Province IV bishops call meeting with colleague ‘honest, forthright’

Conversation with Mark Lawrence did not yield complete agreement

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Dec 15, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] Six of the 20 Province IV diocesan bishops said Dec. 15 that their meeting the previous day with their colleague, Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence, was characterized by “gracious hospitality and collegiality” but not complete agreement.

The bishops of the Episcopal Church’s Province IV had asked Lawrence Dec. 5 to meet with them “to have a clarifying conversation” about his decision to issue property deeds to each diocesan congregation.

At Lawrence’s direction, Diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan Nov. 16 sent a quitclaim deed to every parish in the diocese. A quitclaim deed generally transfers ownership of the property from the party issuing the deed to the recipient.

In a statement e-mailed by Diocese of Upper South Carolina Bishop W. Andrew Waldo and later posted on the South Carolina diocesan website, the bishops said that they were a “representative group who were available at the appointed time and date.”

In addition to Waldo and Lawrence, the bishops present at the meeting were Diocese of Georgia Bishop Scott Benhase, Diocese of North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of East Carolina Bishop Clifton Daniel III, Diocese of West Tennessee Bishop Don Johnson and Diocese of Western North Carolina Bishop G. Porter Taylor.

Daniel, the provincial vice president, had requested the meeting with Lawrence, saying that the other provincial bishops want to know under what canonical authority he proceeded, whether he involved the diocesan Standing Committee, and whether the members of the Standing Committee were in accord with his action. Daniel also asked who signed the quitclaim deeds.

The Episcopal Church’s so-called “Dennis Canon” (Canon 1.7.4) states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

Lawrence told the Living Church a week after the deeds were issued that he did so in part because “the threat of property disputes” should not be “the only thing that holds us together.”

The statement from Waldo said the seven bishops at the Dec. 14 meeting prayed together “and participated in open, honest, and forthright conversation.”

“Probing questions were asked by all, and it is fair to say that we did not agree on all matters discussed,” the statement said. “For the visiting bishops, the gathering particularly helped to clarify the context of the Diocese of South Carolina’s quitclaims decision. Where we go in the future is a matter of prayer and ongoing engagement of concerns before us, an engagement we embrace out of our love for Christ and his church.”

On Dec. 9, the South Carolina Standing Committee issued a statement questioning the provincial bishops’ motives and saying they “have no constitutional or canonical grounds for these requests, which relate exclusively and entirely to matters involving the internal policies and affairs of this diocese.”

“This diocese grows weary of the constant interference in its internal affairs that continues to disrupt our mission,” the Standing Committee wrote, charging that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori engaged in a ” non-canonical intrusion” in February 2010 when her representatives attempted to determine what action Lawrence had or would take about South Carolina congregations that appeared to be threatening to leave the Episcopal Church. The Standing Committee also noted that the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops dismissed allegations by a group of South Carolina Episcopalians that Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the church.

“Yet, within less than two weeks of that decision, we have yet another attempt without canonical or constitutional support to inject others into the internal affairs of this autonomous diocese,” the committee wrote.


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Comments (13)

  1. Victor Mansfield says:

    To fight over property, to try and hang on to them is the old way. Let’s try something different. Let them go and provide support for the parishes which wish to stay in the Episcopal Church.
    Perhaps we could issue a quitclaim deed to the Diocese. Let them go.

    1. +George N Hunt says:

      Probably a good idea. Both ECUSA and the diocese would be healthier, not having to spend energy “wondering” what the other is up to.

  2. Richard L. Ullman says:

    Surely others have also noted how much the arguments and language of the South Caroline Standing Committee and Bishop parallels the rhetoric of earlier South Carolina notables, such as Strom Thurmond and John C. Calhoun. Let’s put the matter plainly on the table: there is a deep cultural issue here of fiercely self-protective individualism. Strip away the veneer of canonical and theological disputation, and what you have is a revisiting of firing upon Fort Sumter.

  3. Milton Finch says:

    Victor, (and I use that name as only “Thomas Builds The Fire” would in “Smoke Signals”) Bishop Lawrence is not going anywhere. If they want him to go, they will have to go against every shred of Christianity in doing so. They can still do so, but it will be to their eternal detriment, sorry to say. They can write us off, and give the diocese the “quit claim” as you say. What they would state, and are stating, is that the inclusive bunch of them cannot live with us in any tension ever realized to man.

  4. Brian McMichael says:

    We are not congregational in structure. We do not each go our own way. The assets of the Episcopal Church are an inter-generational trust shaped by an ecclesial tradition and theology that engenders organizational stability while the Body discerns the will of God. This wisdom protects the Church from flash-in-the-pan upheavals. And this is such a one. Long-gone are many if not most of the members who sacrificed and shared to develop the infrastructure, property and assets of the congregations and dioceses of the Episcopal Church; they did so under the conditions we are operating under.

    If people, and whole congregations, want to leave the Episcopal Church, we hold no hostages. They are free to go. There is a model for striking out from our structure as a matter of conscience. The Dissenters (AKA the Pilgrims) left the CoE and crossed a dangerous sea to carve out their vision in a distant wilderness, they gave rise to the congregational United Church of Christ. Those unhappy with the course of the Episcopal Church will be OK without the stuff. It is the responsibility of conscience, dissent, voyage and pilgrimage. Ours is a different, more planted path. So be it. The property stays with the Church as a whole.

  5. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    “Not complete agreement..” Pray tell us, what DID the bishops agree on? Unfortunately their note really tells us nothing. About the only good news we can take away from it is that they actually did meet and did talk with each other and will have “ongoing engagement,” whatever that means. This is a step in the right direction. It is best for conservative dioceses to find a way to stay in TEC, but they have to do so within the framework of TEC.
    The bishops should have reminded Bp Lawrence: he is a bishop in TEC; SC is not an independent entity; the TEC is governed by the Constitutions and Canons of TEC; SC is subject to the C and C just as the other 108 dioceses; the C and C places property under the diocese in trust for TEC; and Lawrence’s grant of quitclaim deeds is unconstitutional in TEC.
    Rather than bolt to ACNA and lose in court (or sail out into the delusional sea of AMiA), Lawrence is trying to stay within TEC and be independent, a tricky business. He declared SC to be “autonomous,” had the diocesan convention nullify canons they deemed unacceptable, gave a wink and a nod to a parish that had already seceeded and another that did so under his watch, and handed deeds to all parishes in direct violation of the C and C of TEC. The disciplinary committee cleared him but that was before the business of the deeds appeared. If he goes too far (and he may have already) accusations can be brought up again to the disciplinary committee. Lawrence would be wise to know his limit, stick with it and keep on being graciously hospitable to his fellow bishops. Too, he should drop his tiresome charade of innocent victim being hounded by the mean old witch of the north. Everyone knows by now it is just not true.

  6. Michael Ridgill says:

    In pondering the writing of Mr. McMichael, I wonder if those who created the “assets of the Episcopal Church” as “an inter-generational trust” could feel as if that trust had been broken by theological innovations and revisions that arguably deny the very existence for the foundation of such a trust even if it exists. I would think that such a material breach, would generally void any trust, if it ever existed in the first place.

  7. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    “Innovations and revisions” are forever confronting the church. The only law of history is constant change. The challenge of the church is how to combine the timeless truths of Christianity to the ever changing world around us. At some periods of the past, the church ignored this. It is to the eternal shame of TEC that it ignored the sin of slavery before the Civil War. Perhaps mindful of this, TEC reversed its attitude starting in the early 1960’s and took bold stands for civil rights, gender equality, and most recently sexual identity equality. These stands were made through the constitutional framework of TEC, above board, fair and square. Conservatives who disagree with the church’s positions have a right to their opinions but they have to realize that TEC has declared its stand. On rights and equality for homosexuals, TEC has agreed on a position and has moved on. Case closed. Next year we can expect to have rites for blessings of same sex unions.

    The problem in SC is that the leadership does not want to move on. They are still fighting a battle in a war they have lost and they do not know where to turn next. Lawrence is thrashing about trying to cut a path for conservatives to be in TEC but not of TEC. The deeds put him periously close to the brink. His fellow bishops are trying to pull his coattails to keep him from falling off the cliff and joining the neverland of Duncan, Murphy and the like. More power to them.

  8. Michael Newman says:

    This entire matter has been generated by the clergy NOT by the parishioners. Starting years ago with Bishop Allison, there has been a well organized effort by the Bishop and certain “approved” clergy to continually cast aspersions upon the Episcopal Church and to demonize the Presiding Bishop. 1862 all over again…. very sad for everyone !

  9. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    Mr. Newman: I could not agree with you more. Years ago a clerical clique formed in the Charleston area and, bringing in clergy from the fundamentalist Trinity seminary of Pennsylvania, bonded with certain laypeople to gain a monopoly of all the apparati of the diocese. By 2003 (Robinson episode) the clique declared war on TEC. The people in the pews, except for a few exceptions, have heard nothing but a steady drunbeat of anti-TEC rhetoric. After they finally got rid of bishops Salmon and Skelton, they brought in to be bishop a prominent priest from San Joaquin, which was, of course, the first breakaway diocese. So far Lawrence: shrugged off Pawleys Island, patted St. Andrews of Mt. Pleasant on the back as it left, with the property, and granted property deeds to all parishes in direct violation of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. He says he is doing all this to keep parishes in TEC. It leaves me wondering what is the connection between encouraging parishes to leave TEC and keeping them in TEC. In the end he might well be using the Vietnam strategy: destroy the diocese to save it.

  10. Charles W. Daily, Jr. says:

    I preach the Gospel and work at building healthy relationships within the congregation. The actions of the National Church are not discussed. When they were raised, in another assignment, it was by the congregation wanting to leave, TEC, the Diocese and go elsewhere. Those who follow the National Church on the internet lost focus and were, are, embroiled in the politics and “lived theology”. In the end I wonder if either ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ members will be able to work together and ‘Via Media’ is just now a hollow concept. I pray to God that I may do what it is that the Holy Spirit is asking me in my preaching.

  11. Christopher Cleveland says:

    Thank God for the Diocese of South Carolina. TEC has become a tragedy and a cancer in the Body of Christ. The decision to sue fellow sisters and brothers out of the church and refuse to even consider amicable settlements has been a costly disaster. I discovered that folk were just fine with my being gay in TEC, it was my inclusive orthodoxy/Anglo-Catholic beliefs that were considered problematic. For all practical purposes TEC has devolved into a secular civic religion with liturgical trappings i.e. High Church Unitarianism. I apologize in advance for any UU’s who might be offended by such a statement but the UU movement really has had more significant influence on the Mainline churches than they have been given credit for. I entered TEC as a convert from the Roman church more than 20 years ago after discovering the depth, beauty and holiness of the Anglo-Catholic tradition and a more progressive attitude towards social issues. Like Alice lost in Wonderland, I left TEC when my sexuality became more “respected and affirmed” than my spirituality. I could be one or the other but not both. Perhaps this is similar to the wrath and fury heaped on those of my friends who are Log Cabin Republicans? Tolerance for anything but historic, creedal Christianity is the only discernible dogma left in TEC. Read KJS’s new popular theology “Heartbeat of God” if one still doubts. This written by the Primate of American Anglicanism? Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. A seminary education in TEC used to mean something. What will they do with all the empty churches won from traditional Episcopalian congregations and dioceses anyway? And still TEC litigates into oblivion.

  12. Steven Duvoisin says:

    We have rules in the Episcopal Church. We vote on things and we are a collective and just because someone is unhappy doesn’t mean they can change the rules to suit their needs.

    Every parish that wants to leave the TEC – I say let them, for a price. Some of these churches have assets that are worth millions of dollars. If you want to leave, pay us what it is “worth” and go with God. I can’t speak to the refusal to settle (as I haven’t seen anything about settlement offers) but I can say the Episcopal Church isn’t interested in having empty churches with no one to worship in them. When we win the property in cases, we either work on building a new parish or we look at selling the building.

    Spirituality and faith is not dead in the Episcopal Church. There are many members with strong faith and a strong spiritual life. Infighting and litigation is draining energy and resources at the moment but I don’t believe that means faith is being lost. The poor widow had incredibly faith in Christ. We don’t have to be rich to be faithful (although in America many equate wealth as a virtue or a sign of someone’s virtue). I have been praying for the arguments to cease and for us to put a re-dedication towards mission and ministry. Need hasn’t gone down in the last decade – it’s gone up.

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