South Carolina Episcopalians
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Earlier Postings in 2018
Episcopal Church Moves to Consolidate Schism
Issues in Pending Federal False Advertising Case
March 1, 2018
March 1, 2018
Annual Meeting of Breakaway Group Promises
Heartache and Delusion
February 22, 2018
Smoking Gun Shows Lawerence
Still Putting His "War" against the Church Ahead of Best Interests of his Parishes
February 21, 2018
July 29, 2019
Divergent Expectations Could Likely Derail Court-Ordered Mediation Before It Starts
Broad Street Attorney Thomas Wills named as mediator
Last week Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson threw up his hands in frustration, and ordered attorneys for the Episcopal Church and 29 dissident congregations and their leadership to mediate their differences on how he should implement its 2017 historic ruling by the state Supreme Court.
In that decision, the justices determined the parish properties of the congregations and the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" all belong to the Church because they are "trustees" of the properties under a Church law known as the Dennis Canon.
Today Charleston attorney Thomas J. Wills was named as the mediator who inherits a nearly seven-year-old case that has proven to be a world-class disaster for the credibility and integrity of the state's judiciary.
The case began in January 2013 with a lawsuit brought by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 congregations, asking the state courts to determine if they were free to leave the Episcopal Church with their parish properties. They also wanted the courts to give them the Church's "Diocese of South Carolina" as well.
A lower court trial judge in 2016 said they could leave with the property, but she was overruled by the state's high court that determined that 29 of the 36, while owned by the local congregations, were held in trust for the Church. The congregants were free to leave the Church, but their property remained. The Diocese of South Carolina also remained part of the Church as well.
In the fall of 2017, the justices assigned their ruling to Dickson to oversee its implementation. Since then Dickson appears to have been sitting on the case, refusing to rule on various motions the lawyers have filed with him. Speculation was that he does not want to disappoint his many friends who are part of local breakaway congregations or his former law firm, which is playing a significant role in the disidents' legal strategy.
Dickson had heard two hours of legal arguments last Tuesday when he suddenly announced that he wanted a mediator to have a crack at it. He did not appear to realize that the parties had been in mediation last year in a related Federal lawsuit in which the breakaway group had largely refused to engage.
He also seemed unaware that the Church had offered to settle the case in 2015, offering to release any claims on the parish properties of the dissidents in exchange for their dropping their claims to own the Diocese of South Carolina. Lawrence and his lead attorney rejected the offer without even asking the congregations.
Dickson's decision to go with a mediator last week felt to the breakaway attorneys like a victory. They have been trying to derail Dickson and delay implementation of the 2017 ruling since it came down. They have also been trounced in recent years in courtroom encounters such that Dickson's ordering mediation last week seemed to be exactly what they needed.
The challenge facing Wills is that Dickson said he wanted "all" the issues in case before him to be mediated. However, the question is, what constitutes "all".
Breakaway attorneys have been arguing that Dickson needed to review whether the Supreme Court justices had been correct in determining which parishes could leave and which would stay. To them, "all" meant all the issues in the high court's ruling that they don't like in addition to the procedural ones involved in Dickson's role as implementer of the ruling.
Church lawyers appear to have no interest in re-opening the original case, and negotiating a new deal. They are assuming a mediator is there to advise the judge on how he is to implement the decision, including ruling on the half-dozen motions before him.
July 23, 2019
The Orangeburg judge, who has sat on the landmark 2017 Supreme Court ruling for nearly two years, today told Church leaders and dissidents to get a mediator to help them figure out how he should move forward
S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson stunned his courtroom this morning by ordering attorneys for the Church and 29 dissident congregations to enter mediation over their differing views on how he should implement the state Supreme Court's historic August 2017 ruling, declaring that the congregations and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belong to the Episcopal Church.
More than twenty months ago, the state's high court gave Dickson the task of implementing the ruling, but strangely he has avoided taking action after complaining he didn't understand the case or what it was the high court expected him to do with it.
Today, Dickson spent two hours listening to a rehashing of two years of multiple filings by the attorneys, including those about the dissidents' nuisance lawsuit in which they say the Church owes them financial reparations for two centuries of improvements to their parish properties.
After a series of exchanges in which the judge at times appeared to be frustrated and overwhelmed, Dickson announced that he wanted the group to get a mediator to help them agree on how he should move forward on all the issues pending before him.
He wasn't especially clear about what he meant by "all" the issues, since the state Supreme Court has already ruled on which congregations could leave the Church, and the ownership of the Diocese, its properties, and financial assets.
There are six pending motions before him that include a request by the Church for an audit of each dissident congregation's finances and property and dismissal of the nuisance lawsuit.
To Dickson's credit, he seems to want the parties in the case to be in agreement with whatever he does with the case to avoid further appeals to a higher court.
Delay and disrupt
Dickson's decision to throw the case to a mediator came out of the blue for lawyers on both sides, but it was clearly a gift for the beleaguered legal team for the dissident group.
If Dickson had done his job, today's hearing could have been the beginning of the end for them. Instead, he has plunged the case once again into the netherworld of judicial delay and public bickering.
The Lawrencians no longer have any chance of overturning a state Supreme Court ruling that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, so they have embarked on a strategy of delay and disruption in its implementation. Even Dickson admitted today that the parties in the case were in for a long haul.
Last year, in a Federal case that parallels the one before Dickson, the breakaways stiff-armed court-appointed mediator, retired U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson and refused to enter into serious negotiations. Breakaway lawyers told Dickson today that Anderson was not qualified as a mediator.
In 2015, the Church offered to settle the entire case by giving the dissident congregations full title to their parish properties, but they rejected even that.
July 20, 2019
Don't Expect Much at 'Betterments' Hearing Tuesday
Orangeburg Judge is doing the bare minimum to make progress implementing the historic 2017 Supreme Court ruling
In asking for reparations, former breakaways concede defeat in 2013 lawsuit brought by ex-bishop and those loyal to him
At long last state Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson of Orangeburg is finally doing something about the 2017 ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, declaring 29 former secessionist parishes and the Diocese of South Carolina part of the Episcopal Church.
In the fall of 2017, the justices handed off this landmark decision to Dickson to implement in his capacity as the administrative judge in South Carolina's First Judicial Circuit.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2013 by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and congregations sympathetic to him, asking the state courts to declare them the rightful owners of an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets in eastern South Carolina.
It is understandable that Dickson might have waited to do anything with his assignment until last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the decision and allowed it to stand.
However, it is hard to see any justification for Dickson's doing almost nothing with it since then. Dickson has held exactly one meeting with the lawyers in the case, and another hour-long gripe session in which lawyers for the former secessionists bashed the Supreme Court's ruling and, in particular, the opinion of Chief Justice Don Beatty.
Earlier this past spring, Dickson scheduled a hearing in the case with only a week's notice, then peevishly cancelled it, reportedly because some of the forty-odd breakaway attorneys didn't let him know if they would be showing up.
Now Dickson has rescheduled the hearing for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in St. Matthews, Calhoun County's county seat and part of the First District.
Assuming this hearing goes forward, its entire focus most likely will be on a nuisance lawsuit brought by the one-time breakaways asking for monetary reparations to compensate them for improvements made to Church properties while they occupied them.
We've gotten some information that not all the lawyers on the dissident side are pleased with a legal strategy that is such an obvious ploy to use the courts to obstruct a ruling by the state's Supreme Court, and allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court.
They are also concerned that, in bringing an action under the 'Betterments' statute, former Bishop Lawrence and the 29 congregations are finally admitting defeat in their 2013 lawsuit against the Church.
Under the statute, only a losing party in a case in which all appeals have been completed can request reparations. In shameless effort to keep donations flowing, Lawrence's lieutenants have continued to suggest that their 2013 lawsuit is still active in the courts.
What might happen on Tuesday?
Why it has taken Dickson slow long to get around to this case is anyone's guess. He has complained that the high courts ruling in 2017 is confusing to him and that he does not know what he is expected to do with it. The concept of "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied" does not appear to be a compelling factor in his management of this case.
It is difficult to imagine a legal basis a judge would use to allow the dissidents' Betterments claim to go forward. Dickson's dismissal of the suit would be a sign that he is somewhat serious about moving forward with implementation of the high court's 2017 ruling.
However, the case has been tangled up in judicial politics and conflicts from the very beginning. It is almost certainly the reason it was brought in the largely rural First District where none of the judges have any particular expertise in Church or Trust law. The First District is also a place where powerful politicians and lawyers are rumored to have significant influence over the courts.
Dickson's colleague in the First District is Diane Goodstein, the original trial judge in the breakaways' lawsuit, whose mangling of key issues in her 2016 ruling was at the heart of state's high court overturning it in 2017. There is also some suspicion that her pro-Lawrence ruling and its anti-gay undertones was important in swaying ultra-conservative legislators to support her ultimately unsuccessful effort to land a seat on the state Supreme Court this year.
SC Episcopalians has wondered more than once why Dickson is even handling the case at all, since his former law firm and political supporters are members of the legal team representing the one-time breakaway group. Just sayin'
July 15, 2019
Judge Re-schedules Hearing on Nuisance Lawsuit
New date is 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 23rd in St. Matthews
One day after a mild reprimand, S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson announced he'd hold a hearing on a lawsuit by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers in their efforts to slow down implementation of the state Supreme Court's August 2017 ruling that 29 parishes loyal to Lawrence - and the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" - belong in the Episcopal Church.
The state's high court assigned Dickson the job of implementing the 2017 decision and overseeing the return of the parishes to the Church (see posting below). The 29 returning parishes are not accepting defeat easily and have joined with Lawrence as plaintiffs in the new lawsuit.
Lawrence & returning parishes lack standing to bring Betterments lawsuit
The lawsuit, which will be the subject of the Dickson's hearing, was brought by the Lawrencians' 40-member legal team under the state'sBetterments Act, an obscure law that allows people who have been mistakenly living on someone else's property to be compensated for improvements they've made before the courts kicked them out.
However, the only people allowed to bring a Betterments lawsuit are defendants on the losing side of a separate property case that has been concluded.
The Lawrence crowd is not really eligible to bring a lawsuit like this because they were the plaintiffs - not defendants - in their 2013 lawsuit against the Church. They also strangely maintain that their case is not closed even though the state and nation's highest courts have ruled against them.
In addition, the 29 former Lawrence congregations have not been mistakenly living on someone else's property, since the Church has never disputed their claim to be the rightful owners of their parish property.
In fact, their 2013 lawsuit against the Church was not a property case at all. It was about South Carolina trust laws ... which are not covered by the Betterments statute.
Incidentally, none of the 29 congregations has been kicked out of its parish property. The Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has gone to great lengths to encourage their members to stay on even as Dickson directs their return.
Gift that keeps on giving
Attorneys for the returning parishes concede privately that the Betterments lawsuit is a "backup plan" concocted by Lawrence's lawyers in the event other schemes to thwart implementation of the 2017 ruling fail. They never actually thought they would have to defend this in front of a judge and look like they've never been to law school.
While the Lawrencians may not have standing to bring a lawsuit under the Betterments statute, it does give about forty high-priced lawyers one more opportunity to soak their former breakaway clients with legal fees for working on a case that was lost two years ago.
July 1, 2019
SC Supreme Court Not Ready to Force Confused Judge to Implement 2017 Decision
Justices "confident" Judge Dickson will act in an "expeditious manner" in implementing ruling without Mandamus order sought by Church lawyers
The South Carolina Supreme Court today rejected a request by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese in eastern South Carolina to issue a "writ of mandamus," ordering S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson to move forward with implementation of its 2017 ruling against ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers.
Last March Church lawyers made the request to the high court after signals from Dickson raised concerns about his commitment to finishing the case. Those signals included an aimless, hour-long hearing in which the Orangeburg judge allowed Lawrencian lawyers to rant against the 2017 ruling and, in particular, the opinion written by Chief Justice Don Beatty. Beatty was the deciding vote in the case.
On two occasions, Dickson told lawyers that he didn't understand what the Supreme Court wanted him to do. He also seemed confused by tactics of the Lawrence's legal team suggesting he was free to retry the nearly-seven year-old case.
The ruling in question is the result of a lawsuit filed by Lawrence and his supporters in January 2013. Lawrence and about 36 congregations loyal to him claimed they were leaving the Episcopal Church and were the rightful owners of an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets.
The state's high court rejected the argument in the 2017 decision, which the Lawrencians unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dickson was assigned the job of implementing the ruling more than a year ago, but has done little with it.
Lawrence and his group left the Church over its inclusion of gays and lesbians, acceptance of women in positions of spiritual authority, and openness to understandings of the Bible inconsistent with their own literal interpretations. Last year Lawrence put a new spin on his reason for leaving, claiming it was all about Sunday School teachers dressing as a man one Sunday and a woman the next.
A Mandamus order (aka "Writ of Mandamus") is a legal device in which a higher court compels a lower court to act on a matter before it. Courts don't really like to use them because they can create adversarial relationships and imply a lack of confidence in a lower court.
Mandamus orders are less frequent in more complex cases, and the decision in the Lawrence matter is complex. Not only does it involve 29 parishes and the Diocesan corporate entity, there are numerous reports of missing Church assets, unauthorized sales of property, and intentionally hidden parish records that were not turned over to the courts during the trial of the Lawrence lawsuit.
There is nothing in the wording of the Order today suggesting that the justices are okay with Dickson's bumbling, nor do they suggest that his job is anything more than enforcing the August 2017 judgement.
The only mysterious part of the high court's Order today is the justices' suggestion that they weren't granting a writ of mandamus since Dickson has already scheduled hearings in the matter.
What hearings are those? The last hearing Dickson scheduled on that matter was more of a venting session last fall. He has scheduled nothing since then.
Was today's ruling a "defeat' for the Church side?
While the justices rejected the request for a writ of mandamus, it is not clear that today's ruling was a defeat for the Church. In fact, it may have been part of clever strategy to have the justices put Dickson on notice to get moving on the case, and stop encouraging the parties in the case to think that he might do something with it other than enforce the 2017 decision.
According to the Order, "we are confident that Respondent (Dickson) will resolve the petition to enforce the judgement, as well as any related matters that are pending, in an expeditious manner." It also made clear that Dickson's job is to enforce the Court's ruling, not retry elements of the case or attempt to reinterpret its decision as Lawrencian lawyers and spin doctors have tried to argue.
The Order was signed by four of the five members of the current Court. Associate Justice Kaye Hearn recused herself.
June 20, 2019(rev. 6/22)
Scandal Brews Over Insurance Company Payments to Former Breakaways in SC
Rumors persist that secessionist groups in other dioceses may have received improper payments from the Church Insurance Company of Vermont as well
Just when you thought things couldn’t get crazier, they did.
The Church Insurance Company of Vermont is asking a Federal court in Charleston to decide if it is obligated to reimburse any of the legal bills incurred by 17 dissident congregations in a lawsuit they and ex-bishop Mark Lawrence brought against the Church in 2012.
CIC-VT filed a complaint with the court on June 14, just three days after the Episcopal Church in South Carolina filed a complaint against the insurer, alleging that it was wrongfully reimbursing one-time breakaway congregations for their share of the litigation.
The feud between TECSC and the Church's insurance company emerged a few weeks ago when loyal Episcopalians discovered CIC-VT had made a $111,749 payment to St. Philip's in Charleston to cover some of its legal bills, even though the congregation claims it left the Episcopal Church in 2012.
CIC-VT was created by the Episcopal Church nearly twenty years ago for the limited purpose of insuring its national office, dioceses, and parishes. The Episcopal Church is its parent company, and sole customer. It is not chartered to insure entities beyond those in good standing with the Church.
Insurer throws up its hands and asks Court to sort it out
In their original 2012 lawsuit, Lawrence and congregations loyal to him unsuccessfully attempted to leave the Church with their properties, but succeeded in racking up millions of dollars in legal bills on both sides. The case was settled by the South Carolina Supreme Court in August 2017, and last summer the United States Supreme Court allowed the decision to stand.
The insurer's filing this week did not make clear which among their bills the congregations believe should be reimbursed.
The congregations were covered by valid policies until their announced their decisions to "disaffiliate" with the Church in the fall of 2012. Even if those policies would be considered to be valid by a court, the insurer would only required reimburse legal fees to defend the congregations from lawsuits. All of the congregations named in CIC-VT's complaint were plaintiffs -- not defendants -- in their lawsuit.
In its June 14th filing, CIC-VT does not explain its rationale for apparently exceeding its charter, neither does it explain why its is filing this action now, after already making payments to at least one of the dissident congregations. The filing names the Episcopal Church in South Carolina as a defendant, but it does not appear to be challenging the legitimacy of its claims for reimbursement as it was the defendant in the lawsuit.
Compounding the insurer's woes are rumors SC Episcopalians has heard that it may also have paid claims filed by anti-Church groups in other dioceses.
Was fraud committed by the congregations?
Right now not enough is known to say that former Lawrence congregations committed fraud in filing claims for reimbursement.
At this point even the basis on which the 17 parishes were named as defendants by the insurance company is not exactly clear. We assume they are in there because they are either trying to get money out the insurer or already have.
The congregations in question are ...
Church of the Redeemer, Orangeburg
Old St. Andrews, Charleston
All Saints, Florence
Church of Our Saviour, John's Island
Holy Trinity, Charleston
Church of the Cross, Bluffton
St. Philip's, Charleston
St. John's, John's island
St. Bartholomew's, Hartsville
Church of the Holy Cross, Stateburg
Good Shepherd, Charleston
Holy Comforter, Sumter
St. David's, Cheraw
St. Michael's, Charleston
St. Jude's, Walterboro
Christ Church, Mount Pleasant
June 11, 2011
Episcopal Church in SC Moving Forward with Election of Permanent Diocesan Bishop
Visioning, discernment, & election could take 18-24 months
According to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina this morning, it has unanimously agreed to move forward with the election of a new permanent Diocesan bishop over the next 18 to 24 months.
The Rt. Rev. Skip Adams, the current provisional Bishop of the Diocese is fully supportive of the move, as is the Office of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Church leaders would not support such an election if they did not feel the Diocese was strong enough to sustain a full-time bishop.
The Diocese has been among the fastest growing in the Church, and its parishes will likely greet this news with enthusiasm. They have been without a permanent leader since Mark J. Lawrence abandoned his ordination vows and the Diocese in 2012. The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg became the provisional leader of the Diocese in January 2013 and served until 2016, when Adams succeeded him.
Both originally agreed to two-year stints in the job, which is the usual length of a provisional bishop’s tenure. While Lawrence left the Church, he has continues to live in the residence of the real Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, and work in his Diocesan headquarters, even though the state’s Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that the “Diocese of South Carolina" belongs to the Episcopal Church.
Adams plans to leave the job by the end of this year. This means that the Diocese will be getting a third provisional bishop, whose tenure will coincide with the election process for a permanent successor.
June 11, 2019
Episcopal Church in SC Takes Its Own Insurance Company to Court
Lawsuit says reimbursement for legal expenses of former breakaway parishes was “extraordinarily egregious bad faith”by New England-based company
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina filed a lawsuit today against the Church Insurance Company of Vermont (CIC-VT), alleging that the company was secretly reimbursing at least one Lawrence congregation for legal costs in its recent unsuccessful efforts to leave the Episcopal Church with Church property.
The lawsuit suggests that other anti-Church congregations may have received improper payments as well.
CIC-VT holds a master insurance policy for the Episcopal Church, which provides protection for individual dioceses as well. It has covered much of the legal fees of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina since 2012.
The alleged wrongful payments were discovered in a recent Annual Report distributed to the congregation at St. Philip’s in Charleston. That congregation is still under the control of anti-Church leadership even though the state Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that the parish is part of the Episcopal Church.
The matter came to light when some loyal Episcopalian(s) noticed the following mention of the payments in the Report.
“After spending for TEC legal fees, Loan Amortization, and Capital Expenditures, St. Philip’s incurred a net cash deficit of $79,045. However, roughly half of the TEC Legal Fees were eligible for partial reimbursement from the Church Insurance Co. of Vermont, totaling some $111,749.”
The Diocese maintains that St. Philip's was actively engaged in an extensive effort to defraud the Episcopal Church of its rightful property at the time the legal bills were incurred. Consequently, it argues, CIC-VT was helping drive that effort. The lawsuit also questions whether CIC-VT is even licensed to sell individual policies in South Carolina.
The Church's lawsuit does not name St. Philip's as a defendant in the matter. However, if its leadership knowingly misrepresented the parish to get insurance money, the insurer might consider taking action to recover it.
June 9, 2019
A Collect for Independence Day
Reflecting on how we give thanks for our freedom
-- Recent email by Massachusetts State Rep. Byron Rushing, Vice-President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, guardian of Church history, and a friend of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
July 4th lands on a Thursday this year; I write this for those who will be commemorating Independence Day then or on Sunday, June 30, 2019.
Listen to the words of the Collect (BCP, p.242) for Independence Day July 4th: Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Let me take this opportunity to remind Episcopalians in the United States that many of us do not consider the words--"the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us"--in the Independence Day collect to be accurate. Look around your congregations and reflect if all the ancestors of the "us" among you got their liberty then.
This phrase is only possible because slavery was forgotten by the author—or the “us” was not meant to include me.
A better and approved BCP collect for the 4th is "For the Nation" (p.207 or p.258): Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Also the Canadians’ Canada Day collect (July 1) also works for us in the USA and for all the other countries in which TEC is, on their celebrations of independence: Almighty God, whose wisdom and whose love are over all, accept the prayers we offer for our nation. Give integrity to its citizens and wisdom to those in authority, that harmony and justice may be secured in obedience to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May 30, 2019
Are We Ready to Elect a New Diocesan Bishop?
Provisional Bishop Adams has served nearly twice as long as his original commitment; Standing Committee is working on selection process without a specific deadline
Skip Adams’ planned retirement as the provisional Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is raising the question of whether the Diocese is now ready to elect its own permanent Diocesan Bishop. This question is weighing heavily on Diocesan leaders, who ultimately will guide the selection of Adams’ successor in consultation with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
Standing Committee members met last week without any public comment on progress they might have made on the question. The Diocese has been without a full-time, regularly-elected Diocesan Bishop since former Bishop Mark Lawrence abandoned his ordination vows in 2012, quit the Church, and filed suit against his former flock.
Since that time, the Diocese (temporarily known as “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina) has been led first by former East Tennessee Bishop Charles vonRosenberg followed by Adams in 2016. Both were nominated by presiding bishops after intense consultations with Diocesan leaders. They were then unanimously elected by diocesan conventions.
Provisional vs Diocesan
By definition, a “provincial” bishop is one who is essentially hired for a limited tenure until a diocese can support itself and is ready to move forward with its own elected leaders. They usually come from the ranks ranks of recently retired bishops.
A regularly-elected Diocesan Bishop is elected by a diocesan convention for an undetermined period of time. Every bishop in the Episcopal Church has been elected by the people he or she was called to serve.
Most of the Diocese does not appear to be overly excited at the prospect of a third provisional bishop. While both vonRosenberg and Adams were and are very popular, there is a restlessness among congregations for a new vision with permanent, full-time leader at the helm.
However, the process of electing a permanent Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church can often take as long as two years.
To conduct such an election, a diocese will prepare a profile of itself to give prospective candidates a sense of what it is looking for in a bishop. It will also appoint a search committee to oversee the effort, and that committee will engage in a Church-wide effort to advertise the profile and upcoming election, and then identify potential candidates for consideration. Anyone in the Church can nominate someone.
Eventually, the Standing Committee in consultation with the Search Committee will propose a slate of candidates, usually five or six, whose biographies and faith statements seem to fit the diocesan profile. Those will be circulated to parishes in the diocese. An electing convention (generally an annual Diocesan convention) will then be convened by the retiring bishop or the Standing Committee.
Hardliners rigged the search process when Lawrence was elected
The search process is important to many in this Diocese because it was the means by which hard-line secessionists secured the election of Mark J. Lawrence in 2006 even before the electing convention met.
Lawrence claimed he had no ties to the Diocese, but that was not exactly true as it turned out. In fact, it was the political plotting by anti-Church forces that managed to rig the search process from the get-go. Mainstream Episcopalians did not even have a voice on the search committee. That became obvious when dozens of excellent people were nominated for the job, but were immediately rejected because they did not share the right-wing views of the Search Committee members.
As it turned out, only three men were nominated, and of those two were clearly unacceptable even to the hardliners at the electing Convention.
One of the potential options for finding Bishop Adams' successor might be a kind of hybrid that would combine the permanent and provisional approaches. A new provisional bishop would be elected to follow Adams with his or her mission being the provision of episcopal leadership while overseeing the selection process for a new permanent Diocesan bishop.
This option would allow for a proper search process that would involve the entire diocese, while providing experienced, pastoral leadership in the Bishop's office during that process
April 18, 2019
April 12, 2019
Breakaway Lawyers Defend Confused Judge
Orangeburg judge is right to delay implementing decision, dissidents tell State Supreme Court
Lawyers for former Episcopalians, demanding Church property and financial assets valued in the millions of dollars, returned to the state Supreme Court today to defend the failure of an Orangeburg circuit judge to implement its August 2017 ruling favoring the Church.
Repeating unsuccessful arguments made in other courts, the lawyers argued that the high court's decision was unclear and too confusing to be implemented.
Church attorneys have argued that the ruling was very clear in spelling out which parishes could leave and which were legally bound to the Church. The state court's decision was allowed to stand by the nation's highest court last June, when it rejected an appeal by the breakaway group using the same arguments.
The breakaway group was responding to a motion filed last month by the Church’s legal team asking the justices to force S.C. Judge Edgar Dickson to go forward with implementation of the ruling which decreed that 29 of 36 parishes that wanted to leave with ex-bishop Mark Lawrence belong with the Church.
Is judge's foot-dragging intentional?
Dickson was assigned the job in the fall of 2017 but has shown little interest in doing anything about it. Church attorneys are asking for something called a "writ of mandamus".
Dickson's foot-dragging has played perfectly into the breakaways' strategy of delaying any progress in the case. Today's filing with the high court was largely a re-hashing of rejected arguments they made in 2017, and later to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In meetings with attorneys in the case, Dickson has variously complained that he was too busy with other cases or that he was confused by what the high court expected him to do. The question of whether Dickson is intentionally delaying the case or simply out of his depth is an open one.
For example, last summer, in spite of seven years of litigation, tens of thousands of pages of legal filings, and a weigh-in by the United States Supreme Court, Dickson still felt the need to ask both sides to give him a short list of what they thought he should do. Now, more than nine months later he has done of none of the things requested by either side.
Last fall, the judge held another hearing, apparently to give the dissent side an opportunity to re-try the substance of the case, and attack the opinions of the three justices who voted against them in 2017.
Last month he finally scheduled a hearing on a nuisance lawsuit filed by the breakaway group, only to cancel it abruptly days later after his law clerk reported that all the lawyers in the case apparently didn’t notify him that it was convenient for them. Church lawyers were among those who did respond, but the incident raises the prospect that the judge may be willing to delay the case indefinitely as long as breakaway lawyers are too busy to agree to a convenient time to appear before him.
Delays are hurting both sides
As far as SC Episcopalians can see, this intentional delay strategy is damaging both sides, but especially the remaining breakaway groups that are hesitant to abandon the buildings to which they are laying claim, but increasingly can no longer afford to maintain or operate in them. Many have contingency plans to move to new spaces that have come and gone with each legal delay.
Others that want to remain in their buildings in spite of belonging to the Episcopal Church but do not feel they can move forward with conversations with Episcopal Bishop Skip Adams until the legal status of the buildings is finalized by Dickson.
The impact of the case - now in its seventh year - has had a profound impact on membership and finances in the breakaway congregations. Many are routinely running deficits and postponing capital campaigns to add to or otherwise improve their declining buildings and campuses.
Continued news coverage of the case is a reminder that the dissidents left the Church because of its inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians as regular people, its equal treatment of men and women in leadership roles, and its failure to reject understandings of Holy Scripture inconsistent with their own narrow literal interpretations.
(Statement of the breakaway group not yet available)
March 26, 2019
The following was received this morning from Judge Edgar Dickson's law clerk: "Good morning. The Court sent a hearing date of March 27, 2019 at 10:00 am. However, we did not receive any confirmation that the hearing date and time was acceptable to a majority of the parties. Since we did not hear back from counsels and since we are unable to get a court reporter, the hearing is cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date. Thank you for your time in this matter. Additionally, please tell your clients that the hearing has been cancelled. We would hate for them to drive all the way to Orangeburg and there is not going to be a hearing."
March 25, 2019
Orangeburg Judge Likely to Rule on Nuisance LawsuitWednesday
Church attorneys have asked him to dismiss the case as irrelevant since there is no dispute over who owns the parish properties
The circuit court judge charged with implementing the state Supreme Court’s 2017 rejection of a lawsuit by former Bishop Mark Lawrence has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on a nuisance lawsuit brought by lawyers for dissident congregations affiliated with him.
The speculation is that is that S.C. Judge Edgar Dickson is convening the hearing to rule on the Church’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by breakaway lawyers under the state's obscure “betterments” statute, seeking compensation for parish properties and assets they were not awarded as a result of the losing their case in 2017.
According to the state Supreme Court, the 29 parishes are and have always been part of the Episcopal Church. Seven parishes were allowed to leave the Church, after the justices determined that there was no "written" evidence that they agreed to be governed by the Church's Constitution & Canons.
Betterments laws are intended to provide compensation to people who create improvements on properties they mistakenly believed they own.
In South Carolina, only defendants on the losing side of a legal action can ask for compensation, and they must argue convincingly that they didn't know they did not own the property in question.
On both counts, the breakaways' positions don't hold water.
First off, they were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit through which they claim they found out they did not own the property. In other words, they lack the legal standing to bring a betterments lawsuit, which is sufficient grounds on which a judge can dismiss it. That's why SC Episcopalians describes it as a nuisance. as its only purpose appears to be to further delay implementation of the high court ruling.
Secondly, neither the Church nor the Supreme Court is arguing that the congregations don’t own the properties in question. The high court's August 2017 decision is not about who owns the parish properties in question… but whether they are operating them in trust for the benefit of the Episcopal Church.
This is something Lawrence's attorneys have known since the get-go. In the Episcopal Church, congregations hold parish properties in trust for the benefit of the Church. When the Lawrence congregations voted to sever all ties with the Church in November 2012, they effectively violated their obligations as trustees of these properties and were no longer entitled to occupy the buildings.
Judge Dickson has before him a motion from Church attorneys to reject the betterments lawsuit and get on with implementing the court decision. All sides in the case have filed their arguments on the matter with Judge Dickson so there should be no reason to think this aspect of the case will drag out.
Ironically, the Church does appear to have standing to bring a betterments case against the seven breakaway parishes that were allowed to leave. The Church was the defendant in the Lawrence lawsuit and "mistakenly" believed they were being held in trust for the Church and Episcopalians.
March 20, 2019
Church Asks State Supreme Court to Force Circuit Judge to Implement its August 2017 Ruling
Breakaway congregations repeatedly rebuffed Bishop Adams' attempts to negotiate a mutually advantageous resolution
Their patience worn out, the Episcopal Church and its Diocese in eastern South Carolina have asked the state’s Supreme Court to order Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson of Orangeburg to implement its August 2017 decision, declaring that 29 parishes once-loyal to breakaway Bishop Mark Lawrence belong to the Church.
The justices had sent their ruling to Dickson nearly a year-and-a-half ago, but he has given no indication that he is even working on the matter. Judge Dickson had two somewhat aimless sessions with the lawyers from both sides last year, but has since given no indication that he’s even thought about the case.
During one of those sessions, Dickson made it clear he didn’t know what he was supposed to do with the assignment and even asked the lawyers for their suggestions.
In the other session, he appeared to want to retry the case, even allowing the breakaways’ lead attorney to present his arguments for overturning the court ruling. The attorney, Alan Runyan, also was allow as much time as he wanted to attack the opinions of the three justices who voted in the majority, with a particular aggressiveness toward that of Chief Justice Don Beatty. Ironically, it was Beatty’s opinion that kept the Church from winning a complete victory.
Read official announcement by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. (Response by Bishop Lawrence will be published when it is available)
In the view of SC Episcopalians, the high court should reassign the case to a more credible judge. Not only has Dickson stated publicly that he has no idea what he is doing, he formerly practiced law with the most politically influential law firms Lawrence has retained to help with the case.
Attorneys for the Church and the local diocese did not offer any explanation why they chose this time to file their request. There have been reports of some of the Lawrence congregations taking things out of their church buildings, failing to maintain the buildings, and using the buildings to borrow money. Most have had financial troubles since trying to leave the Church with Lawrence
The leader of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams, has tried repeatedly to engage dissident congregations in dialogue to explore their futures either in or outside the Church. His last such attempt was Saturday in Florence where only seven members of breakaway congregations showed up.
February 13, 2019
Sluggish Federal Court May Be Waking Up
It took eight years for the San Joaquin case to be resolved by the courts and Church property transferred back to its rightful owners. South Carolina is just beginning its seventh year.
Slightly more than six years after it was filed, the Federal case of "false advertising" against former SC bishop Mark Lawrence may finally get its day in court. VonRosenberg v. Lawrence is a lawsuit claiming that the breakaway cleric is impersonating an Episcopal Church bishop even though he left the Church in late 2012.
The case is focused on the corporate "marks" of the legitimate Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that Lawrence insists he -- not the Church's duly elected bishop -- leads. If you are scratching your head over what that means, consider that the real purpose of the case is to decide who is the legitimate owner of the corporate entity known as "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."
The case was scheduled to be heard next month, but we learned today it has been rescheduled for May. Courts don't have to explain these things, but we think the fact that both sides have told the judge they are willing to forgo a trial and have him rule directly is probably the reason.
The case was originally assigned to the late Federal Judge Weston Houck in Charleston in April 2013, but he refused to hear it until a seemingly related case in state court was resolved. That state case was resolved in August 2017 and, after several miscues following Houck's death, the Federal case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.
The legal momentum behind the case is clearly with the Church.
The courts in California ruled in a similar schism in Lawrence's home diocese of San Joaquin that the breakaways' claim to owning a diocese of the Episcopal Church was ludicrous. Several years ago, Gergel's colleague, Federal Judge Michael Duffy ruled in a related insurance case that the Diocese led by then-Bishop Charles vonRosenberg was, in fact, the legitimate "Diocese of South Carolina."
However, the most immediate cause for worry for Lawrence and his crowd is that the South Carolina Supreme Court believes the corporate "Diocese of South Carolina" belongs to the Church. In their August 2017 decision, the justices ruled that only seven parishes of the 36 plaintiff parishes in that lawsuit could leave the Church with their properties, leaving it to the Federal court to oversee the disposition of the corporate entity.
Beyond a shared fear of gays, lesbians, and women in positions of spiritual authority, ACNA's African founders rarely seem happy with their American and Canadian proxies
The struggle between out-sized egos that lead ultraconservative provinces of the Anglican Communion and their western offspring has erupted again. This time it’s the Anglican Church of Nigeria apparently clashing with the leadership of its American protégé, the so-called Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).
Last month Nigerian Primate Nicholas Okoh and his College of Bishops announced the appointment of four new missionary bishops in the United States and Canada to operate independently of the Nigerians’ already-established missionary presence.
The move was an apparent snub to Foley Beach, the leader of ACNA and its Anglican primatial look-a-like. Read full story
Can Lawrence's crumbling parishes afford his promise of years of litigation? Latest filings in Federal court little more than a cutting-and-pasting of rejected legal arguments and debunked half-truths.
Last month lawyers for what remains of the Mark Lawrence breakaway organization unloaded 38 motions on Federal Judge Richard Gergel as part of a request for summary judgment in the six-year-old "false advertising" lawsuit facing former Bishop Mark Lawrence. They contained little more than a rehashing of silly ideas without a factual grounding and old legal arguments that have been rejected by other courts.
The avalanche of meaningless filings with Gergel is more evidence the Lawrencians have abandoned any real hope of reversing the state Supreme Court's August 2017 ruling in the Church's favor. Read more
December 13, 2018(rev. 12-15-18)
Lawyers' Lukewarm Defense of Lawrence's "False Advertising" Offers Nothing New, Ignores Courtroom Defeats
At the heart of the case is ownership of the corporate entity, known as "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina"... and, uh, yes that same question has already been decided by Federal Courts, and the State and U.S Supreme courts. Read on.
December 6, 2018
Tear It Down! Anxiety Rises Among Lawrence Clergy as Reality Closes In
St. Philip's clergyman prays God will destroy historic St. Philip's rather than allowing false gospel Episcopalians to continue to own it
As if it was needed, last month St. Philip's in Charleston gave us yet one more insight into why the Mark Lawrence schism is in shambles. It also helped us understand how the historic "mother church" of Anglicanism in South Carolina has lost more than half its membership since Lawrence became Bishop of South Carolina in 2008. Read full story here.
The Vestry of St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Walterboro is apparently moving forward with the sale of what it calls "miscellaneous property" in spite of a 2017 ruling by the state Supreme Court that it has no authority to dispose of any property without the consent of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Thumbing its nose at the high court, the vestry told the members of the congregation this week that it is moving ahead with plans to offer the properties for sale ... and, if they need anyone's consent, they will get it from ex-bishop Mark Lawrence's breakaway organization.
"Parish Property Sale - Charles Lucas recommended that certain miscellaneous properties owned by the Church be offered as a bundle for a price of $29,900 with a hope to receive possibly $15,000‑$20,000. The Vestry agreed to send a letter to the Diocese to seek permission if any is needed. The Vestry approved a motion to adopt the recommendation with the limitation that St. Jude's would only give a limited warranty deed." Read the full story
The Episcopal Church, its continuing Diocese in South Carolina (TECSC) and those representing Mark Lawrence and parishes once aligned with him are heading to court tomorrow in Orangeburg to make oral arguments before state Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson, who's been charged by the state Supreme Court with implementation of its August 2017 decision declaring that 29 parishes and Camp St. Christopher are part of the Episcopal Church.
November 9, 2018
Mission Accomplished: The extraordinary journey of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina comes to an end as its legacy lives on
With the same thoughtful, dignified, and hopeful tone with which it began 15 years ago, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina announced today that its work is done. In a letter to EFSC members, President Warren Mersereau reported that the organization was closing its doors, and transferring the remaining $2200 balance in its bank account to the Episcopal Church of South Carolina. Read more
October 23, 2018
Judge Schedules Hearing on Implementation of Supreme Court Ruling for November 19th
First Judicial Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson of Orangeburg will preside over what many believe will be beginning of the end for ex-Bishop Lawrence's schism. SC Episcopalians will be there and posting all the latest news as it happens.
October 22, 2018
No Word on Hearing by Orangeburg Judge Charged with Implementing Supreme Court Ruling
South Carolina's judicial system continues to get a failing grade for its incompetent handling of the January 2013 lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence.
First Judicial Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson was charged by the state Supreme Court with implementing its largely pro-Episcopal Church ruling in the case nearly a year ago... and has not even held a hearing. Last August he told lawyers on both sides that he would schedule a hearing on the case before the end of October, but so far nothing is scheduled.
October 16, 2018
Lawrencians Throw Everything plus Kitchen Sink at Judge Hoping to Force Re-Opening of 2013 Lawsuit
In court filings today in Orangeburg, breakaway lawyers continued to bash the state's 2017 Supreme Court ruling, while furiously battling the Church's request for a full accounting of Diocesan and parish finances.
October 11, 2018
Bishop Adams, Diocesan Leaders Take to Facebook to Talk Reconciliation & Legal Cases
South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams and his leadership team took to social media tonight to ramp up their reconciliation efforts with followers of former Bishop Mark Lawrence, while offering insights into his vision for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Read more.
September 24, 2018
Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson has only been authorized to implement the August 2017 state Supreme Court decision that ended Mark Lawrence's aborted schism, but that has not stopped breakaway lawyers from pummeling the Orangeburg jurist with demands that he overturn key parts of the decision.
In routine filings in Dickson's court today, Lawrence's lead attorney Alan Runyan continued his attacks on the Court majority, using quotes from the opinions of the losing side to hammer away at what he argues is a ruling that is too vague to be enforced. Read full story.
In 2015, his colleague rendered one of the most reckless and costly decisions ever handed down in the state's First Judicial District, so perhaps Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson should not be cussed too much for being painfully careful in implementing the state Supreme Court's 13-month-old decision in Lawrence's lawsuit.
August 8, 2018
Lawrence's Last Hurrah Tour Leaves Followers with Confusion about the Future, & Blame for Everyone Else
Rambling commentary touches on 2015 settlement offer, revisionist history, human genitalia, and questionable legal advice
August 3, 2018
Church, Breakaway Attorneys Lay Out Concerns over Implementation of S.C. Supreme Court Decision
Judge had asked them to come up with a list of their expectations for his work ahead; Each list reflected positions taken in prior filings
Part III (Aug 2):
Lawrence Plays the Victim Card
In Walterboro former SC bishop demonizes Church leaders, refuses to admit any blame, then urges his supporters to raise money for lawyers. He appears to be more aware of his own legal culpability than in the past.
Adams Actually Tried to Help Nearly Insolvent Breakaway Parish in Binghamton Buy its Building
Lawrence is trying to smear Bishop Adams during his tour by exploiting the sale of a vacant parish building in Adams' former Diocese ten years ago. Court records shows Judge was infuriated by financial irregularities and apparent hiding of assets when controversial rector was in charge.
Even Lawrence loyalists are confused over his insistence the lawsuit is still alive; His high command still can't prove there was ever any threat to the Diocese from the wider Church (This link takes you to our July 1st response to each FAQ)
July 20, 2018
Lawrence's Allies Lash Out at Reconciliation Initiative
Letter from Peter Moore is one of the milder attacks; SC Episcopalians offers comments on anti-Muslim prejudice, GAFCON, Sin, Anglican Jesuses, Matt Kennedy, and much more
July 18, 2018
Bishop Adams Upbeat about Reconciliation Initiative after Meetings in Conway, Bluffton, & Charleston
'Three Conversations' to help heal broken Diocese were well-attended and productive, in spite of pharisees' efforts to undermine him
July 11, 2018
Church Attorneys Demand Full Accounting, Audits of Lawrence Organization & Parishes
Worst kept secret of the Lawrence schism was that its leaders were attempting to hide assets from the courts in the event secession effort failed; Judge sets July 26 for status conference in the case
June 28, 2018
Three Charleston parishes have lost half their members, but still say they'll continue fighting the Courts and the Church. Wardens at St. Michael's, St. Phillip's, & St. Luke & St. Paul blow off S.C. and U.S. Supreme Courts: "We have a far different perspective."
June 19, 2018
Despite Unprecedented Deficit, High Flying Lawrence and Guests are Jerusalem-bound
Out of control spending suggests Lawrence knows the party's over; Breakaways won't say who's paying for last hurrah with GAFCON
June 19, 2018
Lawrence Team Struggles with Unreality as Church Presses Forward for Implementation of 2017 Ruling
In spite of rejections from the South Carolina and United States Supreme Courts, Lawrence still "confident that the law and the facts of this case favor our congregations."
Diocesan Chancellor says focus now shifts back to Dorchester County for implementation of Court ruling
June 11, 2018
Part I: Supreme Court Rejects Appeal
Without comment, Justices leave South Carolina's pro-Church Supreme Court ruling intact; From near death in 2009, Church's Dennis Canon is now the law in South Carolina
Part II: Angry Lawrence Promises to Fight Implementation of the Court Ruling
Stung by back-to-back losses, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence rejects the August 2017 ruling of the state's Supreme Court and plans to fight its implementation in the Dorchester County court.
April 17, 2018
Judge Expands False Advertising Case to Include 54 Pro-Lawrence Parishes & Trustees as Defendants
In January 2013, hubris led the attorneys for ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence to make a foolish blunder in their legal strategy to leave the Episcopal Church. Today, it came back to haunt them in spades.
April 5, 2018
Texas Appeals Court Finds in Favor of Episcopal Church and its Diocese in Fort Worth
If it is possible that another schism in another diocese could be more bitter and more of a mess than ours, it would be in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Read Dr. Ron Caldwell's comments on the decision
Today loyal Episcopalians got long awaited good news as an appeals court in Fort Worth reversed a lower court ruling favoring the breakaway cousins of our former bishop, Mark Lawrence, making it clear that they own their own Diocese and its property.
Read the full story