The latest from the Diocese of South Carolina

The Episcopal Church and former members of the Diocese of South Carolina now affiliated with a breakaway movement led by Mark Lawrence are each attempting to explain their views on the church's polity to the general public, which is never an easy job.


The church quietly posted a lengthy document outlining its understanding of the history of the dispute in the southern half of the state of South Carolina. The most newsworthy section follows:

The Continuing Diocese of South Carolina

Leading lay and clergy persons in the Diocese of South Carolina have begun to plan for the reorganization of the continuing Diocese. A small group of persons representing the breadth of the Diocese has agreed to recruit persons to form a Steering Committee to undertake preparation for a meeting of the Diocesan Convention within the next few months. This follows the pattern set by other dioceses where the former bishop and lay and clergy leaders had left the church.

The next annual meeting of the diocesan convention has previously been set for March 8, 2013.

(Note: Lawrence and diocesan leaders who have left the Episcopal Church have called a meeting for November 17 purportedly of the diocesan convention. This meeting is not a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of South Carolina.)

The Steering Committee at the same time sought assistance and guidance from the Presiding Bishop’s Office.

On Thursday, October 25, representatives of the Presiding Bishop met in Charleston with a small group of lay and clergy persons of the Diocese of South Carolina to outline steps that could be taken by such a Steering Committee. Such a group would, among other things, also be in close communication with the Presiding Bishop during the reorganization effort.

The Presiding Bishop’s Office expects this Steering Committee to announce its formation, its members, and the elements of a reorganization plan in cooperation with the Presiding Bishop within the next several days.

The breakaway faction responded with a different understanding of the church's polity in the Charleston Post and Courier. Here is the key exchange:

Q: While we’re at it, define the word “diocese.” My understanding is a diocese is, by definition, part of something larger; it’s a geographical designation and regional authority within a church. Is the PECDSC technically a “diocese”?

A: We believe that your understanding of the concept of a diocese is incorrect. The proper definition is that a diocese is a district or churches under the jurisdiction of a bishop. The Diocese of South Carolina, for example, predated the existence of The Episcopal Church. A diocese is a community of parishes, in freely chosen union with its Convention, and led by its bishop. No less an authority than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stated that “The organ of union with the wider church is the diocese and its bishop, rather than the provincial structure ... rather than the abstract reality of the ‘national church.’ ” In other words, the organ of union with the wider church is the Diocese, not The Episcopal Church.


Fact sheet: The Diocese of South Carolina
November 9th, 2012

The following information has been prepared in response to queries about recent developments in the Diocese of South Carolina. It includes an overview and timeline of events related to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Mark Lawrence, including pastoral outreach, details of Title IV, and next steps.

Please note:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori along with members of her staff have taken many steps to work with Bishop Lawrence, and she continues to encourage openness to various paths forward.
· Title IV actions were initiated by members of the Diocese of South Carolina, not the Presiding Bishop.

Once Title IV actions are initiated, the Presiding Bishop must abide by the canons and has no influence over the proceedings.
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 (The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society).
Pastoral outreach

Pastoral outreach to Bishop Mark Lawrence has been ongoing over a period of several years, including up to the time he announced his intentions.

The Bishops of Province IV gather twice a year, and Lawrence was in attendance at most or all of those meetings. During each gathering Lawrence was asked what was happening in the Diocese of South Carolina, to which he repeatedly claimed he was “trying” to hold diverse opinions together and keep the Diocese in the Episcopal Church.

In spring 2010 a private meeting was held in Charleston at the request of the Presiding Bishop to see if the trajectory that was apparent could be changed. Also in 2010 several letters and conversations were exchanged between Lawrence and Bishop Clifton Daniel of East Carolina, who is President of Province IV. Additionally during this period, the Presiding Bishop and Lawrence engaged in private conversations. Other bishops, most notably Bishop Andrew Waldo of Upper South Carolina, attempted to intervene and to offer practical help.

Repeated attempts have been made to discuss the situation with Lawrence and to offer help in achieving resolution.

Title IV Overview

In 2009, General Convention adopted new or amended provisions for Title IV Disciplinary Canons discipline of clergy, including bishops.

New Canon IV.16(A) provided that the body to examine evidence of putative abandonment by a bishop was to be a new “Disciplinary Board for Bishops” created under Canon IV.17(3). The Disciplinary Board for Bishops is composed of 10 bishops elected by the House of Bishops and four lay and four clergy persons elected by the House of Deputies.

When the Presiding Bishop receives such a “certificate” from the Disciplinary Board that a bishop has abandoned the Episcopal Church, several canonical actions must ensue, including that the Presiding Bishop “shall then place a restriction on the exercise of ministry of said Bishop. . . .” Canon IV.16(A)(1). The canons state that the “restriction” is to last “until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.” In this case, the House of Bishops meeting is slated for March 2013. There is no provision in the canons allowing the Presiding Bishop to waive or terminate the “restriction” except under precise provisions noted below.

While the “restriction” is in effect, “the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.”

Within 60 days after the bishop’s ministry has been restricted, he or she may appeal to demonstrate that the facts alleged in the “certificate” are “false,” or make a “good faith retraction” of such facts, in which case the Presiding Bishop with the consent of the Disciplinary Board, “shall terminate” the restriction. The bishop may also voluntarily renounce his or her ordained ministry in this Church under Canon III.12(7). Canon IV.16(A)(2).

If none of the foregoing occurs, the Presiding Bishop must “present the matter to the House of Bishops” at its next meeting. If the House consents, the Presiding Bishop “shall depose the Bishop from the ministry” of this Church.

2011 proceedings

On November 28, 2011, the Disciplinary Board announced that it had received information from a group of communicants in the Diocese of South Carolina allegedly showing that Lawrence had abandoned the Church by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church.

In its November 28 statement in response, the Disciplinary Board stated that “[b]ased on the information before it, the Board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the Church.”

2012 Proceedings

On September 18, 2012, the Disciplinary Board signed a “Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church and Statement of the Acts or Declarations Which Show Such Abandonment” in the case of the Bishop of South Carolina.

In its “certificate,” the Disciplinary Board announced that it had “reviewed complaints from twelve adult communicants in good standing resident in the Diocese of South Carolina and two priests canonically resident in that Diocese. . . .”

The Disciplinary Board recited three “Acts” by the bishop to show such abandonment:

First, resolutions came before the diocesan convention in 2010 proposing, among other things, to amend the diocesan Constitution to qualify the diocese’s accession to the Constitution of the Church and to remove any provision acceding to the canons of the Church, as well as proposals to amend the diocesan Canons to remove all references to the canons of the Church. The Disciplinary Board found:
“The failure of Bishop Lawrence to rule these resolutions out of order or otherwise to dissent from their adoption, and in fact his endorsement of these resolutions in his address to the 219th Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

· Second, in October 2011, Bishop Lawrence, as President of the diocese’s nonprofit corporation, filed amendments to the corporate charter deleting all references to the Church and obedience to its Constitution and canons. The Disciplinary Board found:

“Bishop Lawrence’s action in signing, executing, and filing of the Articles of Amendment altering the stated purpose of the nonprofit corporation known as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duty to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

· Third, in November 2011, Bishop Lawrence either signed or directed others to sign, “quitclaim deeds to every parish of the Diocese of South Carolina disclaiming any interest in the real estate held by or for the benefit of each parish.” The Disciplinary Board found:

“Bishop Lawrence’s action in directing the issuance of these quitclaim deeds in an effort to impair the trust interest of The Episcopal Church and of the Diocese of South Carolina in the affected real estate, and in personally executing such quitclaim deeds, violated his ordination vows to ‘conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’ and to ‘guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,’ as well as his duties to ‘safeguard the property and funds of the Church’ and to ‘well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church,’ constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

The Disciplinary Board therefore “request[ed] that the Presiding Bishop record this Certificate and Statement and take such further action concerning Bishop Mark J. Lawrence as may be required by the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.”

Presiding Bishop’s actions

On Monday, October 15, 2012, the Presiding Bishop notified Lawrence by telephone that the Disciplinary Board had certified to her that he had engaged in conduct “constituting abandonment of The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”

The Presiding Bishop in the same conversation notified him that shortly before she placed that telephone call she had in writing “placed a restriction on the exercise of ministry of Bishop Lawrence ‘until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.’” She explained that the document also stated that “[d]uring the period of such restriction, ‘the Bishop shall not perform any Episcopal, ministerial or canonical acts.’”

On the same day, copies of both the Disciplinary Board’s “Certificate,” together with all pertinent attachments, and the restriction on the exercise of his ministry were e-mailed to Lawrence through his Chancellor.

In her call to Lawrence on October 15, the Presiding Bishop told him that she would not make the developments public until after Monday, October 22, when Lawrence and Bishop Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, together with their Chancellors, were scheduled to have a confidential meeting with the Presiding Bishop in New York. She understood Lawrence to agree to the confidentiality of these developments until that time.

The Presiding Bishop received a telephone call from Lawrence on Wednesday, October 17, in which she understood him to say he could not keep the agreement to hold the Board’s “Certificate” and the restriction on ministry in confidence until after the following Monday’s meeting. She understood him to explain that the Chancellor of the Diocese had concluded that under the Diocese’s rules, the disciplinary action against Lawrence had triggered a change in the status of the Diocese to the effect of its having “disassociated” from the Episcopal Church.

On the same day, an announcement on the diocesan website stated that the “leadership” of the Diocese “had in place resolutions which would become effective upon any action by TEC [i.e., Church].” The statement continued: “As a result of TEC’s attack against our Bishop, the Diocese of South Carolina is disassociated from TEC, that is, its accession to the TEC Constitution and its membership in TEC have been withdrawn.”

Later that week, Lawrence telephoned the Presiding Bishop to say that he was not in a position to meet with her and Bishop Waldo in New York the following Monday as planned.

The Continuing Diocese of South Carolina

Leading lay and clergy persons in the Diocese of South Carolina have begun to plan for the reorganization of the continuing Diocese. A small group of persons representing the breadth of the Diocese has agreed to recruit persons to form a Steering Committee to undertake preparation for a meeting of the Diocesan Convention within the next few months. This follows the pattern set by other dioceses where the former bishop and lay and clergy leaders had left the church.

The next annual meeting of the diocesan convention has previously been set for March 8, 2013.

(Note: Lawrence and diocesan leaders who have left the Episcopal Church have called a meeting for November 17 purportedly of the diocesan convention. This meeting is not a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of South Carolina.)

The Steering Committee at the same time sought assistance and guidance from the Presiding Bishop’s Office.

On Thursday, October 25, representatives of the Presiding Bishop met in Charleston with a small group of lay and clergy persons of the Diocese of South Carolina to outline steps that could be taken by such a Steering Committee. Such a group would, among other things, also be in close communication with the Presiding Bishop during the reorganization effort.

The Presiding Bishop’s Office expects this Steering Committee to announce its formation, its members, and the elements of a reorganization plan in cooperation with the Presiding Bishop within the next several days.

Comments (13)

"The proper definition is that a diocese is a district or churches under the jurisdiction of a bishop. The Diocese of South Carolina, for example, predated the existence of The Episcopal Church. "

By that definition, the Diocese of South Carolina didn't really predate the existence of the Episcopal Church at all. Sure, it was organized in 1785, and entered the Episcopal Church in 1790, but they didn't elect a bishop until 1795. How could they be "a district of churches under the jurisdiction of a bishop" without a bishop - even a bishop-elect?

Bill Dilworth

Good catch, Bill.

I find the overview quite helpful in understanding what's going on in SC.

June Butler

We have been through this four times already: San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, Fort Worth. In all cases where the courts have ruled, judges have come down on the side of TEC as a hierarchical institution entitled to administer its own structure. Some cases are still pending in the courts. Lawrence et al are counting on SC being different because of the Pawley's Island case where the SC supreme court ruled in favor of the local congregation. In addition, Lawrence has made the legal issues in SC more compliccated by his issuance of the quitclaim deeds to the local parishes. What we can expect is years of expensive litigation leading to eventual settlement on the side of TEC.

Whatever the case, they joined the Episcopal Church at its formation once the dust of Revolution settled and it was clear by mutual agreement (American Anglicans and CoE) that post-Colonial America was not under the Bishop of London. Case closed. Rabbit hole sealed. It's the joining that matters.

Did they object when the Anglican Communion recognized TEC as a province which includes the territory of the United States? Nope.

How I wish the orthodox bishops of TEC had treated the likes of Pike and Spong with similar grace and openness.

It appears that at least two out of the three actions by Bishop Lawrence (if not all three) took place before the original Disciplinary Board's ruling that they didn't have enough information to certify abandonment, yet a year later those same events suddenly constituted such abandonment. What changed? I'm a little confused.

I am also more than a little confused and aggravated that a canonical provision wasn't adopted at GC 2012 to handle situations such as this without using the abandonment clause, which was never meant for this situation. After experiences with the other four dioceses, couldn't this have been foreseen?

Tom Ssramek, Jr.
As far as I'm concerned the difference between the first hearing (2 charges) and the second (3 charges) is that in the first it was a matter of his mistaken opinion. Some changes, but no harm done that couldn't be undone when calmer heads prevailed. The canons were changed but there was no attempt to leave. No doubt many prayed that he would see the light and turn around before it was too late. However, his signing quit claim deed transfers is an action against the whole Church. It's the difference between planning to rob a bank and robbing a bank. We are a church where we are supposed to be working together for the cause of Christ and that makes us naturally unwilling to charge a member with intent to do the unity harm; they have to do the crime before we will execute justice... the Body suffers once more.

Tom Downs

Pike and Spong tried to take their dioceses out of TEC? No, Nikolaus, there's nothing "similar" between them and schismatic soon-to-be-ex-bishop of South Carolina.

JC Fisher

No civil trial or decision No ecclesiastical trial, never mind judgment. Mark Lawrence is simply assumed to be guilty. Explain to me how this is not a coup d'etat on behalf of a small minority of South Carolinians. Or the actions of a Christian church, for that matter.

Christopher Johnson, the bishop was no more assumed to be guilty than someone who is arrested by the police is assumed to be guilty. The action that triggered the attempted secession of the diocese was a restriction of his ministry until the House of Bishops could investigate the charges. He chose not to wait for an investigation, and attempted to lead the diocese out of ECUSA. Explain to me how that is not an open violation of his ordination vow to conform to the discipline of the Episcopal Church.

Bill Dilworth

Simply put, Title IV is unconstitutional under the TEC constitution.

GC passed resolution C049 which says:

"It has been noted by a number of experts on Canon Law throughout The Episcopal Church that there are several clauses within the latest revision of Title IV which appear to be in violation of the provisions of the Constitution of The Episcopal Church."

and GC resolution C116 questions the consitutionality of Title IV also.

Joe Monk


Joe Monk, the references to the supposed unconstitutionality of Title IV is not contained in the resolutions themselves, but in the explanations attached to them. The explanations are not part of the legislation. The resolutions merely call for study of the issue. As you note, GC passed these resolutions, so the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons will look into it.

In any case, even if Title IV as revised is unconstitutional, it doesn't excuse the attempted secession of the diocese.

Bill Dilworth

A paper written by Duncan A. Bayne, Stephen F. Hutchinson and Joseph L Delafield, rebutting the charges of unconstitutionality was published in 2011, and might be of interest here. It was reported by ENS and the Cafe back then, but because of link rot it's not as accessible as it once was. Here's a link to it for those interested: http://www.collegeforbishops.org/assets/1145/tiv_paper3cl.pdf

Especially interesting (to me, at least) is the observation that Article II Section 3 of the Constitution, (cited by opponents to Title IV as forbidding the PB from taking action directed in the new version of the Title) cannot possibly apply to the PB in the way that opponents say it does. The relevant passage reads, "A Bishop shall confine the exercise of such office to the Diocese in which elected..." The Presiding Bishop does not have a diocese, and has been required to relinquish any diocesan jurisdiction upon assuming the office. The paper also points out that the Constitution says that the PB's duties are to be provided for in the Canons.

Bill Dilworth

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