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South Carolina Episcopalians
An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans
December 6, 2018
Tear It Down! Anxiety Rises Among Lawrence Clergy as Reality Closes In
Lawrencian clergyman prays God will destroy historic St. Philip's rather than allowing false gospel Episcopalians to continue to own it
As if it was needed, St. Philip's in downtown Charleston gave us yet one more vivid insight last month into why the Mark Lawrence schism has ended in shambles. It also helped us understand how the historic "mother church" of Anglicanism in South Carolina has lost more than half its membership under Lawrence's leadership.
In a Sunday service just prior to Thanksgiving, Senior Associate Andrew O'Dell preached a remarkably shrill sermon in which he said he prayed that God would tear down the parish's historic church building rather than allow "false teachers" to take it over. He castigated the congregation for allowing its love of the magnificent church structure to become idolatrous and prayed that it would "break every bond of affection for this building."
O'Dell was presumably preaching about the 2017 state Supreme Court ruling that the parish is and always has been part of the Episcopal Church. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Lawrence's appeal of that decision, allowing instead the state court ruling to stand. We assume the false teachers Mr. O'Dell had in mind were Episcopalians.
The sermon must have sounded particularly odd to members of the congregation who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Lawrence's lawsuit over the past six years to gain undisputed ownership of its buildings and property.
Mr. O'Dell was one of a number of rising clergy stars in the Church until 2012 when he left the Church with Lawrence over its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and people who did not accept his strictly literal interpretation of the Bible.
Last summer Lawrence seemed to reject this interpretation of his actions when he told his followers he left the Church because he was worried Sunday School teachers would come to church dressed as the opposite gender.
Pressure mounting on Lawrence clergy
When the Episcopal Diocese does re-establish itself in parishes like St. Philip's, all clergy will have to be in good standing with the Episcopal Church. That would exclude all the current clergy at St. Philip's. Mr. O'Dell and other Lawrence clergy are engaged in a feverish effort to recruit members of their congregations to join them in creating new, independent worship groups under Lawrence, and outside their current Church buildings.
The irony of Mr. O'Dell's sermon is that the Episcopal Church offered to give the congregation full, undisputed ownership of its building and property in 2015, but it rejected the offer. Under that scenario, clergy like Mr. O'Dell could have kept their jobs.
Legal actions in both Federal and State courts are likely to resolve outstanding legal issues in coming months.
From 2008 to 2016 the congregation at St. Philip's lost 56% of its membership. That is a big part of the reason the continuing diocese, known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, is one of the two fastest growing dioceses in the Church.
Those members still remaining at St. Philip's tell SC Episcopalians that the congregation is fairly evenly divided between evangelicals and "ancestor worshipers."