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January 30, 2015
Lawyers Slug it Out in Federal Appeals Court over Houck's Ruling
VonRosenberg wants the Federal Courts to force Mark Lawrence to stop claiming to be an Episcopal Bishop in South Carolina
RICHMOND - Lawyers for South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg and ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence found themselves in an unusual situation Wednesday: A courtroom presided over by well-versed judges who seemed openly skeptical of Mark Lawrence's claim that he is an Episcopal Bishop.
Charleston attorney Tom Tisdale, Chancellor for the Church's continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina, and Beaufort attorney Alan Runyon, who represents the religious corporation led by Lawrence, butted heads with each other and a pesky three judge panel over vonRosenberg's lawsuit to prevent Lawrence from calling himself an Episcopal Bishop.
Lawrence announced that he had left the Episcopal Church in October 2012 after a disciplinary board found that he had abandoned his vows as a bishop. However, Lawrence has repeatedly asserted that he is still the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Only in the world of Lawrence does this make any sense.
Tisdale told the panel that Lawrence's antics are "false advertising" that is making it difficult for vonRosenberg, the duly elected and recognized Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, to do his job.
Tisdale told the panel that Lawrence's behavior is a violation of Federal law and that a lawsuit he has filed on behalf of vonRosenberg against Lawrence should be heard in Federal Court.
Retired U.S. District Judge Weston Houck in Charleston had previously ruled that the matter was not a issue for the Federal courts and that the trial of Lawrence's mega-lawsuit against the Episcopal Church in state court would likely resolve the issue.
Neither lawyer was particularly forceful during his allotted twenty minutes before the panel, comprised of judges from the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals based in Richmond. The judges had obviously read briefs submitted by both sides and repeatedly interrupted the attorneys with very pointed questions.
The sharp questioning by the panel seemed to rattle the attorneys who were struggling put to get their positions on the record within their allotted time.On several occasions, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz seemed to be explaining to the lawyers what they were struggling to say about their positions.
However, Runyon seemed to get the worst of it, as the judges were clearly not buying his defense of Houck's ruling, or explaining why a violation of Federal law should not be tried in a Federal court.
Runyon has spent years planning Lawrence's case against the Episcopal Church, and has sought to avoid any intervention in the case by the Federal courts. Across the country, these courts have been strongest against breakaway groups like Lawrence's.
Listen to the oral arguments before the three-judge panel
Read Dr. Ron Caldwell's analysis
January 29, 2015
Longtime Rector at Historic St. Philip's in Charleston is Out
Haden McCormick has been a Lawrence loyalist and supporter of his leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON - Ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and the leaders of St. Philip's Episcopal Church announced today that Haden McCormick, its rector for the past fifteen years, will vacate that position in April.
The announcement came after a private meeting between Lawrence and McCormick last week. According to Lawrence, quiet discussions about McCormick's future have been ongoing with the parish vestry since last summer.
Neither Lawrence, parish leaders, nor McCormick were specific about the reasons for his departure.
Former glory, pre-Lawrence
Saint Philip's was once considered the "mother parish" of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and its rectors were instantly among the most influential clergy in the Diocese. Its congregation has included former leaders of colonial South Carolina and the doomed Confederate States of America. Vice-President John C. Calhoun was buried there.
However, whatever was left of that influence in more modern times has long since evaporated.
Under McCormick in 2012, the congregation voted to try to leave the Episcopal Church, and joined Lawrence's quixotic lawsuit to grab an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets in addition to becoming independent from it ... and the parish has not been an easy time since.
Several longtime parishioners left. Some were loyal Episcopalians while others simply grew tired of McCormick's negative and bitter tone toward the Church. Others wanted to remain a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which only recognizes the Episcopal Church as its province in the United States.
Gradually parish leaders are now realizing that Lawrence's justifications for bringing the lawsuit are largely fantasy, generated by his imaginary culture "war" with Church leaders.
In fact, there was never any threat to St. Philip's from the Church or any interest by anyone in taking over the parish's property, as people like Lawrence and McCormick suggested.
Actually, there wasn't even a war.
Similar lawsuits by breakaways in as many as twelve other dioceses have all gone down in flames, suggesting to those at St. Philip's, who are still objective, that the parish is throwing its money down a legal rat hole.
Ironically, the decision to join the lawsuit has actually put ownership of parish property up for grabs, which would not have happened if the parish had simply done nothing except the work Jesus Christ gave them to do.
The parish has incurred deficits in its operating budgets in the past two years, and racked up significant legal bills (nearly $130,000 in 2013 alone) which it paid out of investment funds set aside for future ministry. Lawrence has given no indication of abandoning his commitment to his lawsuit, which attorneys predict will drag on for years.
However, St. Philip's is still a vibrant congregation with strong lay leadership, especially when it is not under Lawrence's thumb.
Humiliating stunt tarnishes departing rector's legacy
Sadly, McCormick will always be remembered for an adolescent stunt he and other Lawrencians engineered in 2008.
That year Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accepted their invitation to participate in a service of evensong at Saint Philip's during her three-day "listening tour" in the Diocese.
However, she was told by the Lawrencians that she would not be allowed to speak during the service, except to say a closing prayer. She was also informed that she would process into the church along side Lawrence rather than following him at the end of the procession as is protocol.
Apparently, they wanted to send Jefferts Shori a you're-not-the-boss-of-us message, and let her know they did not regard her as anything more than one of many bishops in the Church.
The readings for the service were carefully chosen for their condemnation of sexual immorality, and the lay readers -- members of St. Philip's -- even turned around to face her when they read.
While more than 300 people attended the service, the parish further embarrassed itself by arranging a reception for the Presiding Bishop immediately following at which it served only served store-bought cookies. (Remember this is downtown Charleston). The leader of the Episcopal Church and Primate in the Anglican Communion was also told to vacate the premises after 45 minutes because a youth group needed the space.
Almost every insult planned by the Lawrencians backfired. At the end of the service, the disgusted congregation erupted in a joyous ten-minute ovation for the leader of their Church. Afterwards, she and her husband were mobbed by admirers, who generally ignored Lawrence and McCormick.
In her remarks at the reception, she graciously thanked the people of the parish for their warmth and generous hospitality.
Unfortunately for the parish, the incident was reported throughout the Anglican world.
Who will succeed McCormick?
McCormick's successor has yet to be announced, if that determination has yet been made Current speculation centers on one Lawrence favorite, but it is all based on rumors and SC Episcopalians is not close enough to the powers-that-be to mention the name with any confidence. He will almost certainly be male.
In the autocratic Lawrencian "diocese", it is still not clear how much say parishes have in the selection of their rectors. Recent shake-ups in rectorships in other parishes have generally involved promotions from within existing Lawrencian clergy.
Lawrence will be the dominant factor in the selection process, and he seems to be okay with promoting existing staff clergy to the top job in a parish without an extensive search or parish discernment. That is not the practice in most Episcopal churches.
January 20, 2015
Oral Arguments in Appeal of Houck's Decision Scheduled for Jan. 28
No word yet on a ruling from Circuit Court Judge Goodstein
RICHMOND - Lawyers for the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina will head to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia next week to argue that a local Federal judge was wrong not to claim jurisdiction in a case they brought in 2013 asking that the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg be recognized as the Church's duly elected bishop in eastern South Carolina.
VonRosenberg's predecessor, ex-Bishop Mark J. Lawrence, claims that he is the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, even though he abandoned the Church more than two years ago. For years Lawrence has been engaged in an imaginary "war" with the Church that includes a massive lawsuit claiming that he and his followers own an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets.
Federal Judge Weston Houck from Charleston previously rejected the Church's argument that issues raised by Lawrence's conduct necessarily warrant the intervention of the Federal Courts.
Church lawyers and those representing Lawrence will be given a total of twenty minutes each to present their oral arguments in the case on January 28th.
Meanwhile, there has been no word on when a ruling in the case of Lawrence's mega-lawsuit might be handed down by State Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County. The trial was held last July, and the judge herself seemed to suggest that an opinion would be forthcoming in the fall. However, she is under no timetable and many legal observers at the trial thought she was not aware of the potentially far-reaching effects of her decision when set the schedule was announced.
Read full story from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina website.
January 1,, 2015
New Year Finds Current and Former Episcopalians in South Carolina Stalled, Entering a Third Year of Breakaways' Attack on the Church
After two turbulent years of legal maneuvering by their embittered former Bishop and his nearly 50-member legal team, current and former Episcopalians, in what was once a large, thriving diocese in the Episcopal Church, are spiritually exhausted and financially depleted.
Any hope of a quick resolution to the complicated legal issues raised by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers in their lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina have long since evaporated.
Lawrence and his followers are part of a national effort by ultraconservatives to create a legal precedent that will allow them and their allies in other dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church and take their parishes and even their entire dioceses with them. The strategy has failed in most places, including Georgia, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, but legal cases in Fort Worth and Quincy (Ill), along with Lawrence's in South Carolina, are still active, but moving at a snail's pace.
Episcopal Church in South Carolina thrives under Lawrence's successor
Much to the surprise of many on both sides, the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina has proven to be a viable entity with sufficient resources to fight Lawrence's attempt to make off with the Diocese of South Carolina's parish properties and financial assets, conservatively valued at $800 million. The continuing diocese has also gotten good news in the form of insurance coverage for its legal expenses incurred while defending itself from Lawrence's legal assault.
Lawrence's successor, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, has led a reorganization of the Diocese that has seen significant grown and rebirth. New mission parishes have formed in parts of the Diocese where pro-Lawrence congregations have not yet relinquished control of their buildings, and a number of its larger, established parishes have continued to attract loyal Episcopalians who have grown weary of Lawrence's erratic leadership, hostility toward homosexuals and lesbians in the Church, and his intolerance of those whose experience of God is different from his own.
Parishes loyal to the Episcopal Church in Charleston experienced record turnouts this Christmas. Grace Church, the largest of them, had five Christmas services with nearly 3,000 participants.
Lawsuit slogging along, likely to take years and millions of dollars
Lawrence's lawsuit went to trial last summer in Dorchester County, where some of his attorneys have ties to a judge they felt would rule in their favor. The judge's performance at trial drew occasional gasps and guffaws, as she appeared determined to limit the admission of evidence that might be helpful to the Church and its continuing Diocese on appeal.
Now, nearly six months after the trial, the judge has not yet ruled in the case, nor has a Federal appeals court in Richmond made a decision on vonRosenberg's request that he be recognized as the legitimately elected and officially-recognized Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Lawrence, living very well in Charleston, says no chance of reconciliation
Meanwhile, Lawrence has firmly ensconced himself in Charleston in the official residence established by loyal Episcopalians for the rightful Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The Diocesan Board of Trustees, which the ex-bishop chairs, has awarded him a $1-per-year lease for the home, located in a very posh and historic part of downtown. Funds contributed by his breakaway "diocese" cover maintenance and upkeep on the property. He also has a very nice agreement with the "diocese" that makes him its salaried CEO until he decides to give that up.
Believe it or not, in addition to his salary, he gets a pension from the Episcopal Church's Pension Fund, one of the most lucrative retirement plans in the country and one which his priests were forced to give up when they abandoned the Church with him.
Last year Lawrence launched an aggressive appeal for $2 million in funds to pay his lawyers, and this year he is pressuring them for the same amount to fight the "spiritual forces of evil.". Details of the legal fund's income and expenses do not appear to be available to the public.
December 22, 2014
Ex-Bishop's exotic metaphors, vivid dreams, and rhetorical flourishes have defined a leadership style that has guided his schism
Episcopalians in South Carolina have long become accustomed to Mark Lawrence’s accounts of divine revelation through dreams, visions, angelic messengers, and even ordinary humans through whom heavenly voices speak in ways that only he can understand. His recounting of these imaginings often echo the writings of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and authors of other literary classics he studied in college.
Many of these narratives are charming, as is the one in which his surprise proposal of marriage was spoiled by angels, who had tipped off his future wife in a dream the night before. Then there are bigger picture revelations, almost always cast with Lawrence as God's reluctant hero. All have contributed to his mystique among his followers but many also have been useful to him in inspiring (or some would say, manipulating) them in his recent schism with the Episcopal Church.
Readers of this weblog will remember, for example, Lawrence's 2012 summer vacation that somehow transformed itself into a Biblical epic when he ascended the mountains of North Carolina in anticipation of a new vision to guide next steps in his imaginary “war” with the Church.
On his return, a jubilant Standing Committee eagerly spread the word that indeed the bishop had received an exciting vision through which the Diocese would at last be "drawn into a place of alignment with God alongside Mark."
Few - except the cynical, shameless, and SC Episcopalians - noticed that Lawrence's new vision bore a striking resemblance to his attorneys' secret legal scheme to sue the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese of South Carolina, and make off with hundreds of millions of dollars in property and financial assets accumulated over 225 years of its proclamation of the Gospel...
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