And the people stayed home.


Those among us, who've had the opportunity to ride out these weeks of quarantine at home with our families, have probably had time to consider what life will be like post-pandemic.


The following is a poem by Kitty O'Meara, a retired chaplain in Wisconsin, whose hopeful words have made her an internet celebrity in this time of confusion and anxiety.

_____________________________________


And the people stayed home.

And they read books, and listened, and rested,

and exercised, and made art, and played games,

and learned new ways of being,

and were still.

And they listened more deeply.

Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.

Some met their shadows.


And the people began to think differently. 

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways,

the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live
and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

July 10, 2020

Lawrence Exit Underway

Breakaway bishop sets the stage for his departure over the next 18-24 months as he calls for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor


In a letter to his followers today, former South Carolina Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence announced that he will be giving up the reins of his self-styled "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" over the next two years. 


Lawrence said he has initiated a transition that will initially focus on the election of a bishop coadjutor, which in the Episcopal tradition translates as a kind of assistant bishop who succeeds the incumbent when he or she formally steps down.  There was no mention of a timetable for the election.


The 70-year-old Lawrence said that he wanted to spend time with his wife Allison, and their five children and 19 grandchildren, though he did not sound like he planned to leave the active ministry.

Lawrence became Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 2008, but abandoned the Church in 2012 to avoid being held accountable for alleged violations of his consecration vow. 


Who will succeed Lawrence?


For sure, Lawrence's successor will be a man.  Women are not allowed to be bishops in the "Anglican Church of North America," the association of disaffected former Anglicans with whom Lawrence and his organization are associated.   


Much of the common ground among ACNA members is a fear of including homosexuals in the life of the Church, women in positions of authority, and understandings of Scripture inconsistent with their own literal interpretations.   In spite of its name, ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion.


The possibility of attracting a first-rate clergyman from outside the Lawrence organization is fairly remote.   Lawrence is leaving his breakaway 'diocese' in turmoil and in the red.  All but seven of its parishes have been found by the state Supreme Court and a Federal court to be part of the Episcopal Church.  Millions of dollars raised from Lawrence loyalists have been spent on an overpaid legal team, in ways that have gradually eroded its various ministries.


It's a pretty good bet that the only serious contenders to succeed Lawrence will come from among current members of his clergy who have demonstrated their allegiance the tenets of ACNA theology and loyalty to him.  


Frontrunner


Mostly likely, Lawrence's successor will be the man he wants.   Over the past twelve years he has installed his most ardent loyalists in leadership roles and many of them will be part of the selection process.


Early speculation right now is on the Rev. Jeffrey Miller, rector of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Charleston and former rector of St. Helena's in Beaufort.  Miller is a gifted preacher and teacher in Lawrence's style, and has been a stalwart in keeping his parishes in line during the rocky twelve years since Lawrence arrived in South Carolina.


He has served in a number of leadership roles in the Lawrence organization and his relatively recent move to Charleston from Beaufort seems to have been calculated to raise his profile.


Miller has an advantage in that he is close to Alan Runyan, the architect of Lawrence's unsuccessful legal strategy to take his old diocese out of the Episcopal Church.  Miller reportedly brought Runyan on board to serve as a legal advisor and later Chancellor to Lawrence.  Runyan continues to have out-sized influence over the operations of the Lawrence organization, which probably works to Miller's advantage as well.


Miller attended Trinity School for Ministry in Pennsylvania, where Lawrence went to seminary.  Over the years a number of Trinity alumni have found their way into jobs in the one-time breakaway parishes that continue to be loyal to Lawrence.  This will almost certainly be to Miller's advantage.


June 19, 2020

Rogue Lower Court 'Overturns' Result of 2017 State Supreme Court Ruling in Church Lawsuit

Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson claims he has authority to reverse the result of the state Supreme Court's 2017 ruling that anti-gay parishes cannot leave the Episcopal Church without its consent


Dickson feels congregations should have written on the deeds to their property that they agreed to be governed by the Dennis Canon.


Nothing surprises us anymore.   Here is the Order.


Nearly three years after the state's Supreme Court ruled that 29 parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina could not leave the Church without its agreement, a rogue lower court judge decided today that the justices were wrong and that he has the authority to reverse the result. 


In his view, these congregations can do whatever they'd like about leaving, and take hundreds of millions of dollars in Church properties and financial assets with them.  


Over two years ago, Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson was assigned the task ofimplementing the 2017 landmark decision after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge from the one-time breakaways.  In that decision, the state's high court determined that, while the congregations owned their parish properties and assets, their ownership was contingent on their operating as part of the Episcopal Church.   


Four of the five justices ruled that a legal trust - known as the "Dennis Canon" - existed between the parishes and the Church, and consequently their congregations were not free to sell or use the property for anything else without the Church's consent. 


Three of those justices agreed that the 29 parishes had consented to that trust relationship, and could not revoke it on their own authority.  A fourth justice, while agreeing the trust existed, added that he thought the congregations could opt out of it without the consent of the Church (kind of the opposite of the purpose of a trust).


Property laws vs. trust laws


According to Dickson today, the lawsuit should have been decided exclusively according to the state's property statutes and had nothing to do with trust laws or the Church. 


In his ruling, he dismissed thousands of pages of legal documents, parishes histories, property documents, and testimonies the Supreme Court used to make its ruling, claiming they were insufficient to establish a valid trust.  Here is the response of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina 


The problem for Dickson is that in rejecting Goodstein's appeal, the state Supreme Court has already ruled that trust laws prevail in Church disputes like this one involving theology and self-governance. 


Lawrence:  I'm Baaack!


Dickson's ruling arises from the continuing drama around a 2013 lawsuit by ex-SC Bishop Mark Lawrence, who left the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2012, but claimed that 36 co-plaintiff congregations loyal to him, in addition to Camp St. Christopher and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina itself, had left the Church with him. 


Lawrence's lawyers filed their case in Dorchester County, where there was not a huge Episcopal Church presence but judges who were rumored to be close to his legal team.


The trial judge in the case was Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein who, after a lengthy and chaotic trial, ruled in 2015 that the Lawrence crowd was free to leave the Church with its properties and assets. 


They were mad that the mainstream of the Church believed that God loved both homosexuals and heterosexuals.  (Lawrence later amended that, saying the split was over his fear that Sunday school teachers might dress like a man one Sunday, and a woman the next.)


Overshadowing the trial was Goodstein's desire for a seat on the state Supreme Court.   A favorable outcome in the case for the Lawrence crowd could have been seen as helping her with rightwing legislators in what ultimately proved to be an unsuccessful bidin January 2017.


Later in August, Goodstein's reputation took another hit when the state Supreme Court rejected her entire ruling and her legal reasoning that ignored more than 200 years of U.S. Constitutional law and precedence.  Here's what the Lawrence group, now renamed the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" is saying


Dickson picks up the ball Goodstein dropped


Dorchester, Orangeburg, and Calhoun counties are part of the state's First Judicial District, where the courts and lawyers that practice before them are exceptionally close.  In South Carolina, circuit judges are elected and reelected to staggered six-year terms, as part of an unhealthy practice many believe makes judges overly dependent on the goodwill of those that practice before them.


Goodstein and Dickson are the senior judges for the First District, and have multiple ties to the legal community there.   The single most influential law firm in the District is part of Lawrence's legal team.


Dickson was not happy when the Supreme Court assigned him the job of implementing its 2017 decision.  It was like kryptonite, destined to force him to make decisions that would make a lot of his friends unhappy.  The case already had damaged the reputation of his First District colleague, Judge Goodstein.


In addition, Dickson is looking at retirement in 2021, and could not have been eager to referee hundreds of disputes from 29 angry congregations resisting a transition back to the Episcopal Church.  


In hearings and meetings with lawyers, he often seemed out of his depth with the Constitutional complexities of the case.  On several occasions, he complained that he was confused by what the Supreme Court expected him to do.


Lawrence's attorneys took full advantage.  His 49-page ruling today was largely cut-and-pasted from various briefs submitted by Alan Runyan, the mastermind of Lawrence's stumbling and expensive legal strategy.


Runyan's theory of the case is that it is a property matter, which would benefit Lawrence, as opposed to a matter for state and Federal trust laws that favor the Church.


In 2015, Runyan had similarly persuaded Goodstein to overreach her authority and that very likely led to her ruling getting deep-sixed on appeal.  Today it appears  Runyan has done the same thing with Dickson. ​ 


Church lawyers will undoubtedly appeal.  It is hard to imagine the state's  Court of Appeals or Supreme Court wants to revisit the outcome of the 2017 ruling, especially since they can only do so by accepting Dickson's capricious assumption of authority that lower courts can to undo the results of decisions of higher courts.


Easter Sunday 2020

"Mary"
For the first few weeks, I was highly attentive to news stories about those who had died from COVID-19, their families, and the health care workers who had cared for them.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, one of the networks aired a tragic story of three children who’d lost their mom to the pandemic… and, without even thinking, I headed to the kitchen for another cup of coffee. 


That was when I realized that, at some level, my brain and my heart were hardening themselves against the suffering, and tuning out the ubiquitous messages of chaos and death. 

My circuits were overloaded. 

On Palm Sunday, I tried to listen to the gospel reading but my mind could not focus on yet another story of suffering.  So, I cheated and looked up the gospel for Easter Sunday.

As you will hear today, the climax of the reading is the moment Mary recognizes Jesus as he calls her name.  She responds with the simple word, “Master”. 

According to the authors of John, this is the first conversation to happen in the new age of resurrection… and it is animated by the simple calling of names.  Grief, confusion, and anxiety are instantly cast aside, and replaced by confidence and healing... solely through the power of naming each other.

Long before Christ, the word resurrection had no religious connotation.  It literally meant to raise up or be raised up.  The implication was that it takes at least two entities – one acting on the other – for resurrection to happen.

As Christians, we believe this relationship is at the heart of our common life in the Risen Christ.  It is not a private relationship between me and Jesus, but new reality between the Creator and all humanity, grounded in love and made whole through the experience of resurrection among us. 

But how do we raise up each other or be raised up in the midst of such widespread death and suffering?  I don't know.

I took a hint from today's gospel and decided to write down the names of every person mentioned in personal conversations or news accounts about COVID-19.  Those who died.  Those who survived.  Those who ministered to them in spite of risks to their own lives and, of course, their loved ones.

At the end of each day, I'd tried to say a prayer for them.  Sadly, I could rarely find the right words, so I just read their names out loud.  


I was surprised by how much this affected me. 

It reminded me that, while the suffering of others is not always apparent in our day-to-day living, we are part of it even so.  In spite of living in quarantine, we remain part of a wider communities of faith through which God has always acted and will continue to be made known to us.


Finally, as with Mary, the Risen Christ calls us daily -- by our names -- to be witnesses to resurrection, not simply as historical fact, but a present reality, remembering Paul's confidence that through this act of raising Jesus from the dead, "All are made alive."
                                                                                                                                                                                        --Steve Skardon

(click here for permalink)



April 13, 2020

State Supreme Court Won't Intervene with Conflicted Judge's Foot-Dragging

In February the Church and its Diocese of South Carolina asked the justices to limit Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson to the specifics of implementing its 2017 decision that 29 breakaway parishes belong to them.  Today, they said no.


Earlier this year attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its local diocese again attempted to enlist the state's Supreme Court in motivating lower court Judge Edgar Dickson to move forward with implementing its landmark pro-Church decision handed down in August 2017.  The ruling brought to an end a futile attempt by an anti-gay former bishop and his evangelical followers to secede from the Church with their parish properties intact. 


Today the justices of the high court said they would not intervene, in spite of Dickson's obvious attempt to drag out resolution of the case.  He has had the case for more than 2.5 years, and appears to be racing to retirement next year without ever doing anything with it.


Dickson has had three perfunctory hearings on various issues and motions in the case by both sides, but they have gone nowhere.  He has insisted that he is confused by the high court's ruling, even though he apparently was not so confused that he couldn't find his way to make two important rulings favorable to the one-time secessionists.


Last month's motion by Church attorneys asked the justices to prohibit Dickson from continuing extraneous and irrelevant meanderings in the case, and get on with implementing the 2017 decision as written.


Dickson is conflicted because his former law firm and political backers have been retained by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence, who wants Dickson to continue to stall.  The Episcopal Church in Orangeburg, where Dickson lives, is home to one of the 29 parishes awaiting instructions from him on proceeding with its transition back to the Church.


This is not the first attempt by Church attorneys to enlist the justices in their efforts to get Dickson moving.  In fairness to them, the high court rarely wants to inject itself into ongoing, lower court proceedings, preferring instead to hear appeals when a decision is handed down.  


March 28, 2020

The Reverend William Barnwell (1939 – 2020)
An apparent victim of the cornonavirus-19, this native son of the Diocese of South Carolina led a remarkable life and powerful ministry as an advocate for God's call to Love and Justice


William Barnwell was born 2,000 years too late.  No question he would have been the 13th disciple.  Even if he wasn’t actually called in the way the others were, William would have been sufficiently persistent that Jesus would have had to find a way to make it work, if only to quiet him down.

William died yesterday in New Orleans, an apparent victim of the coronavirus.   He had been on a ventilator for ten days, and must not have known they were in short supply, because he would have surely insisted that his be given to someone else.


William's life was an extraordinary journey from the comfortable segregated neighborhoods of Charleston, to the streets of New Orleans, Boston, Washington DC, and even the notorious state prisons in Louisiana. 


A light of Christ among us has gone out.

William was not exactly Spirit-filled.  He was Spirit-driven, unable to resist extending a hand to one more person in need or finding shelter on a cold night for a homeless teenager.  He was a servant who never committed halfway to anything. 


If the news of his passing made even one person more cautious and less likely to contract this plague, he would have been okay with it.  Of that, I am quite sure.

We in the Diocese of South Carolina are fortunate that so much of his young life and ministry happened here among us.   It shaped him in every way, and prepared him for a larger life of service in the Episcopal Church.  
Learn more about William's work here.


He shaped us as well.

One of those deeply affected by William’s life is our own Archdeacon, Callie Walpole.  Seldom do I hear her teach or preach that I cannot hear William quietly cheering her on in the background.  William was proud of the work she and our neighbor, The Rev. Kylon Middleton, were doing among their congregations, and happily joined them when he was back here in his home town.

Gretchen Smith posted a beautiful tribute to William on the Facebook page of the Episcopal Church on Edisto.  I haven't yet asked her permission to republish it, because I thought it would be something important for all of us to have as we worship in social isolation tomorrow. 

                                                                          -- Steve Skardon.  -


Please take a moment to click here and read her words.

 

March 25, 2020

Caregivers:  ACNA Bishop Slightly Improved After Setback

Rector of St. Andrew's ACNA in Mount Pleasant first showed symptoms of coronavirus-19 nearly two weeks ago


Caregivers treating the Rev. Steve Wood, Bishop of the ACNA's Diocese of the Carolinas, reported today that his condition has stabilized after an unexpected "step backwards" yesterday. 


Steve first experienced symptoms of the coronavirus on March 12. 

After testing positive, he was placed in isolation in a Mount Pleasant hospital where he has been on a ventilator and receiving treatment for the past six days.  The parish reported yesterday that Steve's has had a persistently high fever and that his chest x-rays had demonstrated some deterioration.


Prayers and good wishes to his wife, children, and grandchildren.



March 21, 2020 (updated)

Local ACNA Clergy Stricken by Coronavirus

The rector of St. Andrew's ACNA in Mount Pleasant is on a ventilator and being treated for the virus.  A second clergy member reportedly has symptoms and awaiting test results, while a third has reportedly tested positive but with no symptoms


The question of whether a ban on church services is an unreasonable precaution against the coronavirus was answered in a brutal way this week as two members the clergy at St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant appear to have fallen ill after exposure to it.  


News reports say that the hardest hit was long-time rector, Steve Wood, reportedly in quarantine at East Cooper Medical Center and on a ventilator.  The Rev. Randy Forrester appears to have symptoms of the virus and is self-isolated at home, awaiting the results of his recent test.  No visitors are permitted.


There are conflicting reports about a third member of St. Andrew's clergy, The Rev. Anthony Kowbeidu, who reportedly became ill at church services last Sunday.  An article in the Post & Courier yesterday cited a parish newsletter that said he has tested positive for exposure to the virus, but has not manifested any symptoms associated with it. 


St. Andrew's is formerly an Episcopal parish that has now realigned itself with the breakaway "Anglican Church of North America."  The parish suffered another tragedy nearly two years ago when its worship center was badly damaged by fire.


Blessings to Steve, Anthony, and Randy for their recovery.



February 27, 2020

Judge Finally Seems to be Moving Forward in Implementing 2017 Supreme Court Ruling

Short session with Judge Edgar Dickson in Orangeburg today focused on Church's motions on conducting an audit of returning parishes and assigning a "special master" to oversee day-to-day transitions.  No rulings on any pending motions or mention of new Church effort to have the state Supreme Court justices limit Dickson's apparent interest in re-litigating property issues in Lawrence lawsuit.


Click here for full story from the Diocese of South Carolina



February 22, 2020

Church Asks State Supreme Court to Force "Confused" Judge to Stop Messing Around and Implement its 2017 Decision
Church attorneys say that Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson is re-trying issues already settled by the South Carolina and United States Supreme Courts


Is Dickson trying to avoid implementation of pro-Church decision until he can retire next year?

Yesterday, attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina took the unusual step of asking the State’s Supreme Court to force state Court Judge Edgar Dickson to get his act together and implement the high court’s August 2017 ruling that ended Mark Lawrence's misguided lawsuit against the Episcopal Church.


Nearly two-and-a-half  years ago, Dickson was assigned the task of implementing the Court's ruling, but has strangely done nothing to make that happen.  During that time he has held three meandering hearings with lawyers in the case, but none of them seemed to have motivated the judge to actually do anything. 


Church attorneys told the justices yesterday that Dickson is attempting to retrying trust and property issues that were settled by the 2017 ruling, and consequently avoiding implementing the decision in which 29 of 36 parishes in the Diocese and the Lawrence breakaway organization unsuccessfully tried to leave the Episcopal Church.


Confused

Dickson has often defended himself with the breakaway attorneys' mantra that the 2017 decision was too confusing for him to implement. 

However, last summer he had no trouble understanding the part of the ruling that was favorable to Lawrence and signed off on the departure of seven breakaway parishes that the Supreme Court had determined were free to leave the Church.


 Other worries


We at SC Episcopalians are especially troubled that Dickson seems to have numerous conflicts in the case which appear to include long-time political friends and professional associates on Lawrence's legal team.


We also wonder if Dickson is not intentionally stalling until he can retire next year, a move that would further delay implementation.


Local Episcopalians have been concerned that Dickson's most recent actions are aimed at helping the former breakaway parishes by raising issues that would get their case back before the S.C. Supreme Court. 


Breakaway attorneys have repeatedly given Dickson opportunities to slow down implementation of the decision, including filing a nuisance lawsuit under the state's archaic "Betterments Act" that would require the Episcopal Church to compensate the 29 unhappy congregations for the value of their parish properties since they were founded.  Neither Lawrence nor parishes loyal to him have legal standing to bring such a lawsuit, but incredibly Dickson has allowed it to go forward anyway.


Writ of Prohibition


Yesterday, Church lawyers filed a request with the justices for a Writ of Prohibition after actions by the judge indicating that he is considering issues of trust and property law already settled by the August 2017 ruling and well beyond Dickson's jurisdiction as the implementer of the decision. 


The specific target of the proposed Writ is a pending Motion for Clarification, proposed by the Lawrencians for which Dickson has asked for briefs from both sides.  Church attorneys argued yesterday that Judge Dickson is using the Writ "to re-litigate issues decided by this Court, and to reach a different result than the one reached by this Court.”


Church historian Ron Caldwell has used his blog to repeatedly point out the very un-confusing instructions for implementation contained in the Supreme Court 2017 ruling.  Read his take on this by clicking here.



February 15, 2020

Orangeburg Judge Schedules Another Hearing on  Implementing 2017 State Supreme Court Decision 

Judge Ed Dickson will once again have a hearing on the Church's request for a full accounting of parish and Diocesan assets, and appointment a "special master" to oversee transition of former breakaway parishes

.

Every few months S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson calls together the dozens of lawyers involved in the former lawsuit of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence for largely unstructured "hearings" on instructions given to him by the state's high court to implement its August 2017 decision in the case.


All sides were notified last week that Dickson has scheduled yet another of these gatherings for Thursday, February 27 in Orangeburg to hear more arguments on three fairly routine motions by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina. 


All three motions have been languishing on Dickson's desk for nearly three years, in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the ruling to stand.


The motions ask that Dickson move forward with implementation of the 2017 decision, allow for a full accounting of Church assets that have been under the control of Lawrence's followers, and the appointment of a "special master" to oversee day-to-day transitions.  


The judge has given no indication that he will actually rule on the motions next week.


Dickson has no business being involved in this case at all and should have recused himself, including numerous personal relationships with members of Lawrence's legal team.


While Dickson has made excuses for his lack of progress by claiming that he doesn't understand the 2017 ruling, last summer he had no trouble understanding the part of the ruling that was favorable to Lawrence and signed off on the departure of seven breakaway parishes that the Supreme Court had ordered to be free to leave the Church.


January 23, 2020

Diocese Moving Forward to Elect New Bishop in November

The Rev. Dr. Philip Linder will lead the Search Committee with the consecration of the 15th Bishop of South Carolina occurring as early as spring 2021.


The Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina announced todaythat the Diocese is on schedule to elect a new bishop at its annual convention this coming fall.


According to the Rev. Canon Caleb Lee, a Search Committee under the leadership of Philip Linder, Priest-in-Charge at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Charleston is currently being established with the expectation that the 15th Bishop of South Carolina could be consecrated by the spring 2021.   The Rev. Dr. Linder is the former Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Columbia and, in the humble opinion of SC Episcopalians, an excellent choice for the job.


The Right Rev. Henry N. Parsley, retired Bishop of Alabama, will be serving as Visiting Bishop while the search process is underway.  The Venerable Callie Walpole, Archdeacon of the Diocese, will continue to oversee the administrative functions of the Diocese. 


January 15, 2020

Henry Parsley to Serve as Diocese's Visiting Bishop

Former Alabama Bishop has deep roots in South Carolina and in one-time breakaway parishes

Read letter from the Standing Committee


January 14, 2020

Lawrencians Slammed Again in Federal Court

Appeals Court rejects former secessionists' attempt to put the brakes on Gergel's pro-Church ruling


The United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today issued two procedural rulings against ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his remaining followers that are almost certain signs their appeal of a lower court decision against them last fall is in trouble.


This afternoon attorneys for all sides were notified by the Court that pending motions by the Lawrence crowd to temporarily hold off enforcement of a September 2019 decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel had been rejected.  In that decision, Gergel found that the Lawrence group was illegally claiming to be the historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and intentionally misleading the public about their relationship to the Episcopal Church.  

The appeals court has not yet ruled on the substance of the Lawrencians' appeal of Gergel’s ruling itself.   
In our view,  there is close to a zero chance Gergel’s ruling will be overturned, given its reliance on legal precedents generated by the Fourth Circuit. 

The Lawrence crowd has strangely continued to openly defy both the state and Federal courts since August 2017, when the state Supreme Court put the kibosh on their efforts to leave the Episcopal Church with millions in parish property and Diocesan assets.   

Last fall Lawrence and his high command turned up their noses at Gergel’s order, and failed to take seriously many of its key provisions.  Their contempt earned them a stinging rebuke from the judge last month and very likely blew whatever shot they had at a successful appeal.

The Lawrencians have also consistently stiff-armed attempts at mediation through which they could arrange an orderly transition back into the Church and negotiate a reduction in criminal penalties parish officials and Diocesan trustees will likely face for being in contempt of court and in violation of the state’s trust laws.


Lawrence continues to live in the residence of the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina and occupy his offices on Coming Street in Charleston.    Read the background story here



December 18, 2019

Federal Judge Rips Lawrencians’ for Violating September Ruling 
Lawrence group can continue to call itself the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" even though it is not recognized by the Anglican Communion


U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel blasted ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers today for failing to comply with his September 19 ruling in which he ordered them to stop being a fake Episcopal diocese.  In that decision, Gergel found their efforts to confuse the public about their real identity, including the use of the name “Diocese of South Carolina” and its corporate seal, were illegal under Federal law.   

Today's rebuke was the result of a complaint by Church attorneys last month that the Lawrencians were not taking his September ruling seriously.  In it, the judge ordered the Lawrencians to say goodbye to their claim to have been "founded in 1785", and their practice of posting official convention journals, diocesan constitutions and canons, and reports of Trustees of the Diocese prior to 2012 on their website.  Those publications and documents after 2012 cannot be published if they have any corporate marks or other words or symbols suggesting the dissident group is the actual historic diocese of South Carolina.

Gergel also ruled that all issues of Jubilate Deo and other documents bearing the marks and references to the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina be removed from the dissidents’ website, and ordered that the dissidents group stop referring to Lawrence as the “14th or “XIV” Bishop of the Diocese.  The same is true in referring to annual meetings with numerical references mirroring those used by the real Diocese of South Carolina.


The ruling was a reminder that the Lawrencians are still reeling, with no strategy and no purpose.  They have not had a victory in the courts since 2015.  Seven years after leaving the Church, they continue to struggle to attract new members and, when they do, they turn them off by their negative messaging on gays and women in positions of spiritual authority.  


"Anglican Diocese of South Carolina"


The one bright spot for the Lawrence group is that they can continue to call themselves the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina," in spite of not being recognized by the Anglican Communion or its leadership. 


Lawrence and seven parishes that are loyal to him have legally affiliated with a broader group of Anglican and Episcopal dissidents called "The Anglican Church of North America."   The ACNA, which has its own Prayer Book and theology, has been repeatedly rejected by the Anglican Communion as well.

 

November 26, 2019 (revised noon, Nov. 27)

Finding Clarity... in a Fog

Orangeburg judge may seek "clarification" from state Supreme Court on key - but not yet identified - issues in 2017 ruling


Current and former Episcopalians, hoping today’s hearing before S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson would offer a path forward from their legal quagmire, were disappointed.  There is a path, but it's heading more sideways than any where else.

After a rambling all-morning session in Orangeburg, the breakaway “diocese” headed by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence made a sliver of progress in pushing the judge closer to helping get at least part of its unsuccessful lawsuit against the Episcopal Church back before the South Carolina Supreme Court. 


Dickson said he may be willing to send the justices a request that they "clarify" points of confusion in their August 2017 ruling in which they determined that parish properties are held in trust for the Church by the local congregations. 


It seems like just another rabbit hole to SC Episcopalians, but one that could eventually provide the judge a comfort level in moving forward.


Third time a charm?


If this actually happens, it would be the third time the Lawrencians have tried to get the justices to reconsider aspects of their earlier decision, but the first time they have been able to convince a lower court judge to be their proxy.


In essence, the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that 29 of the 36 plaintiff parishes had agreed to be part of the Episcopal Church and therefore cannot sell or transfer ownership of their properties their properties without the Church’s consent.  The Court also determined that the historic Diocese of South Carolina and its properties are part of the Church.


In November 2017 the high court gave Dickson the task of implementing its ruling, but he has done little about it.  In prior hearings, he has admitted to being "confused" over this task and regretting that it had even been given to him.


The legal team for the breakaway group has played to the judge's confusion, telling Dickson that the justices wrongly identified the 29 parishes as having acceded to the Church's governing structure.   


However, this morning one of the most important moments came when Mary Kostel, Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, responded to the allegation by providing Dickson written evidence of each parish's accession as it had been submitted to the original trial judge.  It seemed to SC Episcopalians that the judge had not seen this before even though it was in the trial record.   Read more details provided by the Diocese of South Carolina


Trusts


For us non-lawyers, the trust relationship means that congregations own their parish properties and assets, but only so long as they are operated as parishes in the Episcopal Church.  Should a congregation reject the role of Trustee or violate its requirements under the state's trust laws, ownership of the property and assets revert to the Church’s local diocese.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the trust relationship goes back to the origins of the Constitution, but in 1979 it suggested to hierarchical denominations, like the Episcopal Church, that they spell out that trust relationship in their national constitution and canons.


The Episcopal Church did that in the form of a new canon (church law) named after Bishop Walter Dennis of New York who wrote it and led the Church's General Convention to adopt it.  Every diocese and almost every parish adopted the Dennis Canon and, in effect, agreed to act as trustees of their property for the exclusive benefit of the Episcopal Church, aka the trust’s "beneficiary".


Beating a dead horse?


Beaufort Alan Runyan is the Lawrencians' lead attorney and prime mover behind Lawrence’s unsuccessful 2013 lawsuit.  He is believed to be at the heart of a broader effort to disrupt the Episcopal Church by creating a legal precedent for its parishes to leave with their property and financial assets.  This began years before 2012 when Lawrence announced that he was leaving the Episcopal Church, and seems to have fallen apart after the debacle in the South Carolina courts.


Bitterly disappointed, Runyan and Lawrence have spent the past two years attacking the high court's ruling with the hope of finding some way to undermine it.   Many of the key elements of the ruling were decided by 3-2 votes in the Church's favor, and they appear to be encouraged that new members of the Court appear to be more politically inclined in their direction.


Today, Runyan offered nothing new but continued familiar diatribes trying to convince Dickson that the task the Court had given him was too vague for him to move forward.  He resurrected all of his past arguments, most of which have been rejected by the high court or by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in September, when he found in favor of the Church in a related case in the Federal system. 


However, the strategy seems to have worked anyway.  Dickson announced at the end of today's hearing that he was considering sending the request for “clarification” to the justices after getting input from both sides, but was not specific about what he wanted to ask them.  


Silver lining


Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina did not walk away empty-handed this morning.   In fact, they were very strong in offering evidence that seemed to contradict Runyan at every turn.  Diocesan Chancellor Tom Tisdale felt today's session was the most substantive yet since Dickson had been assigned the case.


They have struggled in other hearings before Dickson because he often seemed unaware of key legal elements and Constitutional precedents surrounding the Supreme Court's ruling.  Not that it should matter.  Dickson's job is not to retry the case, but to implement the high court's ruling.


This morning, Dickson was better prepared.   He appeared to be clearer that the key issues revolved around the state's trust laws, and that property laws were really secondary.  He was also clear that the case does not belong in secular courts since it involves a theological disagreement in a Constitutionally-protected hierarchical denomination. 


Still there were frustrating moments in the hearing in which the answers to questions Dickson raised turned out to have been included in important filings by the parties and addressed in the opinions of the justices or raised concerns that appeared not especially relevant to implementation of the Court's over two-years-old decision.


Perhaps an important part of today's session for the Church side was Dickson's belief that the justices' response to a request for clarification would settle everything that is preventing him from moving forward with implementation.


This case has been a bitter one for the Court, and not one it would take any pleasure in revisiting.  The justices seemed particularly annoyed by attempts by the Lawrencians in the past to lobby them and smear the reputations of its members who did not vote with their way.


The Court has made it clear it in the past that its work on this case is done.   Our guess is that it will not respond to any of the issues raised in a potential request for clarification.  Based on Judge Dickson's comments today, that would still satisfy concerns he may have about moving forward.



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South Carolina Chief Justice Don Beatty (left) and Judge Dickson

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The Dennis Canon


Canon I.7.4 of the Episcopal Church (USA) is referred to commonly as "the Dennis Canon", after the name of its draftsman, the Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis, former Suffragan Bishop of New York, who proposed its adoption as a canon at General Convention 1979. Together with its companion section (Canon I.7.5), it reads as follows:

Sec. 4. All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.

Sec. 5. The several Dioceses may, at their election, further confirm the trust declared under the foregoing Section 4 by appropriate action, but no such action shall be necessary for the existence and validity of the trust.

 

South Carolina Episcopalians