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South Carolina Episcopalians

December 2, 2018
As Orangeburg Judge Dithers, Rebel Congregation Thumbs its Nose at the Courts

Congregation is led by out-of-state Lawrence zealot and ex-Bishop's own schism attorney

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 its 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.  

Here's the notice: 


"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."

Congregation turned down a settlement offer to give them independence from the Church along with its property


St. Jude's is one of 36 congregations that asked the state's high court to determine if it owned its parish property independently from the Church.  That was in January 2013.  In August 2017 the Court said only seven of the 36 owned their property outright and could leave the Church with it. 


The remaining 29 congregations would remain part of the Episcopal Church, just as they always have been.  They did filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court last fal, but last June the justices announced they would not take up the case, allowing the state court's ruling to become settled law in our state. 

The key to the state Supreme Court ruling is that the parish property is owned by the congregation but that its ownership is contingent on it being held "in trust" for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.  The congregation can not sell or otherwise encumber the property without the consent of the Church.


If there is any part of this that is more crazy than the rest, it is that the Episcopal Church offered to settle the case in 2015 by giving St. Jude's and the other 36 plaintiff parishes everything they were asking for in court.  That's right.   The Church offered to give St. Jude's full title to all its property... but incredibility the congregation actually REJECTED the offer.


Yes, this can get more ridiculous


Meanwhile, over a year ago, the state Supreme Court "remitted" its decision to Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson for implementation ... but Dickson has done nothing with it and says that he doesn't know what he is supposed to do.  


Last month Dickson had the attorneys gather in his courtroom to re-argue the substance of briefs he had asked them to submit last August.  In those briefs they had told him what they thought the Supreme Court wanted him to do. (Hint:  It is already spelled out in the opinion of the Chief Justice.)


However, the session turned into 90 minutes of shadow-boxing for Beaufort Attorney Alan Runyan to attack the Supreme Court's decision and shred the justices written opinions in the case.  (Dickson has no authority to re-try the case, so it was not clear why he allowed Runyan to go on like this).  


Runyan is Lawrence's lead attorney and the architect of his failed legal strategy laying claim to $500 million in Church property and assets.   Curiously, Runyan is also representing nearly a dozen of the one-time breakaway congregations in addition to Lawrence


One of those parishes in the Runyan network is St. Jude's. 


No conflict there.