South Carolina Episcopalians
An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans
not affiliated with ACNA, the Episcopal Church or any of their dioceses
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.
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February 15, 2020
Orangeburg Judge Schedules Another Hearing on Implementing 2017 State Supreme Court Decision
Judge Ed Dickson will once again have a hearing on the Church's request for a full accounting of parish and Diocesan assets, and appointment a "special master" to oversee transition of former breakaway parishes
Every few months S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson calls together the dozens of lawyers involved in the former lawsuit of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence for largely unstructured "hearings" on instructions given to him by the state's high court to implement its August 2017 decision in the case.
All sides were notified last week that Dickson has scheduled yet another of these gatherings for Thursday, February 27 in Orangeburg to hear more arguments on three fairly routine motions by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina.
All three motions have been languishing on Dickson's desk for nearly three years, in spite of the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the ruling to stand.
The motions ask that Dickson move forward with implementation of the 2017 decision, allow for a full accounting of Church assets that have been under the control of Lawrence's followers, and the appointment of a "special master" to oversee day-to-day transitions.
The judge has given no indication that he will actually rule on the motions next week.
Dickson has no business being involved in this case at all and should have recused himself, including numerous personal relationships with members of Lawrence's legal team.
While Dickson has made excuses for his lack of progress by claiming that he doesn't understand the 2017 ruling, last summer he had no trouble understanding the part of the ruling that was favorable to Lawrence and signed off on the departure of seven breakaway parishes that the Supreme Court had ordered to be free to leave the Church.
January 23, 2020
Diocese Moving Forward to Elect New Bishop in November
The Rev. Dr. Philip Linder will lead the Search Committee with the consecration of the 15th Bishop of South Carolina occurring as early as spring 2021.
The Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina announced todaythat the Diocese is on schedule to elect a new bishop at its annual convention this coming fall.
According to the Rev. Canon Caleb Lee, a Search Committee under the leadership of Philip Linder, Priest-in-Charge at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Charleston is currently being established with the expectation that the 15th Bishop of South Carolina could be consecrated by the spring 2021. The Rev. Dr. Linder is the former Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Columbia and, in the humble opinion of SC Episcopalians, an excellent choice for the job.
The Right Rev. Henry N. Parsley, retired Bishop of Alabama, will be serving as Visiting Bishop while the search process is underway. The Venerable Callie Walpole, Archdeacon of the Diocese, will continue to oversee the administrative functions of the Diocese.
January 14, 2020
Lawrencians Slammed Again in Federal Court
Appeals Court rejects former secessionists' attempt to put the brakes on Gergel's pro-Church ruling
The United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today issued two procedural rulings against ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his remaining followers that are almost certain signs their appeal of a lower court decision against them last fall is in trouble.
This afternoon attorneys for all sides were notified by the Court that pending motions by the Lawrence crowd to temporarily hold off enforcement of a September 2019 decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel had been rejected. In that decision, Gergel found that the Lawrence group was illegally claiming to be the historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and intentionally misleading the public about their relationship to the Episcopal Church.
The appeals court has not yet ruled on the substance of the Lawrencians' appeal of Gergel’s ruling itself. In our view, there is close to a zero chance Gergel’s ruling will be overturned, given its reliance on legal precedents generated by the Fourth Circuit.
The Lawrence crowd has strangely continued to openly defy both the state and Federal courts since August 2017, when the state Supreme Court put the kibosh on their efforts to leave the Episcopal Church with millions in parish property and Diocesan assets.
Last fall Lawrence and his high command turned up their noses at Gergel’s order, and failed to take seriously many of its key provisions. Their contempt earned them a stinging rebuke from the judge last month and very likely blew whatever shot they had at a successful appeal.
The Lawrencians have also consistently stiff-armed attempts at mediation through which they could arrange an orderly transition back into the Church and negotiate a reduction in criminal penalties parish officials and Diocesan trustees will likely face for being in contempt of court and in violation of the state’s trust laws.
Lawrence continues to live in the residence of the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina and occupy his offices on Coming Street in Charleston. Read the background story here
December 18, 2019
Federal Judge Rips Lawrencians’ for Violating September Ruling
Lawrence group can continue to call itself the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" even though it is not recognized by the Anglican Communion
U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel blasted ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers today for failing to comply with his September 19 ruling in which he ordered them to stop being a fake Episcopal diocese. In that decision, Gergel found their efforts to confuse the public about their real identity, including the use of the name “Diocese of South Carolina” and its corporate seal, were illegal under Federal law.
Today's rebuke was the result of a complaint by Church attorneys last month that the Lawrencians were not taking his September ruling seriously. In it, the judge ordered the Lawrencians to say goodbye to their claim to have been "founded in 1785", and their practice of posting official convention journals, diocesan constitutions and canons, and reports of Trustees of the Diocese prior to 2012 on their website. Those publications and documents after 2012 cannot be published if they have any corporate marks or other words or symbols suggesting the dissident group is the actual historic diocese of South Carolina.
Gergel also ruled that all issues of Jubilate Deo and other documents bearing the marks and references to the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina be removed from the dissidents’ website, and ordered that the dissidents group stop referring to Lawrence as the “14th or “XIV” Bishop of the Diocese. The same is true in referring to annual meetings with numerical references mirroring those used by the real Diocese of South Carolina.
The ruling was a reminder that the Lawrencians are still reeling, with no strategy and no purpose. They have not had a victory in the courts since 2015. Seven years after leaving the Church, they continue to struggle to attract new members and, when they do, they turn them off by their negative messaging on gays and women in positions of spiritual authority.
"Anglican Diocese of South Carolina"
The one bright spot for the Lawrence group is that they can continue to call themselves the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina," in spite of not being recognized by the Anglican Communion or its leadership.
Lawrence and seven parishes that are loyal to him have legally affiliated with a broader group of Anglican and Episcopal dissidents called "The Anglican Church of North America." The ACNA, which has its own Prayer Book and theology, has been repeatedly rejected by the Anglican Communion as well.
November 26, 2019 (revised noon, Nov. 27)
Finding Clarity... in a Fog
Orangeburg judge may seek "clarification" from state Supreme Court on key - but not yet identified - issues in 2017 ruling
Current and former Episcopalians, hoping today’s hearing before S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson would offer a path forward from their legal quagmire, were disappointed. There is a path, but it's heading more sideways than any where else.
After a rambling all-morning session in Orangeburg, the breakaway “diocese” headed by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence made a sliver of progress in pushing the judge closer to helping get at least part of its unsuccessful lawsuit against the Episcopal Church back before the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Dickson said he may be willing to send the justices a request that they "clarify" points of confusion in their August 2017 ruling in which they determined that parish properties are held in trust for the Church by the local congregations.
It seems like just another rabbit hole to SC Episcopalians, but one that could eventually provide the judge a comfort level in moving forward.
Third time a charm?
If this actually happens, it would be the third time the Lawrencians have tried to get the justices to reconsider aspects of their earlier decision, but the first time they have been able to convince a lower court judge to be their proxy.
In essence, the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that 29 of the 36 plaintiff parishes had agreed to be part of the Episcopal Church and therefore cannot sell or transfer ownership of their properties their properties without the Church’s consent. The Court also determined that the historic Diocese of South Carolina and its properties are part of the Church.
In November 2017 the high court gave Dickson the task of implementing its ruling, but he has done little about it. In prior hearings, he has admitted to being "confused" over this task and regretting that it had even been given to him.
The legal team for the breakaway group has played to the judge's confusion, telling Dickson that the justices wrongly identified the 29 parishes as having acceded to the Church's governing structure.
However, this morning one of the most important moments came when Mary Kostel, Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, responded to the allegation by providing Dickson written evidence of each parish's accession as it had been submitted to the original trial judge. It seemed to SC Episcopalians that the judge had not seen this before even though it was in the trial record. Read more details provided by the Diocese of South Carolina
For us non-lawyers, the trust relationship means that congregations own their parish properties and assets, but only so long as they are operated as parishes in the Episcopal Church. Should a congregation reject the role of Trustee or violate its requirements under the state's trust laws, ownership of the property and assets revert to the Church’s local diocese.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the trust relationship goes back to the origins of the Constitution, but in 1979 it suggested to hierarchical denominations, like the Episcopal Church, that they spell out that trust relationship in their national constitution and canons.
The Episcopal Church did that in the form of a new canon (church law) named after Bishop Walter Dennis of New York who wrote it and led the Church's General Convention to adopt it. Every diocese and almost every parish adopted the Dennis Canon and, in effect, agreed to act as trustees of their property for the exclusive benefit of the Episcopal Church, aka the trust’s "beneficiary".
Beating a dead horse?
Beaufort Alan Runyan is the Lawrencians' lead attorney and prime mover behind Lawrence’s unsuccessful 2013 lawsuit. He is believed to be at the heart of a broader effort to disrupt the Episcopal Church by creating a legal precedent for its parishes to leave with their property and financial assets. This began years before 2012 when Lawrence announced that he was leaving the Episcopal Church, and seems to have fallen apart after the debacle in the South Carolina courts.
Bitterly disappointed, Runyan and Lawrence have spent the past two years attacking the high court's ruling with the hope of finding some way to undermine it. Many of the key elements of the ruling were decided by 3-2 votes in the Church's favor, and they appear to be encouraged that new members of the Court appear to be more politically inclined in their direction.
Today, Runyan offered nothing new but continued familiar diatribes trying to convince Dickson that the task the Court had given him was too vague for him to move forward. He resurrected all of his past arguments, most of which have been rejected by the high court or by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in September, when he found in favor of the Church in a related case in the Federal system.
However, the strategy seems to have worked anyway. Dickson announced at the end of today's hearing that he was considering sending the request for “clarification” to the justices after getting input from both sides, but was not specific about what he wanted to ask them.
Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina did not walk away empty-handed this morning. In fact, they were very strong in offering evidence that seemed to contradict Runyan at every turn. Diocesan Chancellor Tom Tisdale felt today's session was the most substantive yet since Dickson had been assigned the case.
They have struggled in other hearings before Dickson because he often seemed unaware of key legal elements and Constitutional precedents surrounding the Supreme Court's ruling. Not that it should matter. Dickson's job is not to retry the case, but to implement the high court's ruling.
This morning, Dickson was better prepared. He appeared to be clearer that the key issues revolved around the state's trust laws, and that property laws were really secondary. He was also clear that the case does not belong in secular courts since it involves a theological disagreement in a Constitutionally-protected hierarchical denomination.
Still there were frustrating moments in the hearing in which the answers to questions Dickson raised turned out to have been included in important filings by the parties and addressed in the opinions of the justices or raised concerns that appeared not especially relevant to implementation of the Court's over two-years-old decision.
Perhaps an important part of today's session for the Church side was Dickson's belief that the justices' response to a request for clarification would settle everything that is preventing him from moving forward with implementation.
This case has been a bitter one for the Court, and not one it would take any pleasure in revisiting. The justices seemed particularly annoyed by attempts by the Lawrencians in the past to lobby them and smear the reputations of its members who did not vote with their way.
The Court has made it clear it in the past that its work on this case is done. Our guess is that it will not respond to any of the issues raised in a potential request for clarification. Based on Judge Dickson's comments today, that would still satisfy concerns he may have about moving forward.