[Episcopal News Service] Mark Lawrence, who led some of the members of the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church, has said he remains the bishop of the diocese, and called Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Dec. 5 decision to accept his renunciation of orders as “superfluous.”
“Quite simply I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ — But as I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church,” Lawrence said in a letter posted on the diocese’s website after the presiding bishop’s announcement. “We took this action long before today’s attempt at renunciation of orders, therein making it superfluous.”
Lawrence said that Jefferts Schori called him that day to tell him that she and her Council of Advice had accepted his renunciation made, they said, “in his public address on November 17.” Lawrence said he “listened quietly, asked a question or two and then told her it was good to hear her voice.”
“I did not feel any need to argue or rebut. It is the presiding bishop’s crossing of the T and doting of the I — or their paper work, not my life,” Lawrence said.
He said he thought it would not change anything to bring up to Jefferts Schori what he views as “the canonical problems with what they have done contrary to the canons of The Episcopal Church.”
“She and her advisers will say I have said what I have not said in ways that I have not said them even while they cite words from my Bishop’s Address of November 17, 2012,” he said.
In that Nov. 17 speech to a special diocesan convention, Lawrence said the diocese had left the Episcopal Church a month earlier when Jefferts Schori restricted his ministry on Oct. 17 after the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops had 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 diocesan 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.”
Lawrence asked for and received affirmation from those at the convention of that departure.
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.”
Lawrence ended his letter by asserting that “the majority of Anglicans around the world as well as many in North America … have expressed in so many ways that they consider me an Anglican Bishop in good standing and consider this Diocese of South Carolina to be part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. “
The decision to accept Lawrence’s renunciation cited Title III, Canon 12, Section 7 which begins by saying “If any Bishop of this Church shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made.”
The process is not without precedent. On the same day four years ago, Jefferts Schori and the council accepted Bishop Jack Iker’s renunciation of orders in much the same way after he led many of the lay and clergy members of that diocese out of the Episcopal Church, making public statements to that effect.
In October 2009, Jefferts Schori accepted written statements from Keith Ackerman about his orders.
Ackerman had abruptly announced his retirement as bishop of the Diocese of Quincy, effective Nov. 1, 2008, the day he was to return from a three-month sabbatical. It was also the day the governing synod voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church and to realign the 1,800-member diocese with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Ackerman told the presiding bishop he intended to function as a bishop in the Diocese of Bolivia in the Southern Cone.
“As you know, there is no provision for transferring a bishop to another province. I am therefore releasing you from the obligations of ordained ministry in this church,” Jefferts Schori wrote at the time.
Jefferts Schori and the church’s bishops dealt differently with the bishops of two other dioceses who led the majority of their members out of the Episcopal Church.
In 2008, the House of Bishops authorized Jefferts Schori to depose then-Diocese of San Joaquin bishop John David Schofield and then-Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan from ordained ministry and remove them as bishops after it was determined that they had “abandoned the Communion of this Church.”
Duncan also initially affiliated with the Southern Cone, but later became the leader of the Anglican Church in North America.
All four dioceses are rebuilding and the remaining Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina have been organizing to do the same.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.