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
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 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.
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"?
More to follow...
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."
Readers will note that we've added a new page to the navigation bar above that highlights news from the self-styled "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina," led by former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence. Contrary to its name, neither ACNA-SC nor its parent organization, ACNA-North America, are part of the Anglican Communion.
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."
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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From Associate Justice Kittridge's 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
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