the percentage drop experienced by the SBC.

      1. David Yarbrough says:

        So your point is that conservative Christ loving churches (sorry, liberals don’t have a monopoly on Christianity) are losing members too, just not as quickly?

        1. walter combs says:

          I was talking to an SBC pastor recently who told me that the Southern Baptist Convention has made a genuine effort to have it’s churches eliminate people from their church rolls who have not been active in the life of the church. This may account for much of their loss. Can you imagine what our losses would look like if we did something like that in The Episcopal Church? I know my parish continues to count people who haven’t darkened the doors of the church for years. It was the same in the last TEC parish where we used to live.

          1. Scott Turner says:

            SBC is measuring there decline in terms of declining baptisms, not membership roles. Colorado is one of 28 dioceses who grew last year. Measuring faithfulness purely on gross numerical terms, is a tricky business. Just think how Godly you might have thought German Nazism was in 1937 if you based it on the number of Lutherans and Catholics who were joining. Ungodly organizations can be very popular and God’s people just a remnant at times. We must all be very careful about equating wordly success with faithfulness and membership loss with unfaithfulness. Humility is a sorely lacking virtue in all these debates.

  10. walter combs says:

    Parishes and laypeople and clergy who wish to form a new diocese in communion with General Convention are should do so, but they need a new name and seal. How about ‘Diocese of Lower South Carolina’?

    1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

      Read the title of this article again.

      1. Chris Walchesky says:

        Right. Because this is clearly an objective article. I’d call it propaganda. Dorchester county is about to throw TEC’s strategy in the Ashley River.

  11. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    “TEC’s strategy”? And what would that strategy be? It is the PECDSC that broke away from TEC and then filed suit in court against TEC. The truth is that time and again, all around the country, courts have affirmed that TEC is an hierarchical institution entitled to manage its own structure. The one and only exception to this was All Saints Waccamaw, the local parish that after 10 years won its case (ironically against PECDSC). Now PECDSC is basing all of its hopes on this one case. We shall see. Anyway, whoever loses in Dorchester County is certain to appeal. I suspect that is the real motive behind this suit is for the Lawrenceites to delay as long as possible what they know is inevitable, that TEC will wind up winning here as it has nearly everywhere else.

  12. Terry Francis says:

    In answer to Mr. Turner’s comments, my only question is simply WHAT give and take? WHAT engagement? Having a dialogue with its conservative members concerning issues of the day, be it same sex marriage, immigration, the environment, or what have you, has always been low on TEC’s list of priorities. This isn’t about wanting or choosing schism and it’s not about conservatives wanting to be the majority in the Episcopal Church. That’s never going to happen even if we wanted it to. This is about having our opinions and concerns looked at and considered with the same amount of seriousness as those of progressives. I’m all for the democratic process, but when you have a church where progressive membership outnumbers conservative membership 10 to 1, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’s going to benifit from those democratic processes. I have witnessed too many examples of where liberal activism has taken the place of the Gospel in many a sermon preached on a Sunday. Indeed, there have been times when I felt more like I was attending a DNC fundraiser than a Christian church service. Ther have been times when I have considered becoming a Catholic. There’s just one problem – I don’t want to be a Catholic. I love the Anglican form of worship. I love the Book of Common Prayer. All I ask is that this church consider conservative opinions and viewpoints as legitimate as those of our progressive brothers and sisters. If that’s not possible, then allow parishes where the majority wishes to leave, to leave. Let the diocese offer a fair price for the purchase of the property and if they can pay it, wish them God’s apeed. That is the Christian way of doing it – NOT taking them to court the way our present PB, our “lady of litigation” has as her policy.

  13. walter combs says:

    The S.C. courts just issued a temporary restraining order favoring Bishop Lawrence and The Diocese of South Carolina. TEC has not fared well in S.C. courts so far. Time will tell.

Comments are closed.