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2019 Convention Guide: Part I
March 12, 2019
Breakaways' Annual Meeting Confronts Disarray, Declining Membership, & Another Whopping Deficit
Lawrence "diocese" racked up nearly $1 million in legal bills in 2018, yet Delegates to Annual Meeting to consider raises for leaders Saturday
When Mark Lawrence was elected Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina in 2006, there was a sense of optimism and promise, even among traditional Episcopalians to whom he had repeatedly given assurances of his intention to stay in the Episcopal Church.
And why not? The historic Diocese was booming. Flush with new members, expanding campuses, and new ministries, it was one of the two fastest growing dioceses in the Episcopal Church. The amiable and engaging new bishop and his wife seemed to be a good fit for South Carolina after all.
Now, thirteen years later, representatives of congregations still loyal to Lawrence will meet this weekend to figure out a way out of growing debt, unsustainable declines in membership, and the loss of its corporate identity.
They have a daunting task.
The group is still reeling from a string of legal disasters after taking the Episcopal Church to court, claiming - wrongly as it turned out - they were the rightful owners of an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets. Lawrence in particular looked to be in denial last summer when he suggested to supporters the state and U.S. supreme courts had not rejected his six-year-old lawsuit in August 2017 and June 2018 respectively.
Widespread affection for the 68-year-old bishop and fear of his legal counsel meant that the mission would carry on in spite of the loss of its compass.
Breakaway spending is out-of-control
Last month delegates got a glimpse of the organization's financial mess when they received budget documents reporting that the "diocese" spent $495,289 more in 2018 than it took in, far surpassing its 2017 deficit of $280,144. See budget proposal
Missing from their delegate packets was any plan to rein in spending and get themselves back on track following their defeat in the courts in 2017. In fact, Lawrence and his lieutenants apparently have no plans to cut excess spending in 2019 and actually want the delegates to give them raises.
Much of the deficit spending in recent years has come from legal bills high-priced legal services, unfunded payments to the self-styled “Anglican Church of North America,” and Lawrence’s refusal to reduce his and his staff’s compensation to reflect the realities of his shrinking operations.
These realities are compounded by the loss of almost half of the communicants of the 'diocese' since Lawrence took the helm in 2008.
1.1 Legal bills
Lawrence’s team gets very uncomfortable when it comes to disclosing payments to specific law firms. However, they have disclosed that, in the aggregate, they paid $298,044 in 2017 to lawyers, and a whopping $969,186 in 2018. That means that last year 45% of the entire organizational budget went to legal fees.
This year’s budget-writers originally estimated that legal bills in 2019 would reach $400,000. However, they subsequently raised that estimate to $788,520. No explanation was given.
Lawrence's lieutenants are expecting that congregations loyal to him will come up with donations of $543,000 to cover most of these legal bills this year. This amount does not include legal bills individual congregations will incur on their own. However, many of the breakaway congregations once loyal to Lawrence’s schism have served notice that they will not be forking over another dime for 'diocesan' legal expenses.
These are the best numbers we can find in official records for the aggregate annual amounts paid to lawyers by the Lawrence organization since work on the schism began.
2015 $ 96,633
2019 $788,520 (requested)
Now we would call your attention to two things in the chart of expenditures.
In 2018, when there were no formal court proceedings requiring attorneys of record to be present, the Lawrence "diocese' paid out nearly $1 million in legal bills. There was one informal attorneys' conference for less than an hour with state court Judge Edgar Dickson, and then another more formal session in which Lawrence' attorney lectured the court on the contents of a brief it had filed in the matter of the administration of the 2017 state Supreme Court ruling.
Similarly in 2019, there are no courtroom proceedings scheduled, except for a decision expected by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in the matter of a false advertising lawsuit by the legitimate bishop . Both sides have agreed to forgo a trial, so the only real cost to anyone is the preparation of briefs for submission to the judge, which has already happened.
Even so, Lawrence’s high command is still requesting another $788,520 for legal fees this year (#73172).
In June 2017 the Lawrence organization announced that it was joining a loosely-knit group of Anglican and Episcopal dissidents known as the “Anglican Church of North America”.
ACNA is largely defined by its fear of gays and lesbians in the Church, and women in positions of spiritual leadership over men. In spite of its name, ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion or recognized by any of its official bodies.
However in August 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled that Lawrence was not the legitimate leader of the “Diocese of South Carolina” and had no authority to realign the diocese or parishes loyal to him any group since they were and always have been part of the Episcopal Church.
Even so, Lawrence has persisted in claiming allegiance to the ACNA, and goes so far as to allocate nearly $200,000 a year that he obviously doesn't have into keeping ACNA afloat.
1.3 Bloated Spending
This year delegates to the breakaways' annual meeting are actually being asked to give across-the-board raises to Lawrence and his staff in spite of their continuing deficit spending. In our view, this brings up a legitimate concern about whether the 'diocesan' bureaucracy is too big to justify the money its followers are shelling out to pay for it.
When Lawrence was elected, he inherited a diocese of nearly 30,000 communicants. Today that number has dropped by more than half. The number of congregations he serves has declined by 25%, and legally all but seven of them belong to the Episcopal Church.
Equally problematic for his "diocese" is the loss of slightly less than $300,000 in annual revenue from trust funds intended for the support of the Episcopal Church and its work in South Carolina. Those trusts are held by the Trustees of the Diocese, but since the August 2019 state Supreme Court decision, the 'diocese' is no longer taking money from them (though it has apparently made no plans to repay the funds it took prior to the decision)
With those funds were no longer available, the administrators of Lawrence's 'diocese' apparently have done little to do nothing to cutback on their spending. This is what has helped create unprecedented deficits in 2018 and 2019.
The one thing that has not declined has been Lawrence’s compensation package which is exceptionally generous for any bishop in the Church.
Since he became a bishop, Lawrence’s salary has held steady at around $105,000. This year he is going for a slight raise to $109,246. Along with that, he will be getting $16,250 for utilities and housing allowance, another $39,527 for insurance and retirement, another $10,000 for an annuity (even though he gets a pension from the Episcopal Church), and another $30,000 for travel expenses to undetermined locations. At age 68, Lawrence is also eligible for Social Security benefits.
This is all provided in addition to his continuing to live in the official residence of the official Episcopal Bishop of the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina … for the princely sum of $1 a year, according to court records.
Assisting Lawrence in his duties are his Canon to the Ordinary and Canon Theologian, both of whom would be getting raises under the proposed 2019 budget. The Canon to the Ordinary apparently would even be able to draw his higher salary during his planned sabbatical this year. The Canon Theologian
will continue to be paid though it is not clear what his duties are.
South Carolina Episcopalians