[Episcopal News Service – Charleston, South Carolina] The majority of South Carolina Episcopalians who attended a special convention at St. Philip’s Church here Nov. 17 affirmed actions by Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocesan Standing Committee a month ago to disaffiliate the diocese from the Episcopal Church.
Those actions took place after Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori restricted Lawrence’s ministry on Oct. 17 after the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops certified to her that he had abandoned the Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the discipline of the church.”
On that same day, the Standing Committee announced that the action of the Disciplinary Board “triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the diocese from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention.”
Jefferts Schori issued a pastoral letter Nov. 15 to Episcopalians in South Carolina offering prayers and support for those who wished to remain in the Episcopal Church.
“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed,” she noted. “If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with The Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognized by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our Constitution and Canons.”
Lawrence referred to the special convention as “the Valley of Decision” during his address and asserted, “It is time to turn the page.” He referred to attempts to prevent separation of the diocese, and his oft-mentioned issues of theology, morality and disagreement with church canons.
“So be it…We have withdrawn from that church…We have moved on. With the Standing Committee’s resolution of disassociation, the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically,” he said.
While the bishop referred to numerous letters of support from church leaders, he did not announce any open offers of affiliation with the Anglican Communion, and he confirmed that for now the separatist diocese will affiliate with no one. In a conference call following the convention, he confirmed that alignment is not on the table at present.
However, during his address, he claimed that “for now and the foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC, we remain an extra-provincial diocese within the larger Anglican Communion.”
Such a designation requires action by the Anglican Consultative Council, which concluded a 12-day meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, on Nov. 7. No action on South Carolina was taken during that meeting and the council will not meet again until May 2016.
Following his address, Lawrence called upon the convention to vote on three resolutions. The first resolution affirmed the actions of the bishop and the Standing Committee and stated “that we are no longer in any relationship with TEC, including union or association with in any capacity.” The resolution also had the convention declare that Lawrence is the diocese’s “rightful bishop.”
“By stating this, we declare that as God has sent Bishop Lawrence to be our bishop, only he [God] has the authority to declare otherwise,” the resolution continued.
The resolution also said the convention “repudiates actions of TEC purportedly taken against our bishop and declare null and void any claim by any member or representative of TEC to have any authority whatsoever over this diocese or any authority over God’s congregation at any of her parishes who willingly by their presence at this convention and their vote on this resolution so declare.”
A second resolution amended the diocesan constitution, removing all mention of the Episcopal Church, including any reference to the “accession clause,” in which a diocese declares that it accedes to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. That declaration is required in Article V, Section 1 of the church’s constitution.
The diocesan convention had previously revised its constitution limiting the accession clause by saying it would accede to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church only they were not “inconsistent with or contradictory to” the diocesan constitution and canons.
The resolution also removed any reference to the General Convention, making its only governing body the diocesan convention. The third resolution removed all references of the Episcopal Church from the diocesan canons.
Forty-two parishes attended the special convention along with 12 missions, sending a total of 170 lay delegates. There are 78 congregations in the diocese.
The first two resolutions were accepted by acclamation. The third resolution to change the church canons passed with a 90 percent majority on a roll call vote — including a vote by Lawrence. The vote on the resolution, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, included several abstentions.
According to a fact sheet posted on the Episcopal Church’s website: “Dioceses cannot leave the Episcopal Church. While some clergy and individuals may choose to leave, congregations and property remain in the diocese to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church.”
Additional ENS coverage of the convention is planned.
— Sarah Moïse Young is a freelance reporter based in Charleston, South Carolina.