South Carolina Episcopalians

An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans

not affiliated with ACNA, the Episcopal Church or any of their dioceses

September 1, 2022

Returning Parishes Still Blasting Away at the Church as Court Decision Takes Effect

Twenty-eight breakaway parishes leave the Church and the Anglican Communion to an uncertain future

Some Lawrence clergy still smearing Church leaders' reputations with old disinformation and untruth 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 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 Ashley (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.

In a few parishes clergy have been quick 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, the fuming is misplaced.   

  • Ten years ago, none of the eight breakaway parishes needed to join a lawsuit that they knew could cost them millions of dollars and risk their control over their parish property.  They could have just sat on the sidelines and waited on the outcome of the case and then decided how to proceed.

  • The breakaway parishes put their fate in the hands of lawyers, rejecting St. Paul’s admonition against airing Church disputes in the courts, and Isaiah’s invitation to reason together to allow God to find an acceptable way forward.  If they had, they might have learned that the Church did not dispute that they owned their own properties or that in 2015 the Presiding Bishop herself offered to give up any legal claim the Church might have had on them.

  • Many breakaway parishes took on significant amounts of debt at the beginning of the schism in the mistaken belief that it would discourage Church leaders from wanting their buildings.  The Episcopal Church nor any of its leadership has never expressed any desire to "take over" the property of any of local parishes or throw evangelical congregations out of their buildings.  The Church maintains that the congregations already own their buildings.  In other words, these congregations were perfectly safe just staying on as part of the Diocese of South Carolina.  

Christ Church, Mount Pleasant

The eight returning parishes are among 36 breakaway parishes that originally joined Lawrence in filing 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.  In general, they wanted out because of its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority over men, and understandings of the Bible that were inconsistent with their own narrow literalism. 

The state's court system batted the politically charged case around for nearly ten years, while gradually giving 28 a green light to leave the Church.  Over the past five years the state Supreme Court has handed down three separate “final” decisions in the case.

One of the congregations not pleased with the Court's decision is the historic Christ Church in Mount Pleasant, which found itself on the short side of the 28/8 split.  The congregation held a final robust final service at the end of last month celebrating their common life and their separation from fellow Christians whose experience of Christ has been different from their own.  They will be temporarily holding services at Jennie Moore Elementary School not far from their current location.

The parish’s rector, Ted Duvall, used the occasion of his last Sunday to revive the misinformation and personal attacks that have been so effective at alienating the Lawrence laity from the Church.  He insisted that the Church had tried to force his congregation to “serve revisions, distortions, and heresies of the Faith by which others call us to bow down.  We will not worship their gods.”  

Father Ted’s words provided great theatre but were devoid of any examples or evidence that the congregation had been pressured to do anything, especially worship alien gods.

He happily maligned former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold telling the congregation that the former leader of the Church had once described the Christian Faith as “pluriform truths”. 

Griswold never said that, but it has been a great rallying cry for the breakaway clergy trying to find fault with the Church.  

The story had its origins on a highly unreliable rightwing blog in 2004.  The blogger reported that at some undisclosed event an angry unnamed bishop alleged that Griswold’s understanding of truth was “pluriform.” 

In 2013, Mark Lawrence’s chief lieutenant, Jim Lewis, dug up the blog to include the story in an article he was preparing for a local newspaper.  Apparently, he either erroneously or intentionally doctored the story to make it seem that Griswold had said the words that were attributed to the unknown, unnamed critic. 

So, in an article in the Charleston Mercury, Lewis did just that, falsely claiming that “…Griswold, proclaimed that truth, is pluriform. This meant the church recognized no single truth, no single theology, no single pathway to salvation.”

Lewis’ convenient revision of the story and his bizarre interpretation has likely been repeated from the pulpit of every breakaway congregation in the Diocese.  When Fr. Ted repeated it Sunday, Lewis - and ACNA Bishop Chip Edgar - were sitting right behind him seemingly unbothered that it has no basis in fact.

Sympathy for Returning Parishes
The response of loyal Episcopalians, who were purged from the breakaway congregations in 2013, was a mix of sympathy and sadness over the costly one-sided culture war that had left so many Lawrencians feeling unwelcome in their own parish buildings.   

“We know what they are feeling, and that should not happen to anyone.” said a former member of St. John’s in Florence.   Loyal Episcopalians in that parish were told by parish leaders and Lawrence himself in 2013 that they were no longer welcome, and if they remained, they would not be allowed to have any role in the congregation including lay reading or teaching Sunday School.   One Sunday school teacher was fired because she made a reference to the theory of evolution. 

At another Lawrence parish, the names of the loyal members were read from the pulpit as part of an effort to socially isolate them both on Sundays and during the week when they were not at parish events.  At another parish, loyal members of the Church were forced to sit together at a parish meeting so the rest of the congregation could see who they were.

Did Lawrence succeed?

The attempt by Lawrence and his supporters to leave the Church with their parish and Diocesan property intact failed in spite of taking slightly less than half of the congregations in the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Church.  

They hoped to take the corporate historic Diocese of South Carolina itself with them and have the courts rule that the Church's Dennis Canon - creating a trust over parish property - would be powerless in the state and that their strategy could be replicated by dissidents in dioceses in other states.  They also hoped to keep the lucrative annual income generated by trust funds established by loyal Episcopalians for the well-being of the Church and the nice episcopal residence in downtown Charleston for Lawrence to continue to live in for the rent of $1 a year.

That did not happen.