NEW! September 26, 2022
Episcopal Church, ACNA-SC Announce "Final Settlement" on Implementation of Amended and Revised Supreme Court Ruling
Today's announcement of an agreement between Bishops Woodliff-Stanley and Edgar revealed little that was not already known
The bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the breakaway ACNA Diocese of South Carolina announced today that they had reached a "final settlement" on outstanding legal issues based on five years of often contradictory rulings by the state's Supreme Court. At issue has been the extent to which congregations desiring to leave the Church with their properties could do so without the consent of the Church.
While the Court rulings have settled essential questions about the ownership of individual parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, there were still many issues left unaddressed and dumped into the laps of the leaders of the two sides -- Episcopal Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley and ACNA-SC Bishop Chip Edgar. Both have been critical in winding down a costly ten-year battle between the Church and anti-gay dissidents who joined ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence in a lawsuit against the Church in 2013.
Today's announcement was strangely short on substance other than to affirm what is already known about the timetable for the return of Episcopal control of Church properties held by the breakaways for the past ten years. Those transitions have been underway since August and include St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center located on Seabrook Island that will return next month.
The bishops' statement indicated that some details of the agreement would be shared later in the week, but there was no commitment to full transparency in disclosing it in its entirety.
Ending future litigation
The statement does suggest that the bishops have agreed to no further litigation with the exception of lawsuits against the Church by several parishes seeking compensation for the value of their Church-owned properties under an obscure state law known as the ”Betterments Act.”
The Betterments lawsuits are strange in that they can only be brought by defendants in a recently litigated case over property ownership. All of the parishes in Lawrence's recent lawsuit were plaintiffs, so it is hard to see how they even have standing to bring a betterments claim. They also don't seem to understand that Lawrence's lawsuit was about the state's trust laws, not property ownership.
It is not clear from the announcement if the breakaway group has agreed to drop its appeal of a 2018 Federal Court ruling which restrains it from falsely advertising itself as an Episcopal diocese. That nonsense started almost immediately after Lawrence left the Church in 2012 when 36 parishes loyal to him lost more than half of their membership. Even today many of the Lawrencian parishes have never been told that they have left the Church or the Anglican Communion.
It is also not clear the extent to which agreement addresses potential legal action against the Lawrencians for their suspected use of income from trust funds under their control that was designated for the work of the Church in South Carolina. Similar concerns have been raised about a ten-year lease on the bishop's residence apparently provided to Lawrence by the trustees. Lawrence's rent was reportedly one-dollar-a-year.
If indeed the bishops have agreed to no further litigation, there is the question of what happens to congregations that did not join the Lawrence lawsuit but have been associated with his renegade "diocese" since 2012. There are an estimated dozen or so parishes in that group, and the Supreme Court will almost certainly have to deal with them on a case-by-basis.
Other property concerns
There are still many prickly issues to be addressed. Perhaps their resolution will be announced when details of the agreement are disclosed in a few days.
Two of them have to do with property ownership -- the Diocesan House and the Bishop’s residence in downtown Charleston. Both were found by the justices to belong to the Church.
Both have been a kind of double-albatross around the neck of the Episcopal Diocese. For decades they have been a point of contention between the Charleston parishes and the far more numerous congregations in small towns and rural areas. The rural parishes objected to underwriting the costs of diocesan operations in the pricey Charleston real estate market, and then having to travel to Charleston diocesan events and meetings.
The bishop's residence has almost always been controversial. Former Bishop Ed Salmon bought it from the Diocese, and then sold it back a few years later at a profit. Bishop Gray Temple relocated his home to Summerville in the 1960s when racist threats against him and his family in Charleston became unbearable.
With Lawrence now out of the bishop’s residence, it is available to Bishop Woodliff-Stanley… except that she and her family have already purchased a home they seem to like. At this point, it probably makes sense for the Diocese to sell the property.
The Diocesan Headquarters has had many homes that – for one reason or another – did not work out. In the early 1900s, it was on Church Street on the first floor of the parish house at St. Philip’s. It met most of the needs of the Diocese until 1928 when Bishop William Alexander Guerry was murdered in his office there.
By the 1950s the Diocese had acquired the old Kerrison Mansion on Wentworth Street which, like many Charleston structures, looked grand on the outside but always seemed to need money to keep everything intact on the inside. In the 1970s it was sold and the Diocese moved to a far more modest location.
Eventually the Diocesan headquarters found a home through a mutually agreeable long-term property sharing arrangement between the Diocese and what was then its Cathedral on Coming Street.
The arrangement continued when the Cathedral left the Church and the Lawrence crowd decided the Diocesan House belonged to them. Among the many bizarre outcomes of the SCSC decision is that the Diocesan House – which legally belongs to the Episcopal Diocese -- is now located right in the middle of the campus of the ACNA Cathedral. That situation is almost certain to change.
Attacks on Episcopalians
SC Episcopalians is hopeful that the agreement between the bishops will include a commitment by Bishop Edgar to allow loyal Episcopalians to be buried with their families in the churchyards of breakaway parishes. Lawrencian clergy have variously suggested that they could only be buried there if they had joined Lawrence in leaving the Episcopal Church. They made the same threats about gays and lesbians, but for different reasons.
We also hope that at some point Bishop Edgar would agree to encourage his clergy to provide letters of transfer to former members who have relocated to other parishes including Episcopal congregations. For a number of years after the attempted schism, those requests were not acted on to disguise the true loss of members in the breakaway congregations.
Finally, we are hopeful that the agreement includes a commitment by Bishop Edgar to end the false and slanderous attacks by his clergy and spokesmen on the Episcopal Church and Episcopalians, especially those living in South Carolina.
The key to Lawrence's success - if it can be called that - was false anti-Church, anti-gay rhetoric that he and his field officers used to alienate fellow Christians from their Church and create self-serving dissention within te Body of Christ.
It has caused tremendous harm that a simple agreement probably cannot repair entirely. However, it would be an important first step.
While Edgar said today he hopes the new agreement will allow his followers to “invest our diocesan energy, time, focus and resources in gospel ministry,” he continued to sit silently by as his clergy repeatedly hurl insults and false accusations at the Church even as he was negotiating this agreement.
NEW! September 13, 2022
St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center Returning to Episcopal Church Control after Ten Years Next Month
The management of St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center is scheduled to be returned to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina on October 1st after a decades-long legal battle with followers of breakaway ex-bishop Mark Lawrence.
Lawrence and his allies seized control of the beachfront retreat and camp on Seabrook Island in 2013 when they tried to leave the Church and take all its property and assets with them. For nearly 85 years, St. Christopher has been a spiritual anchor for Episcopalians in South Carolina, and a gathering place where life-long friendships and partnerships in ministry were formed.
Sadly, during the Lawrencian years, the history of the Camp was re-written, excluding any mention of the fact that it was built by Episcopalians for Episcopalians. This was a standard practice in all the Lawrencian parishes. If you would like to share any memories or specific histories of the Camp, please email them to email@example.com.
NEW! September 13, 2022
Charles III Embraces New Role as 'Defender of the Faith' and Supreme Governor of the Church of England
New King also likes to think of himself as the "protector of all faiths"
Among the many titles King Charles III has gained this week, Supreme Governor of the Church of England is one that will be of great interest to all 39 provinces of the Anglican Communion, even though most of them will not be particularly affected by it.
In his first address following the death of his mother this week, the new sovereign acknowledged his responsibilities to the Church of England, even as he reaches out to be inclusive of all faiths in his increasingly diverse kingdom.
Like his predecessors, Charles’ role as “Defender of the Faith” is important to the Church of England in he will be responsible for the appointment of future bishops of the Church including the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The sovereign’s appointments are usually made in consultation with Church leaders and the Prime Minister, but even so, on a few occasions, Queen Elizabeth still made choices that were surprising.
"Defender of the Faith" is a title that goes all the way back to King Henry VIII.
Many years ago, Charles suggested that the monarch’s role should be more like the “defender of faith” as opposed to THE Faith. He eventually revised his view to acknowledge the unique role of the sovereign in the Church of England but also as a kind of “protector of all faiths.”
The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Communion, and as such, its leader The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry is one of the 39 provincial leaders of the Communion (also known as Primates).
The American Church is technically independent from the governing structure of the Church of England, but maintains close ties known as “bonds of affection" with the Communion and other provinces throughout the world. Despite its name, the so-called “Anglican Church of North America” is not recognized as part of the Communion.
British royals and political leaders do not generally make a public spectacle of their religion and spiritual lives in the ways that many of their American counterparts do.
While his role as leader of the Church is otherwise ceremonial, Charles’ own spiritual journey will be closely scrutinized.
Charles’ parents were far more engaged in the spiritual nature of their lives than was publicly known. His mother was more doctrinaire and less questioning of Christian dogmas than his father, who wrestled with matters of the Faith that many might take for granted. While Charles is a devout Christian, he tends to resist tenants of religion that create divisions and separateness among fellow Christians and non-Christians.
September 2, 2022
September 2, 2022
NEW! Returning Parishes Still Blasting Away at the Church as Court Decision Takes Effect (Click here to read full story)
Twenty-eight breakaway parishes leave the Church and the Anglican Communion with confidence in an uncertain future
Some Lawrence clergy still smearing Church leaders' reputations with old disinformation and untruths from Lawrence's high command.
Eight congregations that tried and failed to leave the Episcopal Church in South Carolina are struggling with anger and sadness as they depart their parish buildings to make way for the reestablishment of the Episcopal Church and their membership in the Anglican Communion.
For the most part, they are hoping to retain their congregations intact in new temporary locations mostly at local public schools, with Holy Trinity in West Ashely (Charleston) heading to nearby Porter-Gaud. All of the congregations in transition are hanging onto their names, plus the word, "Anglican." None of them are actually part of the Anglican Communion as the Episcopal Church is the only recognized branch of Anglicanism in the United States.
However, a few parishes clergy have been quick to use the transition to blame the Episcopal Church for their woes as they dredge up worn-out disinformation and slanderous diatribes against the Church and its leaders, complete with cynical innuendo about “what they (Episcopalians) really believe” and do. We have received reports that some returning parishes have padlocked doors to offices, hidden or destroyed files, and picked up all kinds of worship equipment on their way out the door.
In many ways, their fuming is misplaced.
The eight parishes were among 36 plaintiffs that filed a massive lawsuit in 2013 in which they asked the state’s courts to determine if they were free to leave the Church with their buildings. The congregations were angry with the Church because of its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority over men, and understandings of the Bible inconsistent with their own narrow literalism.
After ruling in favor of loyal Episcopalians in 2017 and in April 2022, the justices reversed themselves today and gave breakaways in the following parishes the right to leave the Church: Holy Cross (Stateburg); Holy Comforter (Sumter); St. Jude's Church of Walterboro; Old St. Andrew's (Charleston); St. Luke's Church, Hilton Head; and Trinity Church of Myrtle Beach
Despite highly publicized attempt to commandeer the agenda, anti-gay voices at the worldwide conclave of Anglican bishops were unconvincing and less credible
August 1, 2022
2022 Lambeth Conference Underway
South Carolina's new bishops making their first appearance on world stage
The 15th Convocation of leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion is underway in England where the foundations of the 88-million-member denomination go back to the 16th century. Since the mid-1800s, the “Lambeth Conference” has convened every decade to celebrate “bonds of affection” and the shared ecclesiastical tradition among 39 Provinces (Churches) descended from the Church of England over the past 500 or so years.
Several years ago, the Rev. Dr. Frank Wade spoke at a conference in the Diocese of South Carolina and used a very interesting word - amphictyony - to describe the Anglican Communion. Hats off to any of our readers who already know what it means. (It is pronounced am-FIK-ten-ee)
Amphictyony might best be described as a league of states or communities, loosely affiliated around a mutual need for protection, common identity, or worship of a shared deity. The relationship of nation-states in ancient Greece would be an example, as might a wildly festooned gathering of the horse-mounted clans of on some open field in Scotland.
Unlike our Catholic relations, Anglicans are not governed by a single individual or council, but rather a loose configuration of alliances shaped by four “Instrument of Anglican Unity.” One of those “instruments” is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is a kind of first among equal in the Church hierarchy.
Another is the Lambeth Conference.
The Anglican Communion and the Lambeth Conference are actually products of British colonialism. Decades of eveangelism and missionary zeal produced versions of the worship and form of the Church of England on nearly every continent. The Lambeth Conferencer was an attempt to bring some kind of discipline and strature to the worldwide movement
While there is a great deal of serious business that goes on at Lambeth, it is not like the Episcopal Church's General Convention. It is more of an important collegial event in the life of the Communion and its 650 bishops, who spend ten days engaged in conversation and sometimes contentious debate over the work of Anglicans in the world and the future of the, well, amphictyony, known as the Anglican Communion. Bishops usually go home greatly renewed and inspired after days of hearing about the work of the wider Church in the world, and having a little fun processing around historic palaces and ancient cathedrals in their flowing vestments.
There is plenty of on-the-scene reporting about the way this story is unfolding so we probably can’t do much better since we are thousands of miles away from the action.
-- The Episcopal Church is one of the 39 Provinces of the Communion and is comprised of dioceses in 16 countries including the entire United States. One of the celebrities at Lambeth is our own Presiding Bishop Michel Curry, who leads a united and fully engaged delegation. Curry has been instrumental in healing rifts in the Communion over the Episcopalians embrace of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church. Bishop Curry’s electric sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is remembered by many as a proud moment for the wider Communion.
-- South Carolina is represented by its two newly-consecrated bishops – The Rt. Revs. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley of the Diocese of South Carolina and Daniel Richards of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
-- Despite its name, the so-called “Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)” is not part of the Anglican Communion, and consequently its bishops, Mark Lawrence, and Chip Edgar, were not invited to Lambeth nor do they have any official status in the Communion. The Episcopal Church is the only Anglican province in the United States, and it is so recognized by the Communion.
July 18, 2022
New Realities are Painful as Congregations Comply with Supreme Court's April Re-Ruling
Bishops Woodliff-Stanley and Edgar are shaping a new normal
Full house at St. John's on Johns Island greets the Rev. Calhoun Walpole as transitional leader; Christ Episcopal Church in Mount Pleasant and St. David's in Cheraw will follow in coming weeks
Leaders of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the breakaway ACNA Diocese of South Carolina are quietly shepherding their congregations into a "new season of ministry," even as frustration with the state Supreme Court's recent flip-flop on its 2017 historic ruling continues to simmer among local clergy and their parishioners.
Church historian and online blogger Dr. Ron Caldwell summed up their situation this way: “The reality now is that the old diocese is divided into two, probably for the foreseeable future, and each one owns about half of the old diocese. This is the essential settlement of the schism, like it or not. This is the way it is and will be for a long time at least.
With neither side appealling, two relatively new players -- the Rt. Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and The Rt. Rev. Chip Edgar of the breakaway ACNA Diocese of South Carolina – appear to be the key action figures now responsible for making sense of ten years of bitter conflict and reestablishing reasonable and coherent leadership going forward.
Perhaps the most positive response to the Court decision actually came from the new bishops in the form of a photo in the Charleston Post & Courier, where they were shown meeting in Woodliff-Stanley's office at Grace Episcopal Cathedral. Both appeared to be relaxed, and possibly a bit relieved. It was the first time a leader of the breakaway group had been willing to meet with his Episcopal Church counterpart.”
Fourteen Lawrencian congregations return to the Church
The bishops’ primary focus currently is on parishes that sought to leave the Church with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence but were found by the justices to be part of the Church. While the high court ruled five years ago that only seven of 36 parishes aligned Lawrence could leave, the Court re-ruled in April of this year that another 15 of the remaining 29 parishes could leave as well.
That left 14 breakaway parishes that would stay with the Church.
Seven of the 14 have been granted a rehearing before the justices after arguing that the decisions about their status in 2017 and again this year were in error. (An eighth congregation – Christ Church in Mount Pleasant – also requested a rehearing but was denied.)
One of the congregations asking for a re-hearing is St. Luke’s ACNA on Hilton Head. Its’ rector, Greg Kronz, told his congregation “I am so confused by this decision and how the Supreme Court could come to this decision… but they did.” (Kronz was one of the leaders of Lawrence's clergy-led schism that led to the dismemberment of the historic Episcopal diocese. Today he continues to promote misinformation that creates some of the confusion he is talking about.)
However, a transition of sorts has already begun in the other parishes.
This past Sunday the Rev. Callie Walpole held an Episcopal service for the first time since 2012 at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Johns Island. The church was full and included many parishioners who'd left when the Lawrencians took over. Christ Episcopal Church in Mount Pleasant is set to undergo a similar transition next Sunday as it returns.
Another encouraging development has occurred on Edisto Island. The historic “Trinity Episcopal Church”, which was allowed to leave the Church by the Supreme Court, is finally surrendering its use of the word “Episcopal” in its official name. Like many pro-Lawrence parishes, it had engaged in a public ruse to continue to call itself “Episcopal” even though it had left the Church to join the ACNA in 2012.
The actual Episcopal Church on Edisto is located just down the street where it has been holding services for most of the schism. Trinity's use of the word "Episcopal" has caused significant confusion for island residents and visitors.
Unfortunately, there have been reports of departing congregations attempting to take things that belong to the Church from their parish buildings. This, of course, is stealing. We have also heard reports of parish leaders making off with congregational records, especially financial records, putting locks on doors, and making other ugly demonstrations of hostility about the Court’s findings.
Several congregations are continuing to create public confusion about their identity by using the name of the parish at their new places of worship. This is the case with St. John’s on Johns Island and Christ Church in Mount Pleasant, both of which are reported to be moving to local public schools and contnuing to use the name of the Episcopal parish they have left.
Of course, the use of the word “Anglican” itself is about as disingenuous as its comes. The only officially recognized branch of Anglicanism in the United States is The Episcopal Church. Episcopal = Anglican. ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion, and has been rejected by its leadership repeatedly.
Bishops are moving with caution
Politically, both bishops are on walking on eggshells as they approach the transition.
Woodliff-Stanley is probably in the stronger position as she is the leader of an historic and established diocesan infrastructure. Her career includes her work as the Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado that faced a similar type of schism.
Edgar is in a tougher position as ACNA was created by ultraconservatives less than 15 years ago as a vehicle for attacking the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada on their acceptance of gays.
The organization has been plagued with deep divisions over its identity including the how gay Christians should be treated, whether women should be ordained, and whether divorced people are fit to be parish leaders. ACNA congregations nationally and in South Carolina have been bitterly quarrelling over the use the Book of Common Prayer or a new ACNA-revised Book of Common Prayer favored by some of its neo-Catholic members. In addition to all of this, Edgar faces the challenge of presiding over a collaborative of congregations who are free to withdraw from ACNA anytime they choose.
However, both bishops still appear to be in a kind of honeymoon period, especially as anger at the court has metastasized to include the legal strategies employed by both sides of the lawsuit. Even among the five justices privately complained to each other about poor lawyering by each side. (While SC Episcopalians is inclined to agree with that assessment, nothing comes close to the Court’s completely inept handling of the case.)
On the Church side, it doesn’t appear that its leadership is doing anything to learn from the woes of its South Carolina diocese since Lawrence became bishop in 2008. It is not clear to us whether any kind of response was even considered at the Church’s most recent General Convention.
Runyan's fall from grace
On the breakaway side it does seem Edgar has been given a bit of a gift in that Lawrence seems to have been fading from his leadership role, leaving Edgar a freer hand in reshaping the SC ACNA organization after the April ruling.
Edgar has also benefitted from what appears to be the fall from grace of Alan Runyan, the architect and driving force behind the legal strategy behind the schism.
Many felt that Runyan’s hatred of the Church may have occasionally pre-empted good common sense. Runyan brought the case in 2013 based on a novel theory that would allow Lawrence to take the entire diocese and all its property away from the Church. At the heart of the strategy was Runyan's goal to neutralize the Church's 1979 Dennis Canon that recognized its parishes as owners of their own property as long as they operated as a congregation in the Episcopal Church. Runyan had the ear of Bishop Lawrence and his top enforcer, Jim Lewis, but played his cards so close to the vest that he excluded clergy and lawyers hired by the parishes from critical decisions.
One of the most controversial calls he and Lawrence apparently made in 2015 was the rejection of a settlement offer by the leadership of the Church to allow the breakaway parishes to leave the Church with their properties in exchange for their withdrawing claims to owning the Diocese of South Carolina and its property. Even with the state Supreme Court's erractic approach to the case, the breakaways ended up with much less than they would have gotten had they followed through on the potential deal.
June 8, 2022
Final Decision Part VI
NEW!!! Court-Ordered Dismembering of the Historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina Begins
State Supreme Court turns implementation of its April 2022 decision in the Lawrence lawsuit over to the First Judicial Circuit that has messed up the case from the beginning
Fear of homosexuals accomplishes what revolution, civil war, assassination, integration, female priests, and Prayer book revisions could not
The South Carolina Supreme Court this afternoon issued a "partial remittur" directing the State's First Judicial District to implement its two-month old decision in the 2013 lawsuit brought by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes, who claimed they were the rightful owners of centuries-old Church properties built by the Episcopal Church. The First District is comprised of Calhoun, Orangeburg, and Dorchester counties.
The Order from the high court brings an end to a bitter struggle by breakaway congregations who believe they are doing God's will through their condemnation of homosexuals and exclusion of them in their parishes.
Former Episcopal parishes that have already left the Church have joined a organization known as the self-described "Anglican Church of North America" which is governed by six ultraconservative African church leaders who see it as an extenstion of their own domestic war on homosexuals. ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion nor is it in any sense "Anglican".
In many ways the the State's judicial system was overwhelmed by the issues in the case.
The lawsuit was initially decided by First Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein who decided 100% in favor of the breakaways. Goodstein's ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2017, which allowed eight of the 36 parishes to leave the Church. The justices also ruled that the remainder, including the corporate Diocese itself and its camp and confernec center on Seabrook Island, would remain with the Church.
The high court ruled on the case in 2017 and handed down an order (aka remittitur), requiring First Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson to implement the decision. Judge Dickson sat on the assignment for three years, then effectively overruled the Supreme Court's 2017 ruling and replaced it with Goodstein's.
The state Supreme Court held a hearing December 8th last year on Dickson's actions, which led to its reversing his ruling and allowing another 15 parishes to leave the Church - with 14 remaining with the Church. Chief Justice Don Beatty went ballistic during the hearing when a lawyer suggested that he had voted with the majority in 2017, even though the record is indisputable that he did.
Today's remittiture settles the matter for all but seven of the returning breakaway congregations who have asked the justices to reconsider their situation relative to the April ruling.
June 8, 2022
Final Decision Part V
NEW!!! State Supreme Court Moves Forward
with Rehearing Requests from Seven of Eight Breakaway Parishes
Justices ask Church lawyers to respond to slimmed down arguments by June 20; Petition from Christ Church in Mount Pleasant is "denied in its entirety"
The state Supreme Court appears to be moving forward with requests from seven of eight breakaway parishes that have asked the justices to revisit their inclusion in congregations found to be subject to the Church's Dennis Canon.
The Dennis Canon recognizes that the parishes own their own properties as long as they are used for the work of the Church. This is called a trust, and it means that congregation desiring to leave and take its property must have the consent of the Church.
The justices found in 2017 and again in April of this year that all eight were subject to the trust created by the Dennis Canon.
In today's Order published by the Court, the justices appear to be moving forward with the requests from at least seven of the eight parishes. However, they indicate that they have reduced the number of grounds for reconsideration in four of the seven. The eighth parish is Christ Church in Mount Pleasant whose grounds for reconsideration were "denied in its entirety."
May 26, 2022
Final Decision: Part IV
FAQ: After Nearly a Decade of Costly Legal Attacks, Breakaway Congregations Look to Move On
Clergy in 14 returning parishes still stoking the embers of schism with old rhetoric and misleading innuendo
The reality of last month’s split-the-baby Supreme Court decision has been sinking in around the Diocese of South Carolina, especially in those 14 parishes that the justices found are governed by the Church’s Dennis Canon and cannot leave the Church with their parish properties without the consent of the Church.
Eight of the 14 are not giving up, but instead asking the state’s high court to re-hear its decision because they think the justices got it wrong. However, the parishes do not appear to be making any arguments that they haven’t already made previously. The justices have already ruled – twice – that the parishes belong in the Church, so the rehearing request is more about frustration than any rational thought that the third time will be a charm. (It is important to note that the ACNA group has decided not to join in the requests for rehearing by eight of their parishes that are remaining with the Church.)
While the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has not released any guidance to its former breakaway parishes about the journey ahead, there is precedence in other dioceses that have dealt with this challenge of reunification.
The following are some of the questions that seem to be arising from lay people in the 14 breakaway parishes that will be staying with the Church.
1. When do we have to leave our parish buildings? You do not have to leave your buildings. You and your family will be able to continue to worship exactly where you are now. No one is getting thrown out.
Unfortunately, several Lawrence clergy continue to needlessly stir up their congregations to suggest to that they will have to move as a result of the recent Supreme Court ruling. That is simply not true.
In 2013 the Lawrence regime forced loyal Episcopalians out of their home parishes if they did not agree with Bishop Lawrence. The result was that most loyal Episcopalians are no longer there. It was a policy that caused tremendous pain to many who had never worshipped in any other church. However, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has made it repeatedly clear that she has no plans to force people out of their home parishes.
2. What happens now that the Supreme Court has ruled? Our impression of the meeting recently held between the ACNA bishop and the Episcopal bishop is that it was a get-to-know you conversation with no specific agreements about anything. However, it appears that they are both committed to making the upcoming transition as smooth as possible for those in the affected congregations. Both are new to their jobs and anxious not to spend years of their episcopates fighting each other.
If the transition follows the patterns of other schismatic dioceses, it will likely start with the appointment a special master by the Court to oversee implementation of the decision. This could take up to a year.
There will also likely be an audit to determine the status of parish and Diocesan properties and assets. Generally, after all appeals are exhausted, the special master, the congregation, or the Diocese will establish a schedule for the transition that will include interim clergy who will work with the parish to find a permanent rector.
The transition process probably won’t start until all legal appeals have been exhausted, and that could take up to a year or so.
3. So why are our clergy telling us we will have to leave? In the Episcopal Church clergy must be in good standing with the Church to serve in an Episcopal parish. That means that any clergy who are currently part of ACNA or some other group will not be able to stay on.
Many of the current ACNA clergy in these parishes want to stay where they are, and are hoping their congregations will stay together, find another worship space, and keep them employed. Unfortunately, this has led them to try to panic their congregations into making hasty decisions about their future in the Episcopal Church.
4. What happens to our Vestry under the Supreme Court ruling? Just as the Episcopal Church insists on its clergy being loyal to the Church, vestries of its parishes must be as well.
5. I am on the parish’s staff. Will I need to leave my job? That has never been required in any of the transitions in other dioceses. In the Episcopal Church, the rector and vestry make personnel and budget decisions, but that is no different than the way things have always worked.
6. Can we keep our Anglican identity? Yes… and, by the way, you never lost it. The Episcopal Church is the only legitimate Anglican presence in the United States. According to the state Supreme Court, the 14 parishes remaining with the Church have never left the Church… and consequently continue to be part of the Anglican Communion and recognized as such by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
ACNA – the “Anglican Church of North America” – is not part of worldwide Anglicanism or the Anglican Communion. After the Lawrence parishes announced in 2013 that they were leaving the Episcopal Church, more than half of their members left. To stem the mass exodus from their pews, the breakaways resorted to calling themselves “Anglican” and even “Episcopal” to keep old members and attract new ones looking for a Church with a strong ecclesiastical tradition rooted in the Anglican tradition.
However, ACNA is a religious organization of mostly Anglican and Episcopal Church dissidents who have left the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church. It was created by ultraconservative Anglican leaders in six African provinces to fight homosexuality. Several of them played significant roles in the creation of laws in their countries to criminalize homosexuality even to the point of making it a capital offense.
ACNA has been rejected repeatedly by the Instruments of Anglican Unity including the Archbishop of Canterbury.
7. Will our family be allowed continue to use Camp St. Christopher? The short answer is yes. The Supreme Court found that the historic camp and conference center belong in the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina, and the Diocese appears to have every intention of welcoming all young people and groups to its campus.
8. I have been told the Episcopal Church doesn't believe in Jesus. If that is true, I am not sure I would be comfortable staying on. Many people are not sure they want to return to the Church but they do want to continue worshipping in their home parish. SC Episcopalians suggests that you try it for a while and see how you feel about it. You may be surprised how much is familiar and exactly what you remember.
And yes, Jesus is very much at the center of life in the Church.
May 4, 2022
Final Decision, Part III
ACNA Diocese Will Not Ask for Rehearing, Even as Eight of 14 Returning Parishes Do
State's high court gave each side enough so that another legal challenge may risk more than the potential reward of an appeal or more litigation; ACNA Diocese says it will not ask high court for a rehearing as many clergy and lay people privately say they've had enough of the courts
In spite of justices' admonition, eight returning parishes on Thursday asked for a rehearing based on their claim of unique circumstances
Leaders and attorneys from both sides of the nine-year-old lawsuit filed by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him were caught by surprise at last month's split-the-baby approach taken by the state Supreme Court to settling the case and neither side appeared to have any pre-determined strategies on how they would proceed. For one thing, the case had already been resolved in August 2017. For another, the justices ignored both sides' right to another trial prior to issuing what was, in essence, a second "final decision" in the case.
The short answer to what's next is that at least eight of the 14 breakaway parishes found to be part of the Episcopal Church last week have asked the high court to rehear the case based on unspecified unique circumstances. This is a fairly common practice that is more akin to a Hail Mary pass than a coherent legal strategy. They have twice been found to be part of the Episcopal Church, and twice turned down for a rehearing in 2017 when the first "final ruling" in the case was handed down. The parishes' attorneys apparently filed their requests with the Court yesterday. That could slow things down considerably, but there is little realistic chance that the result of April's ruling will change.
The ACNA Diocese itself issued a statement today saying that it will not ask for a rehearing of the case. Its interests lie in their claim to own the Diocese of South Carolina and Camp St. Christopher. The high court ruled in both 2017 and now 2022 that those belonged to the Church. Two Federal courts have made similar determinations in a related case.
Once the matter of legal appeals and rehearings is settled, there will likely be the appoiintment of a "special master" - most likely a retired judge - to oversee the implementation of the Court's new ruling. That could take time as well. That special master could even be Judge Edgar Dickson, who was given the case to implement in 2018, but sat on it for three years before issuing a ruling that effectively overturned the 2017 result. There is also the matter of an audit of the assets of the parishes involved in the case, and those of the Diocese during the period they were in the hands of Lawrence and his allies.
There is also the matter of the strange behavior of the Chief Justice who abruptly last December renounced his vote in the 2017 decision, claiming that he did not vote the way he was recorded or written in his opinion.
Chief Justice Don Beatty likely cost the litigants and the Federal courts hundreds of thousands of dollars since his 2017 opinion was the basis of a ruling in Federal court in a related case which is pending before the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Beatty's erratic actions and the pressure on the other justices to placate him almost certainly resulted in the indecipherable hairsplitting on which the second final ruling was based. In lawyer-speak, the outcome of the case appeared to be a pre-determined result in search of legal justification.
Lawrence and the breakaway attorneys were asking for the properties of 36 parishes and the Diocese of South Carolina Inc., its property, corporate marks, and camp and conference center. They got 22 of the plaintiff parishes, with everything else going to the Church.
Very importantly to future Episcopalians, the high court affirmed that the Dennis Canon is recognized as a viable trust between the Church and parishes that consent to being governed by the Church's Constitution and Canons.
While breakaway attorneys have used the past two weeks to stoke the hopes of their dwindling faithful, there is an underlying suspicion among the lawyers that each side has probably gotten the best deal it is going to get.
We are done with this... or not
There was also an unmistakable message from the justices to those who might consider new litigation: We are done with this. It's over.
Well, it is not over. By taking the case at all, the Court injected itself into a messy theological dispute that leaves other parishes in the Episcopal Church as well as those in other denominations no choice but to go to court to decide winners and losers. The Court should have done what the U.S. Constitution requires and yielded to the highest governing body of the Church, but the state's judiciary is one of the most politicized in the country and its judges are politicians.
The temptation to champion the Bible-thumping opponents of the "gay church" was just too strong. During the original trial of the lawsuit in 2015, the lower court judge overseeing the case ruled 100 percent in favor of the breakaway group... and then announced her candidacy for an upcoming opening on the state's high court.
Bishops and Clergy confer, but are far from finding a way forward
Last week clergy on both sides of the case met with their respective bishops and legal counsel and came away with only limited clarity on their possible paths forward.
SC Episcopalians was told that the ACNA clergy group displayed its usual misplaced anger and victim pathology (even though they are the ones who brought the lawsuit). We are hearing that some clergy went home to their parishes variously reporting that the breakaway organization was going to go back to court in some way. Others told their congregations that there might come a time soon in which they should consider “negotiating” with the Episcopal Diocese about the continued use of parish buildings including just leasing them back from the Church.
Sadly a few of the clergy fell back on their long-standing misinformation campaign and scare tactics, demonizing the Episcopal Church and suggesting that members of their congregations would be forced to leave their buildings as a result of the ruling so the Church can use them for "God knows what".
Suspicion surrounds the breakaways' high command
While Lawrence commands great affection from his clergy, the two others in his high command – Attorney Allan Runyan and Canon to the Ordinary Jim Lewis – are privately regarded with very mixed feelings.
Runyan was the architect of a legal blueprint that would provide a Churchwide path to independence for dissident congregations by decimating the Church’s Dennis Canon. While Lawrence and his clergy initially cheer Runyan’s brilliance, his secretive and often dismissive manner toward many clergy and their parish attorneys often left them cold and without credible explanations to carry home to their parishes.
When last week’s ruling was handed down, many remembered that the Church and its Presiding Bishop had offered to settle the case in 2015 with the parishes being free to leave the Church with their properties intact in exchange for withdrawing their claim to the Diocesan corporation, its properties, and the camp and conference center. Runyan hastily rejected the offer, and never offered the parishes on whose behalf he was speaking a credible explanation.
Lewis was more of an enforcer for Lawrence, keeping clergy and parishes in line and on board with Lawrence. He was particularly effective at rounding up the 36 parishes to sign on the lawsuit and provide financial support. In fact, there was really nothing in last month’s ruling to suggest that so many parishes had to be on board, especially those whose bylaws clearly stated that they were part of the Episcopal Church and had approved the Dennis Canon..
Edgar and Woodliff-Stanley send a message
Last Sunday Episcopal Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley presided over the confirmation of 40 new Episcopalians at Grace Church Cathedral at a noisy upbeat service. She made no mention of the Supreme Court decision, nor reportedly has her counterpart, ACNA Bishop Chip Edgar, who has similarly taken a wait-and-see approach with respect to substantive public comments on the decision.
Woodliff-Stanley and Edgar – both newly installed – took a huge political gamble just after the decision was handed down by having a private one-on-one conversation about the Court's ruling. Possibly, the most important part of the meeting was a casual photo of them seemingly in a relaxed setting taking seriously Isaiah's admonition to "reason together" (more precisely, speak frankly). The meeting of the two bishops was more about getting a acquainted, but they appeared to signal that in the future conversation might precede or even pre-empt confrontation.
We have heard from some of the ACNA and Episcopal Church parishes this week and thought we'd try to respond to the questions that most people seem to have in common:
1. The case was never about property ownership. Both the Church and the breakaway parishes agreed from the outset that the parish properties are owned by the congregations that occupy them. The issue was about the state’s trust laws and how those properties can be used the congregations.
The Church’s position – expressed through a church law known as the Dennis Canon – is that the congregation’s ownership is contingent on its using parish property for the work of the Church. Should the parish discontinue operating for the benefit of the Church, the property reverts to the Church.
The position of the breakaway congregations was that they never agreed to the Dennis Canon and that it could not be used to challenge their desire to leave the Church.
The outcome of the case was a “split the Baby” result that gave each side a settlement with which they could continue and rebuild. The Court ruled that the Church holds clear title to the corporate Diocese of South Carolina, its property and assets, and Camp St. Christopher. The Court overturned its own 2017 “final decision” in the case and found that an additional 15 breakaway parishes were not bound by the Church’s Dennis Canon and therefore free to leave the Church. That means the Court found a total of 22 of the 36 Lawrence parishes were free to leave while the remaining 14 are – and have always been – part of the Episcopal Church.
2. The Lawrence lawsuit was never about the parishes. The lawsuit brought by former Bishop Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him was part of a much larger movement in the country to break up the Episcopal Church using the courts. Even before Lawrence became a bishop, conservative dissidents in the Church were already looking for a diocese to be “sacrificed” in exchange for getting a state court ruling invalidating the Dennis Canon in that state.
If the case had been about the parishes, the first step of the lawsuit would have been to follow Isaiah’s direction and have a frank conversation with Church leaders about releasing them from the restrictions of the Dennis Canon. That did not happen. Before you roll your eyes that this suggestion, remember that the Church - specifically, the Presiding Bishop - did extend an unprecedented offer to the 36 breakaway parishes in 2015 to waive its legal rights under the Dennis Canon and allow them to leave the Church with their property intact. The breakaway attorneys rejected the deal without even talking to the congregations they represented.
3. No congregation is being told to leave its parish properties. ACNA rectors in the 14 parishes staying with the Church have continued the false witness that members of their congregations will have to find new parish buildings. There is no requirement in the court ruling that lay people must leave or cannot continue worshipping exactly where they are. The Church does require that every parish be led by Episcopal clergy and that it elect a Vestry that is loyal to the Church.
4. Camp St. Christopher and its Conference Center will continue be available to ACNA congregations. Since 2012 St. Christopher has been under the control of the Lawrencians who have made it clear that children from Episcopal congregations were not welcome there. There were also reprots that non-evangelical chilren were pressured into say that Jesus was their "Lord and Savior". One Episcopal parent was told by a staff person that her children were "getting what they deserved" after being denied addition to teh summer camp. At no point has there been any conversations on the Church side about maintaining discriminatory practices when the Center is returned.
4. The wider Episcopal Church never had any interest in acquiring the properties of any parish in South Carolina. For years Lawrence's lieutenants have promoted the falsehood that “liberals” in the leadership Episcopal Church were trying to take over their parish properties and give them to their gay and lesbian members. That cost a number of parishes dearly as they racked up legal bills preparing for the non-existent threat of being taken over by hoards of unidentified homosexuals.
As mentioned above, the Church agrees that the parishes own their own property so it would have no basis to try to take them over.
April 25, 2022
NEW! Final Decision Part 2:
State's High Court Likely Ends Lawrence Schism;
Dennis Canon Upheld even as 15 more Breakaway Parishes are Allowed to Leave
In the end, only 14 of 36 plaintiff parishes in Lawrence lawsuit were found to have adequately agreed to create a legal trust with the Episcopal Church over their parish properties
Diocese of South Carolina and its property, including St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center, belong to the Church
High Court's decision attempts to clarify vagaries in state's trust laws, but speculation persists that the justices simply wanted to give more to breakaways than what they got in the 2017 decision
For former South Carolina Bishop Fitz Allison, the Church's Dennis Canon should have been known as Dennis the Menace. Allison, who became Bishop of the Diocese shortly after the Church's 1979 General Convention approved the controversial new law, was bitterly opposed to its enactment and did little to encourage parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina to adopt it.
The Dennis Canon is a measure suggested by the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the property of hierarchical Churches from being hijacked by dissidents. In the Episcopal Church, it recognizes that individual parishes and dioceses own their own property, but that their ownership is contingent on its being used for the work of the Church. If the congregation ceases using the property for that purpose, ownership reverts to the Church and its local diocese. Local parishes could get out of the arrangement only with the consent of the Church.
Allison was a bitter critic of the Church and saw the Canon as a way for the Church to weaken rebellions of the kind it experienced during the Civil Rights era and the advent of female clergy. He is reported to have made a comment about not having the nerve to even ask blue-blooded St. Philip's and St. Michael's in Charleston to sign off on something like that.
Much of the 2013 lawsuit brought by ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 congregations loyal to him was contingent on their argument that the Dennis Canon was not applicable to them because of an obscure lawsuit involving All Saint's Episcopal Church on Pawleys Island more than 17 years ago. In fact, they argued that the All Saints' case did not apply to any Episcopal parish in South Carolina.
This week the state's Supreme Court said that would be a misreading of the All Saints' decision and that trust laws in South Carolina do recognize the legitimacy of the Dennis Canon. However, it is not automatic simply because a parish is part of a larger Church. The provisions of the trust arte only operable if a parish has clearly and adequately declared its willingness to be covered by it.
It was a ruling that few expected, but it does make sense that the justices would use the Lawrence matter to clarify the state's trust laws, and then apply them to each of the plaintiff parishes in this case.
Even so, at various points, the decision does read like the Court was splitting hairs.
According to ACNA's Bishop Chip Edgar, ″I read it and I was like, ‘I can’t hardly tell the difference between what one (parish) said and the others.’ So, I don’t know what was going on in the mind of the justices. It leaves unanswered questions,” The Rt. Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, also seemed to be wrestling with the same questions as Edgar and looking to legal counsel to provide more insight.
Church Historian and online blogger Dr. Ron Caldwell summed up their situation this way: “The reality now is that the old diocese is divided into two, probably for the foreseeable future, and each one owns about half of the old diocese. This is the essential settlement of the schism, like it or not. This is the way it is and will be for a long time at least.” Dr. Caldwell’s words would have fit perfectly into last week’s opinion.
New Season of Ministry
Perhaps the most positive response to the decision actually came from the new bishops in the form of a photo in the Charleston Post & Courier. The two were shown meeting in Woodliff-Stanley's office at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in Charleston. Both appeared to be relaxed, and possibly a bit relieved. It was the first time a leader of the breakaway group had been willing to meet with his Episcopal Church counterpart. Both are newly consecrated, from a different generation from their predecessors, and have shown little interest in prolonged legal conflicts.
As strange as it sounds, they may have been the big winners in last week's court ruling. They can now realistically expect to be able to move forward in their new ministries at least knowing who is in and who is out. Neither was reported to have expressed approval of the Court's decision, though they seemed to agree with Woodliff-Stanley’s optimism that the ruling clears the way for a “new season of ministry".
The leaders of the 14 breakaway parishes staying with the Church were particularly stunned at the outcome of the case.
In a video message to his parishioners, Greg Kronz, the rector of St. Luke’s on Hilton Head, told his congregation “I am so confused by this decision and how the Supreme Court could come to this decision… but they did.” Marshall Huey, rector of Old St. Andrews’ near Charleston told his Sunday congregation that he could not understand how the Court could have ruled as it did, and has suggested that the parish might appeal.
However to those who would consider appealing, the justices used not so delicate language in their decision suggesting that they were not going to look kindly on those who might appeal: “This decision is final. From our decision today, there will be no remand. The case is over."
April 20, 2022
NEW! Final Decision Part 1:
State's High Court Issues Second 'Final Decision' in 10-year-old Church Property Dispute; Ruling Appears to End Breakaway Lawsuit
Chief Justice flip-flops on 2017 vote and leads other justices to give another 15 parishes to anti-gay breakaway group; Church keeps 14 of 36 plaintiff parishes, Diocese of SC, and St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center
It's been nearly ten years since ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 anti-gay parishes filed a lawsuit in state court, claiming they were the sole owners of the 225+ year-old Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, its assets, and parish properties. The Episcopal Church, they alleged, had no claim to any of that.
Since then, the case has bounced around state and Federal courts in search of a consistent application of law and judicial precedent that would resolve questions about the Episcopal Church's legal interest in the property and assets of his South Carolina dioceses and parishes.
Today the state's Supreme Court handed down what it hopes will be a final decision in this long-running drama. It may prove to be a practical fix that gives both sides something that will allow them to move forward beyond the courts.
In today's decision the justices determined that only 14 of the 36 plaintiff parishes that joined Lawrence in his lawsuit have to get consent from the Episcopal Church if they want to leave the Church with their properties intact. The rest can leave. That's 15 less than the justices allowed in their first "final decision" in 2017.
The ruling left in place the Court's 2017 ruling that the corporate entity known as the "Diocese of South Carolina," along with its assets and properties, belong to the Church and always have. Among those assets is St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center.
Who's on which list
So this is how things stand now after today's ruling...
The parishes that can LEAVE the Church are:
Trinity Church, Pinopolis
St. Philip's Church, Charleston
St. Michael's Church, Charleston
The Church of the Cross, Bluffton
The Church of the Epiphany, Eutawville
St. Helena's Church, Beaufort
Christ St. Paul's, Conway
Church of the Resurrection, Surfside
Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston
St. Paul's Church, Summerville
Trinity Episcopal Church, Edisto
St. Paul's Church, Bennettsville
All Saints Church, Florence
Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island
Church of the Redeemer, Orangeburg
(Plus others that left in 2017)
• Christ the King, Waccamaw
• St. Matthews Church, Darlington;
• St. Andrews, Mount Pleasant (and its Land Trust, a separate corp)
• St. Paul's Church, Conway
• Prince George Winyah, Georgetown
• St. John's Church, Florence
Parishes that STAY with the Episcopal Church
Church of the Good Shepherd, Charleston
Church of the Holy Comforter, Sumter
St. Bartholomew's Church, Hartsville
John's Church, Johns Island
St. Jude's Church, Walterboro
St. Luke's Church, Hilton Head
St. David's Church, Cheraw
St. Matthew's Church, Fort Motte
Old St. Andrew's Church, Charleston
Church of the Holy Cross, Stateburg
Trinity Church, Myrtle Beach
Holy Trinity Church, Charleston
Christ Church, Mount Pleasant
St. James' Church, James Island
Entities remaining with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina
The corporate entity known as "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina"
Property owned by the Diocese of South Carolina including the Diocesan House and Bishop's residence
St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center
December 8, 2021 (rev. 11 a.m. 12/11)
Supreme Court Redux, Part 4
Chief Justice Flip-Flops on 2017 Pro-Church Vote, High Court in Chaos
South Carolina's Chief Justice Don Beatty says he was not part of the majority in five-year-old decision on Lawrence's schism, but the record shows otherwise:
"... I agree with the majority as to the disposition of the remaining parishes because their express accession to the Dennis Canon was sufficient to create an irrevocable trust." - Chief Justice Don Beatty in 2017 decision
"No. No. I did not agree with them. I agreed with them only as to the eight..." - Chief Justice Don Beatty at Court hearing on December 8, 2021
The run-up to this morning’s hearing before the state Supreme Court had all the markings of a slam-dunk for the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina in their efforts to rid themselves of a former bishop and his followers who claim to own an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets.
And, why not? Last year a rogue judge in Orangeburg went way beyond his instructions to implement the high court’s 2017 ruling that derailed the plans of former Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes that wanted to join him in leaving the Church over its acceptance of homosexuals. Instead of implementing the decision, Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson nullified its results by substituting the ruling of the original lower court judge and handing everything over to the Lawrence crowd.
The Church and the Diocese were expecting the SCSC to simply reject the inexplicable actions of Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson and find someone else to implement its original decision that allowed only eight of the 36 parishes to leave the church, while the remaining 28 parishes would have to get the consent of the Church to leave.
However, that is not what happened.
The justices and everyone else in the courtroom were stunned by a development they'd never witnessed before: Chief Justice Don Beatty, whose vote in 2017 was part of a majority favoring the Church on the question of how many plaintiff parishes could and could not leave with their properties, did a startling about-face.
About 15 minutes into the presentation of Church attorney Skip Utsey, Beatty angrily lashed out and rejected any suggestion that he had said anything in 2017 about the disposition of the remaining 28 parishes. He conceded that he had agreed to allow the other eight parishes to go because there was no evidence they'd acceded to the Church's Dennis Canon.
That provision, adopted by the Church's General Convention in 1979 at the suggestion in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, defined the Church's view that local congregations are the actual owners of parish property but hold them in trust for the work of the Church. In legal terms, the Episcopal Church holds a "property interest" in all properties owned by parishes in the Episcopal Church. The Dennis Canon received the full support of the delegation from the Diocese of South Carolina to that Convention. In 1987, the Diocese's Annual Convention adopted the Dennis Canon as part of its own Constitution.
I know what I said, the Chief Justice insisted. Utsey wisely decided not to argue with the Chief or read to him from his own opinion from five years ago. He also did not mention the opinion of then-Chief Justice Jean Toal that flatly summarized the holdings in the case to include Justice Beatty voting with Justices Hearn and Pleicones.
Procedure vs. Substance
Equally as confusing to the justices as well as the litigants, was whether the matter before them was a question of law or procedure.
The procedural question was whether Dixon - a lower court judge - had, in effect, overturned the high court's 2017 decision and gone too far in deciding that all the Lawrence parishes were free to leave the Church. And, if Dickson had had that kind of authority, when was there a trial that allowed the parties to present evidence and and present witnesses? The justices were very clear in their opinion that it was their final ruling.
The substantive side of the case focused on the standard by which the Church's legal interest in a congregation's property is judged to be in effect. Church lawyers argued that all that had been settled in 2017, and looking at the ruling, they are right.
One of the challenges the justices face in dealing with this situation is that only two of the four justices and one Acting Justice were actually involved in 2017 decision. If they read Beatty's opinion from five years ago and see that he voted with the majority, they are going to be risking his wrath and being cowed into bailing him out by violating the due process to which the Church and the breakaways are entitled. So what do they do? Rely on what he is saying he said, or hold him to what he said then "in writing"?
December 7, 2021
Supreme Court Redux, Part 3
The Resurrection of Dennis the Menace
Lawrencian attorneys may still try to show that Goodstein's ruling in the Lawrence case is consistent with the Court's 2009 All Saints' decision
Even with only a handful of lawyers and judges in the room, the atmosphere at tomorrow's hearing at the state's Supreme Court maybe just as tense as it was in 2016, but for different reasons.
Lawrence's legal team was inspired to bring its lawsuit in 2013 because of a prior case from Pawleys Island in 2009 in which a majority of the congregation of All Saints' Episcopal Church asserted its belief that the Church's Dennis Canon did not create a legal interest in the parish's property and was free to leave the Church without the consent of the Diocese of South Carolina.
The lower court that heard the case sided with the Church, but on appeal to the state Supreme Court, its ruling was unanimously reversed, and All Saints' congregation was on the next bus to their new home with the anti-gay Anglican Church of Rwanda.
The key to the reversal was longtime Chief Justice Jean Toal, who presided over the case and dominated the deliberations of the panel which included two replacement justices who filled in for actual associate justices who'd recused themselves. Among the associate justices who heard the case was now-Chief Justice Don Beatty.
There was plenty of grumbling about Toal's management of the case, especially since one of the lawyers for All Saints' (and now Lawrence) was her close personal friend. Toal's opinion itself was not universally admired in legal or religious circles as many saw it as a Pandora's Box, inviting endless Church disputes into the secular state courts.
At issue was the Episcopal Church's Dennis Canon which protects hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal Church from encroachment on their self-government in disputes over matters of theology and doctrine.
Toal seemed to quell any criticism by assuring the justices on the All Saints' panel - as well as others on the full Court - that the result of the ruling was limited only to All Saints' and not applicable to other, future cases that might seem similar.
The problem with old cases like All Saints' is that they have a way of coming back from the dead and haunting the living, and what one judge says privately to others about a case in the past doesn't really hold up in court in the present.
In constructing their 2013 lawsuit, Lawrence's attorneys saw Toal's opinion in All Saints' as a blueprint for their claim to $500 million in Church property and assets. They argued that Toal's opinion effectively declared that the Church's Dennis Canon was dead in South Carolina. They convinced Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein to go along with this view in 2015 when she tried the case.
Jubilant over their victory in the lower court, the Lawrencians were confident they were looking at win, and maybe even a unanimous one, when when the Church appealed Goodstein's ruling to the state's highest court.
One problem. None of the justices seemed to share in the rejoicing over the rehash of All Saints' that was headed their way.
Even Chief Justice Toal, on whom the Lawrencians were counting to be their champion, blurted out at the hearing that the Lawrence case had nothing to do with All Saints'... only seconds before Attorney Runyan rose to defend the Goodstein ruling as an obvious sequel to Toal opinion in All Saints'.
Runyan managed as well as anyone who'd just had the rug pulled out from under him at the very moment he imagined would be his most triumphant. The questioning that followed became so unsettling that he began snapping back at the justices whom he claimed weren't letting him answer their questions.
However, without a doubt, the biggest loser of the day was the All Saints case. By the time the Court finally issued a ruling in the matter in August 2017, it appeared that a majority of the justices were ready to overturn All Saints'. Even Beatty went so far as to say that he wished he could take back is vote.
Of course, the overconfident Lawrence's crowd went nuts and launched a bitter public attack on the three justices who formed the majority against them.
They were especially furious with Associate Justice Hearn, claiming she was biased since she had been run off from her Episcopal parish by Lawrence's henchmen in 2013. They demanded that her vote in the case be canceled and hired a national rightwing PR company to rally the Trump world to their aid in demanding a new hearing. They never explained why they didn't raise the issue of Justice Hearn's participation before the case was heard when such a request wouold have been in order.
The attacks became so venomous that Associate Justice John Kittridge issued a stinging denounciation of the Lawrencian tactics, strongly defending the integrity of Justice Hearn.
However, Lawrence's team was relentless and not about to be chastised. They organized letter-writing campaigns by misinformed lay leaders in their parishes. They even turned meetings with the circuit judge assigned to implement the 2017 ruling into a bashing session against Beatty.
At tomorrow's hearing, Chief Justice Beatty will be presiding and will want to stay focused on the issues of judicial procedures and due process as they relate to the actions taken by Circuit Judge Ed Dickson, who was assigned the task of implementing the 2017 decision. We think there will be more than one attempt to drag the All Saints' case into the conversation and put the Dennis Canon on trial. The Lawrencians' lead attorney is a well-known and well-respected appellant's attorney.... but he was also significantly involved in the All Saints' case.
December 7, 2021
Supreme Court Redux, Part II
Guide to Dec. 8th Hearing in the SC Supreme Court
In 2016 many Episcopalians and followers of former Bishop Mark Lawrence watched the live streaming of the state Supreme Court’s hearing on the Church’s appeal of a pro-Lawrence ruling by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein. The Court found mostly in favor of the Church, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently refused to hear an appeal of the case and allowed the ruling to stand.
Tomorrow's hearing has been convened to deal with a rogue ruling by Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson, who was assigned the job of implementing the high court’s 2017 in the case. However, Dickson was under tremendous local political pressure to help the Lawrence side get its case back on track and dealt with it by issuing his own ruling essentially overturning the Supreme Court’s prior decision – and replacing it with Goodstein’s.
As you watch the proceedings, remember that the subject of the arguments from each side is the motions by Church lawyers to have Dickson’s ruling dismissed and inspire the justices to take immediate steps to get their 2017 ruling implemented by a fair and even-handed special master or judge to oversee the transition of the Lawrence parishes back into the Church.
Wednesday’s hearing will take place in the same room as the hearing five years ago, but there will be a number of differences that will be immediately apparent.
1. The courtroom will be empty except for the five justices and two lawyers for each side. Arguing for the Church will be Lowcountry attorneys Skip Utsey and Tom Tisdale, along with Lawrencian attorneys Mitchell Brown and Alan Runyan. Anyone else in the courtroom will likely be Court staff or clerks.
2. The justices will be different from those who heard the case in 2016. Since the previous hearing in 2016, two new justices have been elected to the Court. John Canon Few was promoted by the Legislature from his position as chief judge on the Court of Appeals, while Circuit Judge Buck James of Sumter was elected to the Court in 2017 over Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein, the original trial judge in the Lawrence lawsuit.
Only two members of the 2016 Court will be present. The state’s Chief Justice is Don Beatty, a longtime member of the Court and its only African American, will preside. He will be joined by Associate Justice John Kittridge. Associate Justice Kay Hearn has recused herself from the case.
Hearn's replacement will likely be a current member of the state Court of Appeals or even a sitting circuit court judge. The Chief Justice chooses the replacement and will probably not announce his choice until the very beginning of the hearing.
3. Two key figures who will be absent tomorrow will be Lawrence's two successors - The Rev. Chip Edgar and the Right Rev. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley. Edgar was elected as Bishop Coadjutor in the ACNA Diocese of South Carolina and will at some point next year succeed Lawrence. Woodliff-Stanley was elected and consecrated by the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as its 15th Diocesan Bishop this year, and follows Lawrence, the 14th Bishop of the Diocese, who in 2012 turned his back on the Church rather than answer allegations by members of the Diocese that he had "abandoned Communion".
Neither Edgar nor Woodliff-Stanley has shown the slightest interest in having Lawrence' legal shenanigans dominate his or her episcopate. Both are from another generation of clergy who are more about proclamation than confrontation.
December 2, 2021
Supreme Court Redux, Part I
Upcoming Hearing in State Supreme Court Could Get Implementation of 2017 Decision Back on Track
Church attorneys will ask justices to move forward with implementation of 2017 decision, while dissidents make a last-ditch effort to grab Church property and financial assets
Justices must decide whether a rogue, lower court judge on his own initiative can reverse the result of a ruling by the high court, and do so without holding a trial or providing due process of law.
On December 8th - a date that probably won't live in infamy - the South Carolina Supreme Court will once again try to bring to an end one of the most bungled legal cases ever to languish in our state's court system. It is a mess created by an overly politicized judicial system and conflicts-of-interest that only the state’s highest court can straighten out.
Of course, the case in question is that of a 2013 lawsuit brought by renegade ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers who claimed to be the owners of more than $500 million in property and financial assets belonging to the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina. In fact, they even argued they owned the Diocese itself.
In August 2017 the state's high court rejected that claim after determining that 29 of 36 parishes that had joined Lawrence in the lawsuit belonged in the Episcopal Church, along with the corporate entity known as the "Diocese of South Carolina” and its assets including St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island. The Lawrence crowd appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the appeal was rejected, and the decision allowed to stand.
However, since then... nothing.
Lawrence and his followers still control all the assets and property the high court determined belongs to the Episcopal Church. The historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina still does not have access to its corporate headquarters or the residence it purchased for its bishop nor the nearly $300,000 in annual income to which it is entitled from trust funds set up by loyal Church members over the past two centuries to support its work. Some of the Lawrence parishes, fearing a loss of members, still refer to themselves as "Episcopal" and use the Church's emblem.
The First Judicial District
Many of our readers in January 2013 will remember wondering why Lawrence and his 40-member legal team would file a lawsuit against the Church in Dorchester County as opposed to somewhere like Charleston, where there are many more experienced judges accustomed to complex cases of this level of complexity.
Well, here's your answer. The Lawrence crowd was not looking for experienced judges who were accustomed to handling complex cases with this level of complexity. Just the opposite.
They found what they were looking for in the state's First Judicial Circuit, comprised of mostly rural Orangeburg, Calhoun, and Dorchester counties. Its courts had a reputation for being highly political and exceptionally friendly to local lawyers involved in cases with folks from off. Some of the most influential local attorneys in these counties were on Lawrence's payroll.
It was also a good guess that the judges in that District would appreciate the political risks they'd be taking if they were seen as sympathetic to a Christian denomination that was inclusive of gay people.
When the lawsuit was filed, it was assigned to Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein, one of the two senior resident judges in the First Circuit. She was out of her element from the very first day of the trial when she instructed attorneys arguing the case not to use the term "The Episcopal Church" during the trial because it was too confusing. The Episcopal Church was the defendant.
After a raucous two-week trial in St. George, Judge Goodstein unsurprisingly ruled in favor of Lawrence and his breakaway group with an opinion that appeared to have been authored by Lawrence's lead attorney. Two years later in August 2017 the state Supreme Court overturned Goodstein's ruling in favor of the Church.
Implementation and the Rogue Judge
When the Lawrencians' appeal of the 2017 decision was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court sent it back to the Second Judicial Circuit for implementation.
The assignment went to Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson, Goodstein's colleague and the other senior resident judge in the First Circuit. In our view, Dickson should never have been assigned the case because of his local connections and his former association with the most important law firm on Lawrence's legal team. But no one asked us.
Much to the satisfaction of the Lawrencians, Dickson sat on the assignment for nearly three years without actually implementing anything. At first, he acted as if he was too busy. When complaints of foot-dragging started swirling, he convened hearings that were more like informal meetings and seemed to serve no real purpose. As months stretched into years, it became increasingly apparent that Dickson had no intention of implementing the decision.
For those who faithfully attended these gatherings, it appeared that Dickson had not even read the case files that spelled out specifics on what implementation should look like. He sometimes seemed miffed that his role in the case had come down to simply administering a decision arrived at by others that would most certainly annoy his professional friends and neighbors.
Dickson's final hearings on the matter turned into nothing more than a loosely structured debate on the issues that had been heard and decided by the state Supreme Court years earlier. Strangely Judge Dickson allowed Lawrence’s lead attorney an opportunity to rail against what he called “confusion” in the opinions written by each of the three SCSC justices who comprised the majority. He was particularly contemptuous of the logic of the Chief Justice – almost to the point of calling him incompetent.
Last year Dickson finally acted, but not on the assignment he'd been given. Rather than implementing the 2017 decision, he issued his own decision that effectively overturned the high court and reinstated Goodstein’s flawed original ruling.
Notes on next week's hearing
The purpose of this hearing is for the justices to hear arguments on motions by the Church's lawyers asking them to reject the Dickson's rogue ruling and proceed to implementing the decision. This is about judicial procedures, and not a retrial of Lawrence's original lawsuit.
Unless you are part of the Court, or one of the two allowed representatives of each side, you'll need to watch the hearing live-streamed somewhere other than in the courtroom.
There will also be a new panel of justices hearing the case as opposed to those who originally decided the case in 2017. Chief Justice Beatty will preside, and most likely be joined by fellow Justices George James, John Few, and John Kittredge. Only Beatty and Kittredge participated in the original appeal of the the Goodstein ruling in 2016. Justice Kay Hearn has recused herself, She is an Episcopalian who was forced to leave her congregation when it fell under Lawrence's control.
At this point we are assuming that an acting Justice will be named to fill Hearn's seat. Our guess is that it will be someone from either the state's Court of Appeals or from among its circuit court judges.
Finally, there will be two new faces appearing for each side, both of whom are well-regarded appeals lawyers who have been retained to handle this particular appeal. Lowcountry attorney Skip Utsey will be arguing the position of the Church.
It is important to remember that the arguments presented in the hearing will only be a small part of what the justices will known about the case. Both sides have submitted huge filings with the Court in advance of the hearing that expound on their arguments.
November 13, 2021
New Bishop Outlines a Vision for Her Episcopate at Diocesan Convention at Pawleys Island
The 2021 Diocesan Convention in Pawleys Island was smooth sailing for Bishop Woodliff-Stanley as she made her debut as its new leader, unveiling a broad agenda that blends social justice, congregational development, administrative changes, and a new emphasis on young people
Ruth Woodliff-Stanley was born and raised in Mississippi, grew up worshipping at the local Episcopal church, and then went on to seek ordination through the Diocese of Mississippi. Her journey as a priest took her to the Diocese of Colorado where she was Canon to the Ordinary and later a respected consultant on strategic planning to other dioceses.
In many ways, these experiences prepared her for her latest incarnation as the 15th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The demographics of Diocese of Mississippi are very similar to South Carolina's with the same challenges with growth and vitality, while the Diocese of Colorado gave her a front row seat in challenges posed by rightwing antagonists attempting to undermine hierarchical Christian denominations they view as threats.
All seemed to come together this weekend in Pawleys Island, reminding members of the Diocese why they chose her as their leader in the first place.
This year's Diocesan Convention gave the new bishop the chance to show that she got the message of her election last May. She used the occasion to create a framework that will likely define her episcopate, and shape the common life of the parishes under her care.
High on her list of priorities is social justice and developing a realistic approach to matters of race and exclusion around which the Diocese can rally. Of equal importance, she appears ready to invest heavily in congregational development and rebuilding after five years of Mark Lawrence and another nine years without an elected Diocesan leader.
She gave a shout out to young people in the Diocese by supporting a resolution that would allow those as young as 16-years-old to serve as future Convention delegates. The bishop said she plans to encourage leadership development for Christian service at every age level. She herself began her journey in the Church as a young person, in EYC, and attending Happenings events.
Among administrative steps she proposed is the formation of a strategic transitions task force to deal with legal issues and communicate more clearly progress that is being in the courts.
She announced that The Rev. Phil Linder, former rector of St. Mark’s in Charleston and Trinity Cathedral in Columbia, would take on the role of Canon to the Ordinary, the same kind of position Bishop Ruth held in the Diocese of Colorado. She also hopes to hire a new Canon for Congregational Development.
She also reported that she was looking for a new Diocesan Treasurer, and underscored the importance she attaches to the position by awarding the outgoing incumbent, The Rev. Jim Taylor, the Bishop’s Cross.
Even though there were no real controversies at the Convention, the new bishop had a lot riding on this first test of her spiritual and executive leadership. She succeeded in setting a positive tone and strategic direction direction for an episcopate that could last as long as fifteen years.
Much of the substance of her vision reflected her efforts over the past six months to learn the history and character of each parish and mission, listen to their communicants, and create collegial relationships with parish leaders, clergy, and Diocesan partners in ministry.
It has paid off. This weekend she seemed to know everyone's name and parish, and their involvement with their parishes and the Diocese.
The Convention was exceptionally well planned and went off exactly on time. The host parish, Holy Cross Faith Memorial, has gotten pretty good at holding these kinds of events, and the experienced Diocesan staff seemed to be on top of every part of the convention and its agenda.
Unfortunately, Zoom was not as reliable and created moderate chaos for a substantial number of delegates and observers who’d hoped to watch from home. Those interested in reviewing the key parts of the convention can check the Diocesan website for video and written reporting.
October 16, 2021
ACNA-South Carolina Elects Evangelical Columbia Clergyman as Lawrence's Successor
Surprisingly close election for Bishop Coadjutor demonstrates divisions in Lawrence's breakaway organization as it faces the end of its nine-year-old legal struggle for ownership of $500 million in Church property and assets
Chip Edgar, the 55-year-old dean of the ACNA-Carolinas' cathedral in Columbia, is best known as a church-planter and was once part of the anti-gay Rwanda-based Mission to America; Edgar's election still must be approved by ACNA's conservative, all-male House of Bishops
The vote was widely seen as a referendum on a potential merger with one-time rival ACNA Diocese, led by Bishop Steve Wood of Mount Pleasant
The Very Rev. Chip Edgar, a leader in the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, was elected as the eventual successor to former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence in his ACNA "Diocese of South Carolina." Edgar's election now will have to pass the scrutiny of the conservative, all-male ACNA House of Bishops before he can be consecrated next spring.
Edgar will take over from Lawrence's late next year when he retires at age 72.
The election was closer than expected with Citadel chaplain Rob Sturdy consistently pulling 40% or more among clergy and lay delegates over three closely-contested ballots.
Chris Warner, rector of Holy Cross on Sullivan's Island, ran a distant third in the first two ballots and then withdrew his name, enabling Edgar to claim the required majority in both Clergy and Lay Orders on the third round. Warner was hurt by the decision of diocesan leadership to conduct the voting by clergy ahead of the vote by lay people, and announce the result before any ballots from lay people were even cast.
Edgar's election probably has deeper implications than might be apparent.
ACNA's hierarchy is quietly reported to favor a merger of Lawrence's "Diocese of South Carolina" with its own larger Diocese of the Carolinas. ACNA-Carolinas is led by one-time Lawrence rival, Bishop Steve Wood, who has a long-time working relationship with Edgar, the leader of his cathedral in Columbia. Once Lawrence has retired, there would be little reason for the two dioceses to operate separately especially since they overlap geographically.
The closeness of the election could have reflected mixed feelings by delegates on whether the merger should happen. Sturdy seemed to benefit the most from the votes of those who want to remain a separate diocese. Sturdy was drafted by the late Bishop Edward Salmon to go to seminary just after he graduated from The Citadel, and has always considered the diocese his home.
However, that may all be a pipe dream.
In August 2017 the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that only seven congregations loyal to Lawrence's ACNA diocese could leave the Episcopal Church without its consent. Contrary to Lawrence's legal claims, the corporate structure of the Diocese, including its property and financial assets, also belongs to the Episcopal Church, according to the Court.
Lawrence's politically-connected legal team has managed to disrupt implementation of the ruling, but that will very likely go away after a December 8th hearing on the matter before the high court.
Both Edgar and Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, have shown little interest in allowing the legal battle spilling over into their respective episcopates. This may be a good sign that the case could be concluded more expeditiously and with less acrimony than under Larwence.
October 12, 2021
Lawrence's "Anglican Diocese" Prepares for Transition to New Leader this Saturday
Breakaway organization set to elect a Bishop-Coadjutor at a Special Election this Saturday; Columbia clergyman with links to Rwanda's anti-gay Anglican leadership seems to be the early choice of Lawrence insiders
Potential merger with ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas looms in the background once Lawrence is gone and 2017 court ruling is implemented
This Saturday will be a pivotal moment for the breakaway “Anglican Diocese of South Carolina” (ACNA-SC) as still-loyal followers of former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence convene in Mount Pleasant to select a new leader to succeed him when he retires next year.
The new man - known as a bishop coadjutor - will likely determine how and if the group survives as an independent Christian witness, merges itself into another more substantial entity, or simply continues on its present course with a weakening grasp on membership, property, finances, and identity.
The election will mark a nearly-decade old wilderness journey by Lawrence and his evangelical followers who left the Episcopal Church in 2012 over its inclusion of homosexuals, women in positions of authority over men, and understandings of the Bible inconsistent with Lawrence’s narrow literalism. Ironically, they joined another larger breakaway "Church" in which the very same issues are now creating divisions.
Only three (male) nominees allowed
Despite earlier promises to cast a wide net, the ACNA-SC search committee stayed close to home with two nominees from Charleston and one from Columbia. All three are approximately the same age, white, and married with children. Each was ordained in the Episcopal Church but subsequently left to join breakaway groups.
While each man is engaging and has had an interesting career, none has been a consequential A-listers in the Lawrence regime, nor does his resume demonstrate any particular administrative expertise or executive skills badly needed by a diocesan infrastructure in decline. In fact, it is hard to imagine any of the nominees exercising the kind of oppressive, autocratic control over his lay and clergy leaders that Lawrence found necessary to use.
The two nominees currently resident in ACNA-SC are the Revs. Rob Sturdy and Chris Warner. Sturdy is the former rector of Trinity Church in Myrtle Beach and currently ACNA chaplain at The Citadel. He teaches part time at a seminary that is a hotbed for breakaway groups in the Episcopal Church. Warner is the rector of Holy Cross on Sullivan’s Island, and served as rector/director of the Church’s Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island.
The one candidate not currently in ACNA-SC is Chip Edgar, the Dean of the “cathedral” for ACNA's Diocese of the Carolinas (ACNA-Carolinas) in Columbia. Edgar appears to have the broadest ministry experience of the three candidates, including church-planting. (We avoid using words "cathedral" to describe his home parish as it would imply that it is part of worldwide Anglicanism, which it is definitely not.)
Edgar also appears to be the leading candidate in spite of his association with autocratic Anglican leaders in Africa who have aligned themselves with repressive regimes that have persecuted gays and women forced women to bear unwanted children as the result of rape and incest.
October 2, 2021
NEW!!! Ruth Woodliff Stanley Becomes 15th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina
Mississippi native promises enthusiastic online and in-person supporters at Grace Church Cathedral, "I give you my heart!"
Dean Michael Wright: "Bishop, this is your Cathedral. Welcome home!"
The critical mass of the Episcopal Church -- past, present, and future --came together this weekend in Charleston against the majestic backdrop of the Anglican Communion’s newest cathedral, the historic consecration of its newest bishop, a celebration of the life of one of its most influential leaders, and what appeared to be every available purple, pink, and white flower in America.
This morning Presiding Bishop Michael Bruce Curry presided over the noisy ordination and consecration of 59-year-old Ruth M. Woodliff-Stanley as the 15th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. It has been nearly nine tumultuous years since her immediate predecessor fled the Church rather than answer complaints that he had repeatedly violated his sacred ordination oath.
Glorious music and a seemingly endless procession of smiling bishops, clergy, friends, and family filled historic Grace Church Cathedral to mark the beginning of an episcopate that could be the most consequential in Diocesan history. Every parish and mission in the Diocese were represented in the procession, and each brought symbolic flowers and gifts to herald her new ministry among them.
Bishop Woodliff-Stanley was joined by her husband, Nathan, and their two grown sons, who beamed as their wife and mother became the first female bishop of the Diocese on the very spot where the first woman was ordained a priest in South Carolina nearly forty years ago.
Emotions ran high
Not insignificant among today's participants was the Rev. Jennie C. Olbrych, whose lifetime of service to the Diocese opened many doors for women in the traditional, male-dominated Diocese. Also among the nearly two dozen bishops today was the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, the Diocese's first provisional Bishop who, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, rallied the wounded Diocese in 2013 and wasted no effort in responding to the apostate bishop and his followers.
This was Bishop Curry's third visit to Grace and even more to other parts of the Diocese, such that he was mobbed by friends and admirers throughout the day. He seemed to recognize almost all of them. While the congregation pressed the limits of social distancing, the PB had no trouble reminding the crowd that in the Episcopal Church, “There’s plenty good room for all God’s children.”
Many members of the congregation were disappointed when they were forced to watch the proceedings outside the Cathedral, but were both startled and cheered when Curry appeared unannounced in their midst to administer the holy sacrament. "We should have known he wouldn't forget us," one participant told SC Episcopalians.
Several light-hearted moments found their way into the service. It was the first occasion in Diocesan history that a bishop chanted in the soprano range, leaving some lower-voice males struggling to find familiar notes. The new bishop also has substantially more hair than any of her predecessors and that created a couple of awkward moments in adjusting her new cope and mitre.
The preacher for the consecration service was the Rev. Deacon Sally Brown from St. John's Cathedral in Denver, who delivered a candid, pitch-perfect assessment of the new bishop's character and integrity. She drew a great deal of laughter when she disclosed that the new bishop has a passion for roller coasters - and insists on riding in the front seat.
In spite of the joyous spirit, longtime members of the Diocese could not help but recall the last consecration in the Diocese when the 14th Bishop of the Diocese used the occasion to demonstrate his contempt for the Church's leadership in spite of its earlier support of his election. His cynical legacy is still around and Bishop Woodliff-Stanley will immediately have to focus preparing for a hearing before the state Supreme Court on the languishing legal case in which he claims he and his followers are entitled to an estimated $500 million in Church property and assets.
Remembering Bishop John Clark Buchanan
Only 24 hours earlier in the same location as the consecration, one of Curry’s predecessors, The Most Rev. Frank Griswold, presided at a memorial service celebrating the life and ministry of South Carolina native John Clark Buchanan, the late Bishop of the Diocese of Western Missouri, and later provisional bishop of Dioceses in Illinois and Virginia. Bishop Buchanan met his wife Peggy, when they were communicants at St. John’s in Florence and started his ministry in the Diocese in Dillon, Darlington, and Mount Pleasant.
Consecrated in 1989, Bishop Buchanan doubled as legal advisor to the Church’s House of Bishops during some of its most challenging transitions as it broadened its embrace of fellow Christians who’d previously been excluded from the mainstream of Church life. The bishop saw a great deal of his parish work lost to the breakaways in 2012, but he never lost faith in the Diocese of South Carolina or its people.
The juxtaposition of Bishop Buchanan’s memorial service and Bishop Woodliff-Stanley’s consecration could not have been a more poignant reminder of the continuity of apostolic succession in the Church and the caliber of men and women who serve it in pursuit of its Gospel mission.
September 22, 2021
NEW! State Supreme Court to Hear Church's Appeal of Rogue Lower Court Ruling Dec. 8th
Known for ties to Lawrence's legal team, Orangeburg Circuit Judge Ed Dickson effectively "overturned" the 2017 pro-Church ruling by the state's high court last year
Dickson's ruling, if allowed to stand, represents one of the most egregious invasions of the Constitution's separation of Church and State protections by allowing a secular court to intervene in a doctrinal dispute
The state Supreme Court will hear an appeal by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina in their quest for implementation of its August 2017 ruling in which the high court ruled that 29 of 36 parishes loyal to ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence could not leave the Church with their properties and assets without the agreement of Church leaders.
The basis of the ruling was the Court's recognition of the Church's "Dennis Canon" as the guiding legal principle in deciding cases stemming from theological disputes in hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal Church. The Court also ruled that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as a corporate entity belonged to the Church along with all its property including St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island.
Shortly after handing down its decision, Chief Justice Don Beatty assigned Dickson the task of overseeing implementation of the decision and the transition of the parish assets to the rightful owners.
Unfortunately Dickson had his own ideas about how the case should have been decided, threw out the high court's ruling, and reinstated a much earlier ruling by another lower court judge in Orangeburg who handed everything over to the breakaway group.
The hearing, to be held December 8th, will not be a retrial of the 2017 decision, but rather the question of whether Dickson improperly exceeded his authority as implementer.
The return of this case to the Supreme Court will likely rekindle bitter feelings by the justices toward Lawrence attorneys who repeatedly blasted the justice personally and encouraged legislators to pressure them to rehear the case. Even Dickson used his time in the limelight to allow Lawrence's attorney, Alan Runyan, to rail against the justices that voted with the Church side, especially Chief Justice Don Beatty.
Dickson has extensive ties to Lawrence's 40-member legal team and - according a local source - not above helping out his friends. South Carolina is one of only two states that allow direct election of judges by the Legislature, a practice that often appears to compromise the integrity of the judicial system.
August 19, 2021
NEW! Lawrencians Invited to 'Join the Army' at Weekend Workshop in Summerville
Lawrencian "diocese" returns to fear tactics it once used to alienate its congregations from the Episcopal Church and get them to give money to its legal misadventures.
Followers of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence are sharpening swords and polishing suits of armor this weekend as they head to Summerville to prepare for "battle" against a godless world, full of perceived enemies of Jesus Christ.
A promotional flyer we received invited us to “Join the Army” by attending a two-day workshop that promises to “equip Christians for today’s spiritual warfare,” while “exploring the underpinning of Critical Theory and its many offshoots – social justice, sexual identity, and racism.”
Organizers of the Ignite Conference also promise that we will learn all about "the critical inroads that the ideology of expressive individualism or the autonomous self, in its theological form, has made on the Church.” (SC Episcopalians will likely be napping during this part of the festivities.)
Apparently this call to arms is the brainchild of St. Michael’s ACNA in Charleston and St. Paul’s ACNA in Summerville, "in cooperation with" the nefarious American Anglican Council, an Atlanta-based group of right-wingers who believe God has called them to make war on Christians and fellow Americans they deem to be His enemies.
ACNA is the self-described "Anglican Church of North America", which is not a part of the worldwide Anglican Community in spite of its name.
The only listed presenter for the conference is the rector of St. Michael’s ACNA, who plans to tell attendees how to “become informed, inspired, and equipped [as they] help reignite the church and society’s belief in our country’s founding principles… and stand united for Biblical Truth – no matter what the cost.”
Since the arrival of Mark Lawrence in South Carolina 16 years ago, his clergy supporters have utilized fear tactics to alienate their congregations from the Episcopal Church and inspire donations to underwrite his half-baked legal adventures.
Fortunately, most Christians and actual Anglicans (Episcopalians) in South Carolina reject that kind of divisive hysteria, embracing instead Jesus as the Prince of Peace and faith in him over imagined fears of others.
This approach to Christian life has been devastating for the Lawrencians. Since St. Michael's ACNA followed Lawrence out of the Church in 2011, its membership has dropped by an astonishing 50%. St. Paul’s ACNA has lost 30% of its congregation.
August 5, 2021
The Woodliff-Stanley Era Begins
After nearly two decades of frustration, betrayal, and transformation, the Diocese of South Carolina is all-in with its new leader. Ruth Woodliff-Stanley is likely to be one of the most consequential bishops in the history of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
The unlikely election of Ruth Woodliff-Stanley as the new leader of the Diocese of South Carolina was a surprise, even to her.
She was as unknown to the people she will serve as much as they were to her. And that was just fine with the delegates to the special convention on May 1st when she was elected. To them, an experienced, yet non-traditional, candidate from off was exactly the right choice to lead the Diocese out of the struggles of the past two decades and set a new course with a future firmly planted in the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglicanism.
Now, three months after the election, there is no sign of buyer's remorse.
However, there is also very little known for sure about what a reconstituted historic Diocese of South Carolina will look like after the consecration of Ms. Woodliff-Stanley on October 2nd.
The Bishop-Elect herself has given few clues as to how she plans to proceed, but from the get-go she appears to have few illusion that nearly every element of Diocesan infrastructure and programming is in need of review, revision, or reinvention. Traditional dynamics that have held the Diocese together, and defined it for 227 years, have disintegrated. The rightwing ball-and-chain that consistently undermined reforms and modernizations proposed by her predecessors left with the Lawrence crowd.
It now falls to her lay the foundation for what the future Church in eastern South Carolina will look like for much of the 21st century. (more)
Diocesan Leadership Reshuffles, as Election of New Bishop Clears a Final Hurdle
Majority of bishops and standing committees consent to the election of Ms. Woodliff-Stanley; Archdeacon Walpole assumes a fulltime role at Cathedral, while the Rev. Robertson Donehue becomes President of the Standing Committee
The final steps in Ruth Woodliff-Stanley's almost two-year journey to become the 15th Bishop of South Carolina were completed July 2nd as the Office of the Presiding Bishop announced that the required majority of bishops and diocesan standing committees in the Episcopal Church had consented to her election.
Her consecration will be held October 2nd at Grace Church Cathedral in Charleston and presided over by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and a host of bishops from the Church's 110 dioceses.
Faithful readers of this blog will remember that in 2006 the first signs of trouble with Bishop-Elect Mark Lawrence occurred when he failed to achieve a majority of consents from the standing committees after questions were raised about his loyalty to the Church.
Articles written by Lawrence and re-discovered by SC Episcopalians, proposed that the governing structure of the Church be abolished, and the whole shooting match turned over to the Primates of the Anglican Communion. Lawrence dismissed the writings and other hair-brained comments as "just ideas for discussion" that he did not intend to be taken seriously. However, he was forced to issue a last-minute claim that he did not intend to take the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church. It still failed, but he did receive the necessary consents after he was reelected by the Diocese in 2007.
Archdeacon Callie Walpole has announced that her seven-year tenure as Archdeacon is over and that she is returning to fulltime work at Grace Church Cathedral.
The Rev. Rob Donehue, Rector of St. Anne's in Conway, was elected to succeed Canon Caleb Lee as President of the Standing Committee. Mr. Lee departed the Diocese this month to assume his new duties as Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Over the past 18 months he oversaw the election of a new bishop and the successful all-virtual Diocesan convention that elected her.
The Rt. Rev. Henry Parsley, retired Bishop of Alabama and former priest of this Diocese, concluded his work as the Diocese's "Visiting Bishop." Since the departure of Provisional Bishop Skip Adams at the end of 2019, Bishop Parsley has graciously provided the services of a bishop to congregations in our diocese, while serving as a spiritual counselor and guide to our leaders.
May 1, 2021
Ruth Woodliff-Stanley Elected Bishop of South Carolina
Mississippi native and former Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Colorado achieves a second ballot majority of both Lay and Clergy delegates in a diverse field
Bishop-Elect offers elegant acceptance with "unabashed joy" in thanking other nominees, delegates, and members of the Diocese of South Carolina; "I cannot wait and am deeply honored"
A special convention of the Diocese of South Carolina set a new course today as it embraced the Rev. Canon Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, a former rector and Canon to the Ordinary in Colorado, as its 15th Diocesan Bishop. The Diocese has been without a permanent Diocesan bishop since 2012 when Mark Lawrence left the Church rather than address allegations that he had violated his consecration vows.
Woodliff-Stanley’s election was never in doubt this morning after she received a majority of first ballot votes in the Clergy Order, and came two votes shy of a majority among the laity. Her surprisingly strong initial showing gave her candidacy momentum for an easy second ballot win.
Prior to her election, the Bishop-Elect told members of the Diocese:
"I see a hopeful future for the gospel of Jesus Christ as we learn to engage effectively the needs of the world, to live the gospel with conviction, and to communicate it with vigor.
"I’ve been mentored well, including by some wise bishops in the church. From them, I have seen up close, over time, what being a faithful, loving, courageous bishop entails. I’ve worked with dioceses experiencing conflict and schism and comprehend the scope and magnitude of the challenges ahead. I understand the ministry of a bishop to be humble and holy work, joyful and collective work we do together on behalf of Jesus."
Bishop-Elect Woodliff-Stanley, a married mother of two sons in their early twenties, is currently the Canon for Strategic Change in the Dioceses of Northwestern Pennsylvania & Western New York, and Senior Vice President for Strategic Change of the Episcopal Church Building Fund.
She is a native of Mississippi and the former rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Colorado. She graduated from Swarthmore University in 1985, and earned Master’s degrees at Columbia University and Yale. Her husband, Nathan, is an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church. They are expected to move to Charleston this summer.
She will be consecrated October 2nd at Grace Church Cathedral in Charleston.
CONVENTION UPDATE #4
April 24, 2021
One Week to Go, 'Virtual' Convention Inspiring Innovation; Lay Delegates Surprised by Voting Rules
Pre-Convention conversations and familiarity with voting procedures an advantage as appeals by five nominees end without any serious stumbles
For delegates to next Saturday's virtual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina, the trick to being on top of things is to prepare in advance. Convention planners are particularly interested in having participants anticipate how next Saturday's event will be different from previous in person conventions.
Communication among delegates
The most obvious challenge will be communication between delegates and their congregations, and with their fellow delegates from other parishes and missions. Don't leave this until Saturday morning.
If you are a delegate and planning to watch online from home, you are going to be fairly isolated. You won't be able to just turn around to chat up your fellow delegates to find out what they are thinking. Convention staff is already encouraging delegations to figure out ways to be in constant communication... if not together in one place.
One parish in North Charleston has rented a large conference room at a local hotel where safe social distancing can be observed among its clergy, and lay delegates and alternates. Other parishes have had a series of weekly group meetings with their delegates to talk about the future direction of the Diocese and which of the candidates seemed best qualified to take us there.
Delegates from rural parishes with limited internet service are planning to congregate at locations some distance from their homes to insure that they have reliable internet service. Just to be safe, they are bringing smart phones and multiple laptops just in case there are technical problems or they simply desire to be in touch with others.
A parish or mission can only cast vote if a majority of its members are in agreement with the choice. With five candidates in the election, it is possible that the new bishop will not have been the first choice of most of the delegates, but rather the second or even third. It's probably a good idea for delegations to develop priorities for alternatives to their first choice.
If there are multiple ballots, there will not be a lot of time for the delegates to have leisurely conversations between them to ruminate on their options, so be ready to be flexible.
There is one interesting thing we've observed about last week's "Conversations" with the candidates (formerly known as a 'walkabout'): Those who participated in the 2.5-hour chat room sessions at the end of each of the three days have a very different view of the candidates than those who only watched the two-hour morning panels or the pre-taped Q&A sessions with Elsa McDowell.
If someone you know participated in those more intimate, unrecorded conversations with the candidates, you might ask them to share what they learned in them.
However, the key to everything is how the balloting works.
Convention staff people have been working overtime explaining how this unfolds, and are currently conducting workshops online for delegates to gain confidence in how they cast their votes and be sure that their votes are properly recorded. It's complex but it has been in use in our Diocese since 1824 and we, along with most other dioceses in the Church, have found it to be a very useful way to elect bishops.
Here are some highlights to look for:
At the beginning of the Convention, a credentials committee will announce how many clergy and how many parishes and missions have registered and in good standing. These numbers are important because they are used to determine what will constitute a majority when the voting starts.
Clergy and lay identities are important because the Convention is structured like a bi-cameral legislature. Clergy delegates comprise one voting body; lay delegates, the other. These two groups are referred to as Orders -- as in the Clergy Order and the Lay Order.
The Clergy Order will include any priests, deacons, or bishops who are active and in good standing in the Diocese of South Carolina.
Members of the Lay Order will have been elected at annual parish meetings of their congregations. Parishes can send as many as four lay delegates, with missions limited to two. Alternates are also elected at these parish meetings and are welcome to attend the Convention in the event a delegate cannot participate.
Majority vote is needed separately in each Order and within each lay delegations
Now here comes a curve ball.
When voting for bishop, the vote totals of the two Orders are tallied separately. A candidate for bishop can only be elected when he or she wins a majority of the votes in both Orders on the same ballot.
If that does not happen on the first ballot, a second ballot will be taken, and so on until that concurrent majority is reached. Many conventions with multiple popular candidates have taken as many as twelve ballots before getting behind the same person. None of the delegates in either Order are obligated to support the same candidate on every ballot.
The Diocese has posted a list of 34 delegates who are eligible to vote in the Clergy Order, along with 12 parishes and 15 missions eligible to vote in the Lay Order. If everyone shows up on Saturday, a majority in the Clergy Order would be 18 votes, with 10 votes in the Lay Order constituting a majority.
Logistics of voting by Orders can be confusing
Now here comes a second curve ball, at least for lay delegates.
When voting by Orders, those in the Clergy Order each have one vote. However, each parish in the Lay Order gets only one vote, while each mission gets only a half-vote. The votes and half-votes are determined on each ballot by a majority of the lay delegates from the parish or mission.
For example, if a parish has sent four delegates to the Convention, its one vote will be cast for the candidate who receives the votes of at least three of those delegates.
If no candidate receives a majority in a delegation, the parish will announce that it is “divided” or some other word to indicate that it will not be casting its vote on that particular ballot. The same rule applies to missions in the allocation of their half-votes.
If this seems confusing or unfair, it is helpful to think of the Lay Order as the "Parish and Mission Order",since its purpose is not to empower lay people as much as the institutional interests of parishes and missions within the governing body of the Diocese... aka, the Diocesan Convention.
If it sounds like there's a lot of potential for getting deadlocked, there is. However, there is also a lot of potential for significant realignments when candidates decide they no longer have a shot at winning and drop out. This is why it is really important for every delegate and delegation to be clear about its second and third choices before the voting even starts.
It is also important to understand that no one is locked into voting for the same candidate on each ballot. The dynamics of the Convention are always changing, and your delegation has the flexibility to change with it.
Should clergy and lay delegates vote for the same nominee?
There is no requirement that the votes of those in the Clergy Order be aligned with those of their parishes or missions in the Lay Order. In fact, it is fairly common for clergy to cast their votes independently from those cast by their church's lay delegates.
Generally, clergy will be more concerned with issues of administration, management, professional collegiality, and programming. Lay people are often more focused on long-term issues like clergy recruitment, parish development, finances, and vision.
The last time there was full agreement in both Orders on the first ballot was in 2006 with the election of Mark Lawrence and in 1989 with Edward L. Salmon.
CONVENTION UPDATE #3
April 14, 2021
'Conversations' End with No Clear Favorite
Delegates leave Q&A marathon to huddle with their congregations ahead of May 1 convention; Voting rules forcing lay delegations to seek a consensus to even cast a vote
After an unprecedented three days of online interviews, the five candidates for Bishop of South Carolina tonight yielded the spotlight back to the thirty-something congregations of the Diocese as they begin to study, argue, and bargain among themselves on how they will vote for their new leader on May 1st.
The results of their deliberations will likely shape the direction of what Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would call, the “Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in eastern South Carolina” for decades.
Since Monday the candidates have been engaged in the familiar, but somewhat odd, ritual of a walkabout in which they strolled around the virtual Diocese, chatted with communicants from parishes and missions, and answered questions about their vision for the future. (“Walkabout” is a particularly confusing term this year, because the only walking anyone was doing was an occasional trip to the kitchen to refill a coffee mug. Zoom technology enabled everything else.)
Questions posed to the candidates focused on everything from leadership style and social justice, to administrative changes and rebuilding rural congregations. With four of the five candidates, it was the first time the people of the Diocese got to hear them live.
While the walkabout sessions were lengthy, Diocesan planners get a thumbs up for their efforts to harness zoom technology in creating the feeling of an in-person event. The candidates themselves also seemed to enjoy to prospect of encountering members of the Diocese they hope to serve without having to leave the comforts of their own homes. The events were open to all members of the Diocese and a surprising number joined in and seemed to stay for the entire time.
However, there was disappointment too.
Questions posed to the candidates were overly broad and not especially challenging. With the Zoom format and only limited opportunities for follow up, there were complaints that candidates were able to dodge difficult questions. Some participants said that after hours of listening, they were still not clear what had motivated a couple of the candidates to apply to be bishop of this particular diocese.
With the exception of Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole, the candidates did not seem to have spent a great deal of time studying the history of the Diocese. There were several instances in which candidates stumbled over local geography and the pronunciation of places in the Diocese.
SC Episcopalians has had the benefit of the comments of a handful of delegates who have agreed to anonymously provide us their thoughts about the process and the candidates as we move closer to May 1st.
Tonight, they all agreed that none of the five can be considered a frontrunner, but neither can any be seen as unelectable at this point. Most said the walkabout enabled them to narrow their preferences, but they planned to talk with their congregations to determine how their parish's one vote, or mission's half-vote would be cast.
CONVENTION UPDATE #2
April 12, 2021
First of Three Days of 'Conversations' with Bishop Candidates Draws Large Numbers of Delegates and Non-delegates
Five nominees were grilled on everything from staff structures and Lawrence property grab, to their long-term vision and their calling to serve as leader of the Dioceses.
Delegates to the May 1st Convention have begun making - then re-making - their lists of favorites.
The most universally-acclaimed people at today's first of three days of online public 'conversations' with candidates for Bishop of South Carolina were the members of the Diocesan staff and volunteer committees who appear ready to pull off the most open and logistically complex electing convention in our history.
Today's agenda included a two-hour morning session with the five candidates in which they were given a opportunity to explain why they feel called to be our Bishop and what their episcopate might look like if elected. Morning, noonday, and evening prayers were offered up as was a lengthy evening of small group, Q&A discussions with each candidate separately.
Everything was on zoom so the possibility of glitches in changing venues and corralling the candidates and an unknown number of participants was high. As nearly as we can tell, approximately 150 people have participated or viewed recordings of todays events.
For those who were unable to join any sessions today, the Diocesan website is bursting with written statements and recorded interviews with each of the five candidates who were nominated for the job after more than a year-long search.
A full recording of each morning's session is being posted daily so that those who are unable to join can have full access to the conversations at more convenient times. (Links are to the right of this posting).
At the Convention next month, the successful candidate must get a concurrent majority among the lay delegates and separately from the clergy delegates. There could be any number of ballots before that happens. However, Edward Salmon did that on the first ballot in 1989, as was Mark Lawrence in 2006. Salmon's was remarkable because -- like this upcoming election - because of the strong candidates who were nominated. Lawrence's election was largely rigged in advance.
If any of the five candidates today is poised for a similar first-round blow out, it was not obvious among those we chatted with informally this evening. All five candidates seem to be credible, and in the mix to receive votes in both Orders.
Delegates told us they approve of the diversity of gender, race, and sexual identity of the nominees, but not one said it would be THE determining factor in his or her final decision.
CONVENTION UPDATE #1
April 8, 2021
Election for Bishop Moves into High Gear
Diocese posts new online interviews, while preparing for three-day 'walk-about' with the candidates next week
Absence of acrimony and rightwing politics has local Episcopalians looking to the future as they prepare for a new leader on May 1st
The upcoming Diocesan Convention may be one of the few times in 226 years that the election of a new Bishop will not be influenced by people who are mad as hell.
That means - for the next three weeks - Episcopalians will have the luxury of actually talking to each other about a shared vision for the future of their Church in eastern South Carolina.
And never before have the people of the Diocese had so many first-hand opportunities to get to know those nominees.
Conversations moved into high gear this week as the Diocese released online interviews with each of the five nominees for Bishop, moderated by former Post & Courier reporter and editorial writer, Elsa McDowell. Those interviews are online right now at the Diocesan website.
Meanwhile next week the candidates will be present online for what's referred to as a walk-about, during which they will participate in formal and informal events to get to know us better and answer their questions. That will happen everyday, Monday through Wednesday, of next week.
March 13, 2021
For "Anglican Diocese," It's the Beginning of the End of the Lawrence Era
Convention delegates approve election for a Bishop Coadjutor in October; ADSC's virtual convention was short and relatively smooth
Today’s 9th Annual Convention of the “Anglican Diocese of South Carolina” turned into a dual celebration of the leadership of outgoing leader, Mark Lawrence, and the launch of a search process to select and consecrate his successor over the next twelve months.
The high points of the convention were Lawrence’s address and a presentation by the chairman of the Search Committee, who announced a schedule for electing a Bishop Coadjutor to succeed Lawrence when he retires at the end of 2022.
The ADSC staff did a great job creating a relatively smooth execution of today's virtual convention that allowed delegates and guests to watch from the comfort of their own homes. The entire convention, which normally takes place over two days, was completed in less than two hours.
Lawrence's tone more circumspect
Lawrence’s address today was a far cry from the angry, combative tirades that characterized so many years of his episcopate, when he'd rally delegates to a imagined culture “war” with the Church and blast those who failed to support him as “spiritual forces of darkness”.
Today, Lawrence spoke about the need for greater stewardship, church planting, and evangelism, while praising those on his staff and among the clergy who have carried water for him. He ignored the recent turbulence among his ultraconservative Anglican allies in Africa over homosexuality, and a tawdry sex scandal involving one of his most reliable and visible supporters.
In spite of an occasional senior moment and mild irritation with the virtual venue, Lawrence managed to deliver a fairly personal and engaging address that reminded listeners of both his achievements in the past and advancing age.
The kinder, gentler quality of today's convention might have been attributable partly to a recent profile of the ADSC suggesting that most of its members are open to including gays in their congregations and creating more leadership opportunities for among women. The ADSC's theology actually condemns homosexuality and limits the role of women in positions of authority.
ADSC Treasurer Nancy Armstrong led the convention through several lightening rounds of elections and runoffs for various boards and committees. Delegates, connected to the convention by Zoom, simply cast ballots electronically during a part of the convention normally dreaded for its length.
Lawrence's retirement signals the end of a nearly 16-year roller coaster ride f0r the Episcopal Church's Diocese of South Carolina.
In 2008 Lawrence became its 14th bishop and almost immediately instigated a secret plot to blow up the historic Diocese and lead his evangelical followers out of the Church with about $500 million in Church properties and financial assets.
Lawrence formally abandoned the Church in 2012 in the face of allegations of misconduct made against him by communicants of the Diocese. Lawrence cynically used the allegations as evidence that national Church leaders were out to get him, and ignited a firestorm among his followers that led to a secession movement that included around two-thirds of the Diocese.
Lawrence and his followers wandered in the desert for a while until they joined up with the self-proclaimed “Anglican Church of North America,” an organization of disaffected members of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. ADSC is currently one of three ACNA ‘dioceses’ with overlapping authority in South Carolina.
In spite of their names, neither the “Anglican Diocese of South Carolina” nor the “Anglican Church of North America” are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, nor are they recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Search process underway
Today's participants also heard an encouraging presentation from the leader of the Bishop's Search Committee on the procedures it will follow and the timetable for the election of a Bishop Coadjutor in October of this year.
The Rev. Jason Collins told the delegates that God has "already chosen" the right man for the job and that his consecration will likely happen exactly one year from this week. Fingers are crossed that God has not chosen a woman, since the ADSC mandates that He can only select a male for the job.
March 5, 2021
NEW! Archbishop of Canterbury Repudiates Attack by Nigerian Archbishop on Homosexuals as "Dehumanizing" and "Unacceptable"
ACNA leadership stumbles into global crisis over Pastoral Letter offering compassion to gays who want to convert or be celibate
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby today ripped into recent comments by the leader of the Anglican Church of Nigeria to his American allies that homosexuality is a “deadly virus” that should be “radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough.”
"Welby was joined in his unusually blunt criticism by senior members of the Church of England in characterizing a February 25 letter from Archbishop Henry Ndukuba to the so-called “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA) as “dehumanizing” of gays and “unacceptable” to the Church.
According to Ndukula “A Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise. In the same vein, we cannot describe people as 'Christian Murderer', 'Christian Adulterer' and 'Christian terrorist'; neither should we even have 'Gay Christian' or 'Gay Anglican'.”
In his response to Ndukula, Welby said, “The mission of the church is the same in every culture and country: to demonstrate, through its actions and words, that God’s offer of unconditional love to every human being through Jesus Christ calls us to holiness and hope.”
Read Welby's full response
The row over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has been going on for decades but it blew up with the election of an openly gay bishop by the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003.
Hardline conservatives - primarily from Africa, South America, and Asia -- organized a global fellowship, known as GAFCON to fight the growing acceptance of homosexuals and female clergy, especially in the western Provinces of the Anglican Communion. To pursue their political agenda, ultraconservative GAFCON Primates secretly joined forces with dissident groups in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to peel away Church property, money, and worshippers to create the ACNA.
Archbishop Ndukuba’s predecessor was among the staunchest anti-gay leaders in the Anglican Communion and a founder of GAFCON and ACNA. He and others like him were responsible for promoting so-called Kill-the-Gays laws in their countries, which legitimized the torture, imprisonment, and murders of gays and lesbians.
The goal of the GAFCON leadership was the eventual replacement of the Episcopalians and Canadians in the Anglican Communion with the ACNA crowd.
Contrary their self-serving publicity, GAFCON is not a part of the Anglican Communion, nor is ACNA, its North American branch, recognized as an Anglican "Church." The plot to replace the Episcopal Church in the Communion with ACNA largely collapsed in the face of the global popularity of Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
March 4, 2021
NEW! GAFCON Leader, ACNA Ally Exposed in Messy Sex Scandal
Retired Archbishop Ntagali of Uganda promoted persecution of gays and lesbians that resulted in the deaths and imprisonment
The firebrand leader of the Anglican Church of Uganda, who led a bitter eight-year campaign against what he claimed was the immorality of Episcopal Church, has been suspended from the priesthood over a tawdry affair he had with the wife of one of his clergy.
The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Primate of the Anglican Church of Uganda from 2014 until his retirement last March, has admitted to an affair with the woman whom he met when he was providing marriage counselling to her and her husband, an Anglican priest.
Some news reports in Uganda say that the woman gave birth to a child who could have been fathered by the Archbishop. They also say that she has alleged that the Archbishop refused to provide support for the child, and that she broke her silence when she did not get a car and money she was promised.
The woman apparently reported the whole business to leaders of GAFCON, an unauthorized international group of ultraconservative Anglican leaders who were instrumental in creating the self-described “Anglican Church of North America”.
Our readers will remember that Ntagali, a longstanding supporter of marriage as “one man, one woman”, was a leader of a failed effort to have the Episcopal Church booted from the Anglican Communion and replaced by the ACNA because if its inclusion of gays and lesbians in its congregations.
February 26, 2021
NEW! Nigerian Church Leaders Denounces ACNA Bishops for Going Soft on Gays in Pastoral Letter
Outraged Primate wants 19 signers of "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter "urgently and radically expunged and excised"
Nigeria’s Fire breathing Anglican Primate today lashed out at the self-proclaimed “Anglican Church of North America” and its House of Bishops, alleging that its January Pastoral Statement on what to call gay Christians was “tantamount to a subtle capitulation to recognize and promote same-sex relations among its members, exactly the same route of argument adopted by The Episcopal Church (TEC).”
"Manipulating languages to cover up sin and sinners are incompatible with the example of Scripture which condemned sin. Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise. In the same vein, we cannot describe people as 'Christian Murderer', 'Christian Adulterer' and 'Christian terrorist'; neither should we even have 'Gay Christian' or 'Gay Anglican'." -- Nigerian Archbishop Henry Ndukuba
In their Pastoral Statement, the bishops repeated ACNA’s condemnation of homosexuals, but also acknowledged that many of them are in ACNA congregations and deserve to be loved and provided pastoral care.
In a statement issued Feb. 26, Archbishop Henry Ndukuba rejected their compassion said the Bishops’ Statement ”is a clarion call to recruit Gays into ACNA member parishes. The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA.”
Ndukuba was particularly enraged over the bishops’ failure to discipline the 19 signers of a “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter posted on social media Feb. 22. The signers - ACNA clergy and laity - said the open letter was intended to complement the Pastoral Letter, even though it did include a more inclusive and compassionate message.
In his statement the Archbishop likened the signers to “a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised." He denounced the ACNA leadership as "palliative, weak and unwilling to discipline the erring bishops and priests and taking a clear stand to totally reject their actions and underlying motives."
Ndukuba demanded that ACNA immediately issue a statement unequivocally denouncing the Letter and homosexuality to assure its rightwing allies of their commitment to keep gays out of the congregations.
Among the signers of the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter was the Dean of the ACNA Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston SC.
February 24, 2021
NEW! ACNA Goes Wobbly Trying to Love Gay Christians While Condemning Them
Archbishop Beach turns on younger clergy and lay loyalists trying to nudge anti-gay breakaway organization into the 21st Century
Last month the dissident “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA) inflicted yet another existential crisis on itself, reminding its followers that, eleven years after its founding, it has still failed to establish its own identity as something beyond intolerance of gays and lesbians, women in positions of authority, and understandings of scripture at odds with its own narrow and literal interpretations.
In this instance, ACNA’s House of Bishops needlessly decided to issue a Pastoral Statement on the burning question of whether terms “gay” and “same-sex attracted” are appropriate adjectives to use with “Christian.” Click here to read it
According to the Statement, “To insist on the adjective gay, with all of its cultural attachments, is problematic to the point that we cannot affirm its usage in relation to the word Christian... Designations such as “gay Christian,” or “same-sex attracted Christian” are simply not what the spirit of the New Testament offers as a way of defining a Christian or his/her community.
In what the bishops treat as a kind of concession to gays, they go on to say that homosexual activities unfairly receive disproportionate condemnation as compared to other, more popular sins: “While same-sex attraction is one manifest type of disordered affection, there are many other types of disordered affections. Indeed, we recognize that same-sex sexual relationships have been an oft-targeted sin while other sinful manifestations of our common fallen nature, such as pornography, adultery, divorce, greed, and disregard for the poor have sometimes been tragically discounted or even ignored.”
The problem with ACNA’s bishops and this particular pontification is that they can’t accept that God might have knowingly created gays and lesbians and put them in the world. ACNA’s understanding of homosexuals is that they are, in essence, heterosexual people afflicted with a mental or emotional "disorder" that occasionally compels them to want to jump in bed with people of their same gender for momentary gratification.
In many ways the bishops view on human sexuality is reflective of the world in which the Bible was written... but not much beyond that. Apparently, the letter was based on supposed interviews with large numbers of gay people, two unnamed "evangelical" psychologists, and a one-time "afflicted" gay man widely promoted by Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
"Dear Gay Anglicans..."
To the credit of ACNA’s younger generation, a delicately-phrased letter to “Gay Anglicans,” signed by 19 lay and clergy, surfaced on social media Feb. 22, reflecting a less judgmental, and more welcoming tone toward homosexuals in ACNA. Read it here
In a key passage of the letter, the 19 signers said, “We commit to take practical steps to become churches where gay Anglicans can share all of their story, find community, and seek support. We affirm the Provincial Statement’s call to lead conversation about God’s love and wisdom for same-sex attracted people...”
The letter was not directed at the ACNA bishops and seemed to go to some effort to reflect the signers view that its contents were compatible with the Pastoral Letter. However, it did not embrace the view that gays were "disordered", and even went so far as to vigorously repudiate dangerous pray-the-gay-away conversion therapies that many in ACNA embrace.
ACNA's African puppeteers weigh in, and Foley jumps
The signers' initial optimism at what they perceived as an invitation to thoughtful public conversation on the Bishops' Pastoral Statement was quickly squashed.
According to ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, his initial reaction to the letter was that it was benign and no threat to ACNA's teachings. However, after highly animated conversations with leaders of two of the ACNA's African allies, he took a very different view.
Peevish and imperious, Beach cranked out a response in which he pounced on the “Gay Anglicans” letter as an “in your face” insult, while whining that the upstarts had infuriated hardline homophobic supporters, and apparently forced him to stay up after his bedtime to deal with them. Read it here
Foley’s message, circulated to the ACNA's 100,000 members the next day, seemed to alternate between conciliatory and threatening: “... as Christians, we need to learn again how to discuss issues with those we disagree with — and then be able to continue to love and care for them. However, if you are one of the clergy who signed on to this, I expect you to send me an email explaining why you signed a letter and beginning a private, non-punitive, conversation with me about your concerns.” (emphasis added)
In spite of his stated openness to listening to “those we disagree with”, Foley made it clear that whatever he heard from non-bishops in ACNA would not make any difference: “The bishops are not going to back down on our conclusions which we worked on, received input from all over the province, edited, reviewed, edited, reviewed, and edited.”
One brave South Carolinian among 19 signers
Among the signers of the Gay Anglican's letter was only one South Carolinian: The Very Rev. Peet Dickinson, Dean of the former Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul that currently serves a similar function for the Mark Lawrence's ACNA Diocese.
He is a great example of talented younger clergy trying to adapt ACNA's ways to the modern world. Today his congregation sits in the heart of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in downtown Charleston, struggling to attract new members from among the many new young families there.
Unfortunately, ACNA's retro-theology and archaic views on social issues drives them away in spite of Dean Dickinson's outreach and appeal. Within walking distance of Dickinson's congregation are three bustling Episcopal parishes -- including Grace Church Cathedral with over 3,000 members.
As long as leaders like Beach feel they have to pander to oppressive Anglican leaders in Africa, they have no hope of creating a viable presence in the U.S. and Canada.
They also should listen to clergy like Dickinson. A recent profile of ACNA communicants in South Carolina suggests that 72% favor welcoming non-celibate gays into their parishes, with 70% favor allowing women to serve as rectors.
February 22, 2021
U.S. Supreme Court Deals Stunning Blow to the Church in Fort Worth Secession Case
Episcopalians will have to leave their parish buildings as ACNA group takes over
High court's failure to overturn Texas ruling allows unprecedented meddling by secular courts in governance of hierarchical denominations protected by separation of Church and State doctrine
For the second time in three years, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a state supreme court ruling on the questions of naming rights and property ownership.
Readers will recall that the first time this happened was in 2018 when the challenge came from South Carolina. In that case, the state's Supreme Court had found that 29 of 36 parishes loyal to ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence could not leave the Church without the consent of the Church. It also found that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belonged to the Episcopal Church. The Lawrence crowd appealed to the high court, but the justices refused to hear the case and the decision of the state's Supreme Court was effectively affirmed.
This time the challenge came from the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Fort Worth in Texas. Unlike South Carolina, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the breakaway group.
The ruling in Texas awarded the Episcopal Church’s entire Diocese of Fort Worth and its 70 parishes and missions to disaffected Episcopalians who left the Church in 2008 and joined with the self-described “Anglican Church of North America” (which ironically is neither part of the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion.)
Approximately 15 parishes in the Diocese chose to stay with the Episcopal Church but, according to the Texas Supreme Court, their buildings must be surrendered to the ACNA group and their congregations dispersed.
The case is a significant victory for a group of right-wing billionaires who have been financing years-long efforts to break up hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches which, until now, have been protected by the separation of church and state provision of the U.S. Constitution.
January 30, 2021
Diocese of SC Unveils Diverse Slate of Nominees for Bishop; Archdeacon Walpole, The Rev. Terence Alexander Lee are Hometown Favorites
Five candidates are long on parish experience, Church leadership, conflict resolution
It has been more than thirty years since the Diocese of South Carolina has held a truly competitive election for Diocesan Bishop, and that is exactly what its Standing Committee created today in proposing five excellent candidates to chart its future.
According Standing Committee Chairman Caleb Lee, the election of the new bishop will take place at a special Diocesan Convention May 1st at Grace Church Cathedral in Charleston. Delegates will have a chance to meet the candidates at special events that include a “walk-about” (or perhaps a “zoom-about”) April 12-14.
The Standing Committee announced the nominees after an extensive search overseen by a committee of clergy and lay people, led by the Rev. Dr. Philip Linder of St. Mark’s Charleston. The Committee has been working for nearly a year, that included a COVID-imposed hiatus last spring and summer.
Initially, many communicants in the Diocese worried that the beleaguered state of diocese’s finances and infrastructure, along with ongoing legal harassment by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers would discourage top-tier candidates.
However, while Committee members are not permitted to share specifics of their deliberations, one member did tell us that the committee was encouraged by the number of strong applicants who were “not just interested, but excited at the prospect of coming here.”
1. Home Field Advantage
Until recently, delegates to Diocesan electing conventions have generally preferred candidates with some level of personal or professional ties to South Carolina. The Diocese moved away from that practice with the two most recently elected Diocesan bishops, Edward Salmon in 1989 and and Mark Lawrence in 2007. Both were both won on the first ballot.
While all of the nominees proposed today have ties to either South Carolina or neighboring North Carolina, the two nominees with the most substantial attachments are current Archdeacon and Johns Island native Calhoun Walpole, and The Rev. Terence Lee, who grew up in Charleston, attended Calvary Episcopal Church, and graduated from the College of Charleston.
Both Walpole and Lee were ordained as priests in the Diocese and served parishes here.
According to one person familiar with the search process, Walpole probably has an early advantage in that she “knows every person in every parish,” thanks to her eight years as the Diocese's popular Archdeacon. Appointed by provisional bishop Charles vonRosenberg in 2013, Walpole continued in her position under his successor Skip Adams and, during the past year, has served as the spiritual leader of the Diocese in the absence of a bishop.
In addition to her Diocesan duties, Walpole is the vicar at Grace Church Cathedral. She grew up in St. John’s Episcopal Church on Johns Island and is formerly the priest-in-charge at St. Mark's, Charleston, Assistant Rector at Holy Cross Faith Memorial in Pawleys Island, and Diocesan Missioner for Hispanic/Latino Ministries and Lay Vicar, Iglesia de San Juan.
The Rev. Mr. Lee has a rising profile as a leader in the Church and successful rector, that includes his tenure as rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bennettsville. His ministry has taken him to dioceses in New Mexico, Long Island, and New York City, where today he leads the historic St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem. He was ordained by the late Bishop Salmon and mentored in mission work by former Suffragan Bishop Bill Skilton. (Skilton is currently "inhibited" from acting as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.)
The election of Lee, who is African American, would be a stunning chapter in the life of a Diocese that – more than any other in the Church – has been defined by a 300-year struggle over race.
More than in most elections, the candidates' ages are likely to play an important role this year as the delegates mull the future of the Diocese. The four of the five candidates appear to be in their late forties or early fifties, with another very significant standout in his mid-sixties.
The age question will become increasingly relevant as the delegates wrestle with whether the Diocese would be best served by an older. more experienced leader who’d restore the kind of normalcy that pre-dated the last chaotic 30 years, or a younger person who may have less of a track record but could serve as long as 25 to thirty years.
At age 64, The Rev. Geoffrey Hoareis by far the strongest choice for those who believe the Diocese would be best served by more experience candidate with high-quality parish experience, with established fundraising and executive skills. The Rev. Mr. Hoare fits the profile of the late Bishop Gray Temple (1961 - 1980) and the Edward Lloyd Salmon during the first 12 years of his tenure.
Hoare is perhaps one of the most effective and prolific parish rectors in the Church today, and maintains a high profile in the wider Church. He was ordained in North Carolina, and served parishes there, in Atlanta, Alexandria VA, and Washington DC, where he is currently rector of St. Alban’s. Members of his current and former parishes are effusive in their praise for his leadership skills and generous spirit.
Hoare also has professional training as an executive coach, which could be an important asset in mentoring diocesan clergy and parish leaders. He would be the first former Englishman to lead the Diocese of South Carolina since its first bishop in 1785.
The mandatory age in the Church for the retirement of active bishops is 72, meaning that Hoare's episcopate might be limited to eight years or less.
However, in nominating him, search committee members appear to have been setting up the option of electing a strong and experienced leader who would eventually be succeeded by a younger Bishop Coadjutor who might serve a much longer term as Diocesan bishop. It isn't a scenario that is all that unusual, and often has provided for continuity and new growth when a diocese has experienced the kind of turbulence ours has.
The Search Committee has not shared its rationale for nominating any of the five candidates, but it is clear that it had in mind the needs of a diocese wounded by 13 years of Trump-like tyranny by a former leader who had arrived with such promise.
Two candidates that stand out in this regard are The Rev. Ruth Woodlift-Stanley, currently serving in the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and Western New York, and The Rev. Kevin Johnson, currently in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
In our estimation, the search committee was offering nominees who bring significant first-hand experience in reconciliation and rebuilding, while continuing a growing commitment to social justice and proclaiming the Gospel anew.
Please take time to study responses and messages from each of the five candidates.
November 20, 2020
2020 Diocesan Convention Looking Forward Despite COVID, the Courts, and Long Wait for a New Bishop
The 2020 Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina gets underway today via Zoom with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry headlining activities that begin this afternoon and run through midday tomorrow (Saturday). He knows the Diocese well and has played a significant role in encouraging its leadership forward during the last eight years.
Bishop Curry will most certainly set a positive tone for delegates who mostly have been worshiping in their home parishes via the internet since last winter and eager for a boost in morale and a reminder that 2021 may be the year of getting back to a kind of new normal.
Bishop Curry's initial appearance will be at 3 p.m. as a participant in a discussion of the Diocese's new Commission on Racial Justice and Reconciliation.
A transitional convention
Delegates and guests will discover a Diocese very much in a transition.
In addition to the new Commission, they can look forward to a progress report on the election of a new diocesan bishop from Search Committee chairman, the Rev. Philip Linder from St. Mark’s, Charleston. Nominations have been received and the Committee is engaged in winnowing the field with plans for a special convention sometime next spring or summer.
Linder will say that he expects the Committee to make its report on nominees in January, and that he and Committee members are pleased with the level of interest and the many promising candidates they have to work with.
Delegates are also looking for encouraging words on progress in the Diocese’s eight-year legal fight with ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers from Chancellor Tom Tisdale.
Church attorneys recently filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court asking that it overturn an irregular ruling by an Orangeburg County judge overturning the high court's 2017 landmark ruling rejecting Lawrence's lawsuit in which he claimed he and his group owned all diocesan and parish properties.
The Convention schedule can be found here. This will be the first virtual convention for the Diocese. It is available for viewing at https://www.youtube.com/c/DioceseofSC. It is also available through the Diocese's Facebook page.
November 12, 2020
Church Takes Aim at Irregular Ruling by Rogue Judge; Files Appeal with State's High Court
Attorneys: Lower court judge essentially overrode August 2017 Supreme Court decision in favor of the Church and its Diocese of South Carolina
The Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina today asked the state’s Supreme Court to throw out a recent ruling by a lower court judge that effectively reversed the high court’s August 2017 decision that the assets of 28 of 36 parishes aligned with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence belong the Church.
The ruling grew out of a lawsuit brought by Lawrence in January 2013 in which he argued that the Episcopal Church had no legal claim to the property and assets of the parishes of the Diocese, or even the Diocese itself and its property and corporate identity.
After a two-week trial in 2015, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein agreed with Lawrence and gave him the whole shooting match. The Church appealed to the state Supreme Court which overturned Goodstein’s ruling two years later.
In November 2017, the justices handed off their ruling to Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson for the purpose of overseeing its implementation. After more than two years of cat-and-mouse, Dickson in effect decided that Goodstein had been right in the first place about the ownership of the parish properties and reversed the result of the higher court.
In today’s appeal, Church attorneys are asking the justices to rule on whether Dickson exceeded his authority by essentially reinstating Goodstein’s ruling, and failing to follow the explicit result of the high court’s August 2017 ruling. Church lawyers also questioned whether Dickson denied the Church due process of law by using his implementation assignment to retry the original Lawrence lawsuit .
October 27, 2020
Federal Court Finds Lawrence "Diocese" in Contempt Over False Advertising and Deceit Allegation
Gergel: Renegade State Court Judge Edgar Dickson has no authority to overturn a Federal ruling
The followers of ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence once again are in hot water with U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.
Today Gergel agreed that the Lawrence crowd had violated his September 2019 injunction that prohibited it from intentionally and falsely advertising themselves as the legitimate historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. As part of today's ruling, he found that the organization had wrongly used the name of the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina" in applying for a Federal loan earlier this year.
In September, the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina complained to Gergel that the Lawrence group was up to its old tricks, brashly ignoring his earlier injunction and masquerading as the historic Episcopal Diocese that was created after the Revolutionary War.
They alleged 27 violations of the injunction. At issue were references to things like the "Episcopal Shield" and the "Diocese of South Carolina" and Lawrence's own claim of currently being the 14th bishop of the Diocese (that ended in 2012).
Fortunately, for the Lawrence organization, someone convinced its leadership to fix 25 of the 27 violations before Gergel got them in Court. Today, Gergel said they had been rectified to the point of being legally "moot".
However, Gergel did find the Lawrence crowd in “civil contempt” for its use of the Diocese's historic name when it applied for and obtained a Federal loan from the Small Business Administration earlier this year. Gergel had specifically denied them the use of that name (aka "corporate mark") in his ruling last year.
The second issue that Gergel said was not moot was the Lawrence organization's claim that Lawrence was consecrated as the bishop of the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" in 2008. Church attorneys had complained about that, as well as its' use of the terms "2009 Convention" and "2008 Consecration."
Gergel disagreed, and allowed the Lawrence group to continue with their usage. However, the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" did not really exist until more than ten years after the putative consecration of Lawrence as its leader.
Curiously, if Lawrence is claiming that he was not consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church in 208, then he cannot legitimately claim credit for 2008 - 2012 in calculating his retirement income from the Episcopal Church's Pension Fund.
Very importantly, Gergel punched a hole in the dissidents’ insistence that a ruling last June by a rogue lower court judge in Orangeburg effectively negated a landmark decision by the state Supreme Court in 2017. That decision found that the Federal courts had jurisdiction over the status of the diocese's corporate identity and corporate marks.
Gergel – a Federal judge – subsequently ruled in favor of the Church on those issues and today pounced on the idea that a state circuit court judge had any authority to overrule any part of a Federal ruling.
Gergel's rulings in this case have highlighted the Lawrence organization's struggle to create an identity that credibly explains its existence and appeal to potential converts.
Plagued by budget deficits, empty pews, and a string of costly legal defeats, the Lawrence organization has yet to find a viable path forward. Visitors and newcomers looking for an Episcopal Church long ago stopped showing up at Lawrence parishes on Sundays as lifelong Episcopalians, displeased with the high-handed manner in which they were yanked out of their denomination and the Anglican Communion, found other spiritual homes.
The Lawrence crowd responded to these challenges by promoting a widespread illusion that they are still part of the Church, just not subject to its Constitution and Canons. Lawrence even encouraged parishes to use the word 'Episcopal' in describing themselves since "it just means that you have a bishop."
Making their work even more challenging was the Lawrencians' continued embrace of homophobia, thinly-veiled misogyny, and intolerance of those whose understanding of Scripture is at odds of their own narrow literalism. Once it was on its own, the organization voted to embrace an ancient version of Anglican theology, darker and more relevant to the times of Henry VIII than 21st Century America.
Even worse, they voted to surrender much of their authority to control their leadership to a perpetually all-male House of Bishops with very limited transparency and little tolerance for dissent.
For now, the Lawrence organization calls itself the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" and claims affiliation with the self-styled "Anglican Church of North America," an association of dissident groups unhappy with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church.
However, one of the challenges facing the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" is that it is not really a "diocese" or "Anglican".
"Diocese" is a term going back to the Roman Empire. Originally it described an administrative unit of government with jurisdiction over a clearly-defined geographic area and whose leadership was subservient to the hierarchy of a larger governmental structure.
As the Empire crumbled, Church leaders assumed the reins of "diocesan" leadership and consequently the term "diocese" became part of the structure of hierarchical denominations like the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church... well, you get the idea.
In South Carolina, it appears the ACNA has four separate jurisdictions whose lines of authority and geography are blurred. Contrary to Anglican ethos, the Lawrencians' governing structure is concentrated in the hands of an autocratic bishop with unprecedented control over clergy and parish self-governance, with no real oversight from anyone.
"Anglican" means being part of a worldwide Christian tradition, rooted in the worship and theology of the Church of England. Its structure and leadership is dispersed among 39 provinces, each led by a Primate. The Primate of the Episcopal Church is the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who is recognized by the other Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the leader of the American branch of Anglicanism.
Rather than being a hierarchical "Church," ACNA is more of an association of independent diverse religious denominations and organizations, essentially bound together by a shared fear of modern society.
Not surprisingly the leadership of the Communion has repeatedly rejected any association with ACNA or its various subdivisions. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been very clear that he views the group as "a separate church."
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From Chief Justice Beatty's 2017 Opinion:
"Yet, TEC argues that the parishes' accession to the Dennis Canon created the trust. Assuming that each parish acceded in writing I would agree. In my view, the Dennis Canon had no effect until acceded to in writing by the individual parishes.
"Thus, in contrast to the majority, I would find the parishes that did not expressly accede to the Dennis Canon cannot be divested of their property. Because there was writing purporting to create a trust and they took no other legal action to transfer ownership of their property, I believe these parishes merely promised allegiance to the hierarchical national church. Without more, this promise cannot deprive them of their ownership rights in their property. However, I agree with the majority as to the disposition of the remaining parishes because their express accession to the Dennis Canon was sufficient to create an irrevocable trust."
From then Chief Justice Toal's opinion in 2017
However, we [Toal & Kittridge] are in the minority, because a different majority of the Court—consisting of Chief Justice Beatty, Justice Hearn, and Acting Justice Pleicones—would reverse the trial court and transfer title of all but eight of the plaintiffs' properties to the defendants. While Justice Hearn and Acting Justice Pleicones would do so because they believe this is an ecclesiastical dispute and the Court must therefore defer to the national church's decision on the matter, Chief Justice Beatty would do so because he believes all but eight of the plaintiffs acceded to the Dennis Canon in a manner recognizable under South Carolina's trust law
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From Associate Justice Kittridge's 2017 Opinion
While I agree the national church could not unilaterally declare a trust over the property of the local churches, I would join Chief Justice Beatty and hold that the local churches' accession to the 1979 Dennis Canon was sufficient to create a trust in favor of the national church.
South Carolina Episcopalians
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.