South Carolinians affirm decision to leave Episcopal Church

By Sarah Moïse Young
Posted Nov 17, 2012

[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“So be it…We have withdrawn from that church…We have moved on.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However, during his address, he claimed that “for now and the foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC, we remain an extra-provincial diocese within the larger Anglican Communion.”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.


Comments (112)

  1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    A.S., Let’s look at staistics here. The support for Lawrence is far from solid. In fact 211 clergy are listed on the diocesan web site. Yet, exactly 37 signed on to Proposed Resolution R-1 (dissolving ties to TEC). What happened to the other 174? I guess you would have to ask them. Of course some of them (30+) did vote for it or abstain. The meeting on 11-17 was not representative of the whole diocese as many clergy and local delegations did not attend. Lawrence let them know in advance that they were not welcomed. At the Episcopal Church meeting for the clergy on 11-15 at St. Mark’s, 70 persons attended, even in spite of scarcely veiled threats from diocesan house. We know that 18 local churches are staying with TEC and possibly 5-10 others. In addition, many Episcopalians are withdrawing from breakaway parishes and forming their own Episcopal congregations in little towns and cities across the lowcountry. As of now, about a third of the old diocese is reorganizing as the ongoing Episcopal Church diocese. It contains some large and important congregations. There are still many undecided clergy and parishes. Between now and next March’s diocesan convention there will be movement. While it is true that the majority are following Lawrence out of TEC, there is a strong minority staying with TEC and that is on par with what happened in the other four secessionist cases. Any claim that the whole diocese is solidly united is just nonsense and Lawrence knows it. In his address on 11-17 he lamented the loss of the African Americans, the Anglo Catholics, and the socially/culturally diverse congregations. Apparently the reality was a surprise to him. There is more to come. The many people who have been excluded from the diocesan power structure for years will not now be ignored.

    1. Doug Desper says:

      The good thing for the churches is that + Lawrence and the leadership in the diocese have given people a choice by issuing quit claim deeds. If Bishop Lawrence was such a “cult leader”, as has been alleged by some, I doubt that he would have given the option and instead practiced coercion for uniformity of thought. You’re right – the strong minority can’t be ignored. Let them step up and organize however they want and then prove their point by living with their power structure’s strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully they won’t need a large sustenance check cut to them to give the appearance of independence (such as the $780,000 line of credit for the continuing independence of the Diocese of San Joaquin). If they can make it – great. If not, combine with another diocese.

  2. Rebecca Alford says:

    To Ronald J. Caldwell-Love your comment! Perfectly stated! Our clergy and a few of the parishioners are Mark Lawrence idolizers, but certainly not all. I look forward to the day when they vacate our property and we can get back to being the loving, open door parish we should be with real inclusivity.

  3. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    Doug, the issue of the quit claim deeds is an important one. By unilaterally issuing them, Lawrence accomplished two premeditated goals: encourage secession and provoke TEC. He had already encouraged secession by failing to appeal the Pawley’s Island judgment to the US Supreme Court and by giving a wink and a nod to St. Andrew’s of Mt. Pleasant which left with its property. He knew very well the importance of the Dennis Canon, which DSC had acceeded to earlier. Of course this became the specific charge leading the DBB to find “abandonment of communion.” Then, once having issued the deeds, he could not take them back and so when he led DSC out of TEC he had to tell the parishes staying in TEC they could keep their property. He could not say anything else since he had claimed that he had already given them their property. Lawrence himself is uncertain about the property issue. He said in my presence that parishes could not count on keeping their properties. We can be certain that the whole property issue will be tied up un courts for years to come. Even considering the Pawley’s Island case and the peculiar state laws, I should not bet against TEC.

    1. A. S. Haley says:

      Mr. Caldwell, I submit in all humility that your bias may be resulting in a slanted view of matters. Anyone who does not understand the holding in the All Saints Waccamaw case should read it thoroughly, again and again, before commenting on what they think it says. I shall not engage you in debate on that, but will content myself with quoting the relevant part of the actual decision:

      Furthermore, we hold that neither the 2000 Notice nor the Dennis Canon has any legal effect on title to the All Saints congregation’s property. A trust “may be created by either declaration of trust or by transfer of property….” Dreher v. Dreher, 370 S.C. 75, 80, 634 S.E.2d 646, 648 (2006). It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another or transfer legal title to one person for the benefit of another.

      Please note the careful language about how a trust may be created under South Carolina law, and the “axiomatic principle” that “a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust …”.

      The Dennis Canon was not a declaration of trust by any entity that held title to parish property anywhere in the State of South Carolina. Instead, it was an attempt by the trust beneficiary — who by definition does not hold legal title to the trust property — to create a trust unilaterally, out of whole cloth, in property held by others — namely, all the parishes in South Carolina, and not only All Saints Waccamaw.

      So the holding by the South Carolina Supreme Court is a binding precedent on all South Carolina courts in all cases of Episcopal parish properties, and not a holding confined just to the All Saints parish. The Court’s language did not limit the holding in any way. The fact that the Court went on to say, in the very next sentence, that “The Diocese did not, at the time it recorded the 2000 Notice, have any interest in the congregation’s property” was not a recognition of just the effect of the 1903 quitclaim deed from the Diocese to the parish. For if the Dennis Canon had the effect of creating such an interest ipso facto by its adoption in 1979, then the statement by the Supreme Court in its opinion — that the Diocese held no interest in the All Saints property as of 2000 — could not have been made. If the Dennis Canon by and of itself had created such an interest in 1979, then it would have been false for the Court to state that the Diocese had no such interest in the property as of 2000.

      Instead, the inescapable conclusion from the language used by the Court is that after it quitclaimed the property to the parish in 1903, nothing the Diocese did in the intervening years, including the passage of the national Dennis Canon in 1979, or any corresponding diocesan canon subsequently, managed to change or affect the parish’s title in the slightest degree.

      Without the signature of the parish on an express declaration of trust for the benefit of the Diocese or the national Church, there is no “trust” in the parish’s property which the courts of South Carolina may recognize. And that same holding applies to every parish’s property in South Carolina, because there was never any time at which any such parish signed any deed creating such a trust.

      So the Dennis Canon alone does not cut the mustard in South Carolina. That is why I have stated numerous times that the Dennis Canon is “dead” in that State. People who try to read into the SC Supreme Court’s Waccamaw decision anything else, based on the 1903 Quitclaim deed or otherwise, are just deluding themselves, and also those who follow them — with ensuing results that are bound to disappoint.

      Bishop Lawrence thus had perfectly good legal advice when he gave quitclaim deeds to each of his parishes, following the Waccamaw decision. He had no other option. The national Church was still claiming, despite all law and logic, that it somehow still had a “trust interest” in all South Carolina parish properties. (And if you want to fault Bishop Lawrence for not appealing that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, why do you not fault ECUSA as well? David Booth Beers, the PB’s Chancellor, actually filed a petition for certiorari requesting review of the decision on ECUSA’s behalf — but then he abandoned it after the parish settled its case with the Diocese. So 815 set the example — and you now want to hold Bishop Lawrence accountable for making the same decision the national Church did? Please, let us be reasonable.

      There is no way that Bishop Lawrence, by bowing to South Carolina law as declared by its highest Court, and as acquiesced in by the national Church itself, “abandoned” the communion of the Episcopal Church. For the DBB to have so certified, and for it also to have resurrected charges which it dismissed the year before, is sheer manipulation of the Canons for ideological ends. Anyone who supports what the DBB has “certified” in Bishop Lawrence’s case is not in favor of upholding the canons, but instead advocates undermining them whenever it is expedient for temporary goals.

      Shame on my Church, I say, for such a total disregard of State and canon law! And shame on all those in South Carolina who seize upon the occasion of such spurious “charges” to do away with Bishop Lawrence!

  4. Robert Johnson says:

    What would Jesus do and what would Jesus say about all this?
    Are the words of God and Jesus what we should be living and worshiping by, not church rules?
    Did Jesus establish the Espicopal Church and its laws?
    What did Jesus say about man made rules and laws?
    A church is the people and the people should be able to decide how they worship. Not some Pope, Bishop, Priest or Pastor – but the people! The church belongs to the people, not some Pope, Bishop or a corporation.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      The church belongs to the people….not some Pope, Bishop, Corporation (DFMS), or would-be Metropolitan (Dr. Schori).

      And the people spoke on November 17.

  5. (The Rev.) Stephen Alexander says:

    I grew up in the midlands, and served as a priest in the upper diocese in South Carolina in the ’70s, and simply can’t imagine what has possessed the good folks in the Low Country. Whatever happened to “love one another as I have loved you”? It seems that anger has replaced love. Secession was a bad idea in 1860 and not any better in 2012.

  6. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    A.S., as a Christian I will refrain from casting aspersions on the “bias” of others. But apparently Lawrence has not read your writings. I was in attendance at a meeting a few weeks ago when he said in response to question about keeping their property “You can follow the buildings if you want to.” His mood noticeably darkened as he went on about how the church was not the physical buildings. He gave no assurance at all that the congregation would keep its property of large holdings in downtown. He warned them to get ready for a long, expensive and difficult fight. If he were as sure as others, he would be absolutely confident and reassuring and bolstering the spirits of his followers. This was not the case. Time will tell, but I should not bet against TEC and its dioceses when courts all around the country time and again have upheld it as an hierarchical institution entitled to manage its own structure.

  7. ed hall says:

    I weep.

  8. Miranda Pasquini says:

    I was instructed that the Episcopal Church looked to three pillars: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason to discern the will of God. To my mind this means that change of any substance especially if it leads to dispute should meet a high bar in order to be instituted. Instead the Episcopal Church ignores significant themes in scripture and throws out tradition altogether when it embraces themes such as same sex marriage and transgendered clergy. Perhaps it places all its faith in reason. Perhaps its argument for love and acceptance of all people has some merit but it does not automatically follow that in order to love someone you must do what they want. South Carolina is a conservative area and places a high value on tradition. South Carolina can also point clearly to scripture to support its position. I think South Carolina has a valid and principled position.

  9. Anita Law Beaty says:

    Thank you, Stephen Alexander and Ronald Caldwell.
    My husband and I are visiting some of our adult children here in Charleston. We are stunned and saddened by this series of events in our church. As a “cradle” Episcopalian, I am saddened, also, by other remarks here that support the views of Bishop Lawrence and clergy who are leaving the Episcopal Church because of the decisions to embrace people and their desire for sacrimental experience of permanent partnership.
    I was born into Trinity Church in Columbia, grew up under Stephen’s father, the lovely George Alexander, and Fitz Allison as an associate, then Gray Temple, who was a mighty leader in the church during the racially charged 60’s and finally Bishop of this Dioceses of S.C. We later moved to Atlanta with my husband and children. We have worshipped at St. Patrick’s Church under Gray Temple, Jr., who is a dear and close friend. The pain and anger that divided that parish the summer we were asked to study “human sexuality” has only strengthened that parish in its commitment to inclusivity and loving community with all people. Organizations based on exclusivity and anger do not thrive. We want to worship today in Charleson, and we do not know where to go.

    Again, thank you, Stephen, I remember you as a youth, and I imagine you are much like your beloved father. For your remarks and for your heritage, I thank you.

    Anita Law Beaty

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