[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.