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October 11, 2018
Bishop Adams, Diocesan Leaders Assess Progress of Reconciliation & Legal Cases
Bishop's foray into social media met with many positive reviews
South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams and his leadership team took to social media tonight to ramp up their reconciliation efforts with followers of former Bishop Mark Lawrence, while offering insights into his vision for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Adams used the occasion to make clear his vision of restoring a robust Christian ministry in all 29 parishes that were denied authority to leave the Church with their properties in an August 2017 ruling by the state's Supreme Court. He assured former Lawrence supporters they were welcome to stay on and fully participate in parish life, but that they would be worshiping in an Episcopal church.
He was also deliberate in saying his vision for the Diocese was one with "Christ in the Center."
In 2013 Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him sued the Church, claiming they were the rightful owners of an estimated $500 million in diocesan assets and parish properties. Last year's ruling by the state Supreme Court - which permitted seven plaintiff parishes to leave -- was later allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sale of Parish Properties to Dissidents
Among the panelists tonight was the Rev. Bill Coyne, Adams' Canon Missioner for Returning Parishes, who has been the point person for the Church in reaching out to former Lawrence congregations. He reflected Adams' commitment to re-establish a "thriving" ministry in every parish but, when asked if the Church would consider selling parish properties back to the dissidents, said flatly, "They are not for sale."
Many former Lawrencians have recently brought up a 2015 settlement offer by the Church in which its lawyers proposed giving the 36 parishes everything they were asking for in exchange for dropping their claims to ownership of the Episcopal Diocese of Diocese of South Carolina. Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole was asked about it tonight.
Walpole explained that the offer came from former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori after lengthy deliberations and consultations but was immediately rejected by the parishes when it was offered. So would the Church re-consider the offer? "We are in a different time now," she said.
Commitment to Reconciliation
Adams has only been the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina for two years, and consequently appears to have little baggage or axes to grind. He is a retired Bishop from the Diocese of Central New York, and always insisted that Christ had called him to South Carolina to bring about reconciliation. Neither he nor his predecessor, Charles vonRosenberg, has ever publicly criticized Lawrence or his folowers.
This summer Adams and his team conducted three listening session or "Conversations" at which members of both sides of the schism were invited to share their concerns and questions with representatives of the Church. In spite of some difficult moments, Adams was not disappointed in what he found and seemed encouraged.
A major flashpoint in Lawrence's schism was his claim to St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island , and tonight Adams went to some length to assure Lawrence's followers that it would continue to offer camping and programming to all people of faith, including them.
In his 2012 lawsuit against the Church, Lawrence claimed that the Center was owned by his imaginary 'Diocese of South Carolina'. During those years, the leadership of the Camp adopted an admissions policy hostile to children whose parents belonged to parishes that remained loyal to the Church. In one instance, when informed of the policy, a parent was told her children were "getting what they deserve."
Last year's court ruling was unambiguous that St. Christopher is owned by the Episcopal Church." What remains of the Lawrence 'diocese' withdrew financial support for it this year.
Adams repeated his earlier offer to meet with former Lawrence clergy interested in "discerning" a path forward in their ministry that might include a return to the Episcopal ministry. However, he stopped short of promising that bygones would be bygones, but both he and vonRosenberg have received high marks for their handling of three instances of returning clergy.
Pro-Lawrence parishes not in the lawsuit
When Lawrence left the Church in 2012, approximately twenty parishes loyal to him joined his imaginary 'Diocese of South Carolina' even though they did not sign on as co-plaintiffs in his lawsuit. (Who says you shouldn't trust legal advice from online blogs!). The authority of these parishes individually to leave the Church was not determined by the state Supreme Court last year, although they will be held to the same standards.
(NOTE: The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has posted the entire event unedited on its Facebook page.)
Coyne diplomatically danced around the issue, pointing out that the matter is part of a Federal case that is scheduled to go to trial in March.
South Carolina Episcopalians