Presiding Bishop issues pastoral letter to South Carolina

The Presiding Bishop the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a letter regarding the Diocese of South Carolina:

The following is the November 15 Pastoral Letter from the Presiding Bishop. ______________________________________________________________________ Katharine, a servant of Christ, to the saints in South Carolina.

May the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus our Savior be with you all.
You and the challenges you are facing in South Carolina remain in my own prayers and in those of many, many Episcopalians. As the confusion increases, I would like to clarify a number of issues which I understand are being discussed.

1) While some leaders have expressed a desire to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese has not left. It cannot, by its own action. The alteration, dissolution, or departure of a diocese of The Episcopal Church requires the consent of General Convention, which has not been consulted. Examples of legitimate separation from The Episcopal Church include the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, which separated from The Episcopal Church in 1990 to form an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion. Another is the Diocese of Liberia, which moved from The Episcopal Church to the Province of West Africa, by mutual consent, in the 1980s. Both are now part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and continue in covenanted relationship with The Episcopal Church. Nothing of the sort has transpired within the Diocese of South Carolina.

The decisions “announced” by leaders in South Carolina appear to be unilateral responses to anxiety about decisions made by General Convention and/or the actions of the Disciplinary Board concerning Bishop Lawrence.

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. 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.

2) I want to urge every parishioner and cleric in South Carolina to recognize that, as long as you wish to remain in The Episcopal Church, no leader, current or former, can exile you, remove you, or separate you from it without your consent. That decision is yours alone. It is one reason why we have imposed checks and balances on the authority of members of the clergy, including bishops. In our tradition decisions about the Church are not made unilaterally.

Disagreement about a variety of issues is normal in this Church, and has historically been considered a healthy sign of diversity. Since the time of the early Church we have recognized that none of us is fully cognizant of the mind of God. The major struggles of the first generation of Christians were over much-debated issues of inclusion – could the uncircumcised be full members? Who could be baptized?

Please know that The Episcopal Church wants you to remain!

Your presence adds to the ability of this community to discern the will of God, even if you disagree vehemently with one or another resolution passed by a particular General Convention. There will be another General Convention in less than three years, and another after that. Never in the history of Christianity have all the faithful agreed about everything, and I doubt very much that we will come to full agreement about everything before we join the saints in light at Jesus’ Second Coming!

3) A number of charges have been raised by these apparently departing leaders around actions by the wider Episcopal Church. They fall into two areas – one having to do with Bishop Mark Lawrence, concerning his actions in South Carolina, and the other having to do with several bishops who filed statements about Episcopal Church polity (governance) in courts in Illinois and Texas. These are entirely separate matters, governed by independent processes.

Bishop Lawrence was charged by several members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with having “abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church” by making or condoning actions which repudiate the polity (violate the canons or rules) of The Episcopal Church. These actions have to do with formally attempting to separate the Diocese of South Carolina, its congregations, and their property from the wider Episcopal Church without its consent. The Diocese of South Carolina is a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, and that status cannot be altered without the action of General Convention.

The disciplinary processes of this Church carefully considered the matters with which Bishop Lawrence was charged, and the Disciplinary Board found that he had indeed repudiated the polity of this Church. It then became my canonical responsibility and obligation to limit (“restrict”) his formal ability to function as bishop until the entire House of Bishops can consider these charges. Bishop Lawrence has an extended period (60 days) in which he can repudiate those charges, and I stand ready to respond positively to any sign that he has done so.

The other matter concerns nine bishops of The Episcopal Church who have participated in court filings that deny the hierarchical nature of this Church. Charges have been made by some Standing Committees and other bishops against those nine, and the parties involved are being asked to agree to seek conciliation under the disciplinary canons. That means that those involved are trying to find a resolution that will end the disciplinary process. I believe all involved see that as a positive endeavor.

4) Clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina should be advised that they remain members of this Church until they renounce their orders or are otherwise removed by Title IV processes. They may also continue to contribute to the Church Pension plan until such formal separation. In any case, the contributions made while the member was active in The Episcopal Church remain vested in the plan and a pension may be drawn when the plan’s rules permit. The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support Episcopal clergy in South Carolina who wish to remain members of this Church.

5) The same is true of all – The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support loyal Episcopalians who wish to remain members of this Church. My desire, and that of most Episcopalians, is that every member of this Church find a home here that supports his or her spiritual growth in the love of God in Christ, and the love of neighbor. The Episcopal Church has traditionally been broad and diverse enough to welcome and include a great variety of ways of pursuing that spiritual growth. We want it to stay that way, because we believe that we have greater opportunity to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit when diverse voices are present.
At the same time, we recognize that an individual may decide that his or her spiritual growth means the individual needs to find another worshipping community. After thorough discernment, if a person decides that the journey will lead elsewhere, our task is to bless and pray for that person. Nevertheless, the saints have generally shown us that stability – remaining in relationship, even when it is challenging – is ultimately the healthier, if harder, choice.

6) The Episcopal Church and its leaders are working hard to keep the doors and relationships open to all who wish to be part of this body. We are far from perfect, but we do believe we have greater opportunity for repentance and redemption in dialogue with those who differ or disagree, because we believe God is likely speaking through those around us. Together we pray in hope of discovering a fuller sense of God’s leading.

I give thanks for you and will pray for your decision making. I remain
Your servant in Christ,

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Comments (17)

I really wish that this "pastoral" letter began with actually-pastoral concerns and conciliatory sentiments, rather than leaping straight into polity legalese.

Phil Gentry

Pastoral Letter may be a misnomer, but it is a Pastoral Letter by definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastoral_letter

Addressing truth, difficult truth, when feelings are running way out of control, IS Pastoral.

Stark reality/sanity is spiritually better than passionately misleading others by playing pretend that *things* are different than they really are (just because one insists that they ought be).

Thank you, Presiding Bishop Katharine, for explaining the position of The Episcopal Church in regard to the recent irregular acts of defiance at TEC Diocese of South Carolina.

"...to the saints in South Carolina. May the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus our Savior be with you all. You and the challenges you are facing in South Carolina remain in my own prayers and in those of many, many Episcopalians."

It seems to me that "actually-pastoral concerns and conciliatory sentiments" is EXACTLY how she began, Phil.

JC Fisher

Seems abundantly clear to anyone who wishes to see it that Bishop Lawrence had every intention of staying. In the Episcopal Church is which I was raised there was room for all sorts of differences of opinion, theological and otherwise. Of course it was also a given that we were working to amend our lives and not trying to get exemptions from our own peculiarities. But, again to anyone who wishes to see it, Bishop Jefferts Schori is making it the hallmark of her administration to squelch anything that dissents from her opinion. VERY un-Anglican. Of course, if you choose not to se the obvious...

Phil is exactly right. This letter is condescending, arrogant, and patronizing. "The Episcopal Church wants you to remain!" No it doesn't! If that were the case, there would not have been the need for Bp. Lawrence's 2nd election as bishop diocesan. The only reason she wants SC to remain is so the parochial reports wouldn't look quite as abysmal as they already do. South Carolina is one of the only dioceses in the country showing growth and that is because they have the courage to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a broken and hurting world. They still have the courage to call sinful that which the Bible calls sinful, abhorrent, and an abomination. Instead of telling people what they want to hear, they have the faithfulness to tell people what the Bible actually says and means. Hiding behind the canons and legalese isn't pastoral, it's pathetic. God will not be mocked.

Fr. Will McQueen

Let's see if I understand you: I "choose" not to see your "obvious", in the same way I "choose" my "own peculiarities" (from which I am "trying to get exemptions").

I'll give you this much, Nikolaus: you're consistent.

JC Fisher

Arranging things so that any canonical discipline directed at himself propels the diocese (in his mind) out of the Episcopal Church into a never-before-seen "sovereign diocese" mode hardly sounds like the actions of someone planning to stay, Nikolaus.

Bill Dilworth

@Nikolaus: "Planning to stay" is not the same as "acting to leave." The former, by definition, involves working towards consensus or resepctful disagreemnet; the latter, working towards departure. Perhaps you could clarify for me how the quitclaim deeds issued by Bishop Lawrence reflect his desire to stay.

- Eric Bonetti

@Fr. McQueen: I trust the diocese has taken a similar view towards other aspects of the Levitical code. Planning to stone Gen. Petraeus? Or did you lose sight of the OT provisions regarding adultery?

Erix Bonetti

wow fr. Will don't hold back...tell us how you really feel!
All I can say you have your Bible religion, fortunately for the world, there is this guy named Jesus who points us to a better, greater way called the kingdom of God

[Editor's note: Thanks for the comment. Please leave your full name next time.]

"God will not be mocked": typed in Voice-of-God font.

Come now, Fr Will, can anyone (me, my 92 year-old cradle/still happily Episcopalian father, ++KJS, anyone) really have a dialogue w/ you when you're in Voice-of-God mode?

Scripture, Tradition and Reason: I (prayerfully) rely upon them, as I assume you do, too. Climb down off the cross, and meet us at the table.

JC Fisher

I weep when I witness the persecution of church leaders who struggle to remain faithful to scripture and the creeds. I pray that the new Archbishop of Canterbury can find a way to discipline the American church and maintain communion with the dioceses, the parishes, and the parishioners who have been forced to leave the church they love.

Mr. Fischer, you don't want dialogue, you want domination. I've read your past posts on this site, and they are completely full of hatred and venom. Your response to me was a prime example.

And Mr. Bonetti, thanks for the re-hash of the shellfish, stone adulterers line yet again. One doesn't have to rely on Leviticus alone, the whole of Scripture maintains the ideal of marriage as one man and one woman.

There has still never been an adequate theological argument presented by anyone that can overturn Scripture, 2000 years of Tradition, and Natural Law/Reason on this issue. There has been a great deal of posturing, feelings, and hermeneutical gymnastics, but nothing of real substance.

The Continuing Episcopalians in South Carolina have a great website www.episcopaldioceseofsc.org where folks can stay in touch with the news. We can also e-mail them at episcopaldioceseofsc@gmail.com

I think that I shall choose to stick to my resolution not to debate about the status of LGBT people any more. The arguments are there for any who wish to find them.

As to ++KJS letter, I think that it seems a reasonable response to the present "crisis." Everybody is making the right "noises" but I think that any real "step back" is highly unlikely at this point. There can be no doubt that Bishop Lawrence and his associates have been working towards this day for a long time. The constant disparaging of the rest of the church and the rightly elected presiding bishop, the constant snide remarks, the cultivation of the atmosphere of Dio SC as "persecuted" by the evil "Miss Schori," the booby-trap secret "explosive" secession plan ready to "spring" into action should evil "TEC" take any steps against poor persecuted Bishop Lawrence and the real true and faithful followers of Christ in DioSC..... I may be just a dumb neurologist, but you don't have to spit in my drink too many times before I get the idea that it was not accidental.

I do think that we can discern the real purpose of this letter, however. Not everyone has already drunk the poison Koolaid in DioSC, and there may be individuals who are truly confused need to understand that they need not be "dragged along" into the "noble exile" that Lawrence and his minions has so carefully crafted. The "departure" of the _diocese_ is and always will be a fiction. Our Most Reverend Presiding Bishop has opened the door and offered a note of clarity to the truly confused, and this is as it should be. We need to stop pretending that Lawrence has been "pushed" to this by TEC and wringing our hands over this No such thing has happened. Bishop Lawrence and his associates in DioSC have been throwing fuel on the fire of schism so consistently that there could be no doubt that it would not burst into flames at some point. It is to the credit of the rest of the church that it lasted so long without doing so.

Can we please put to bed the notion that South Carolina is our only growing diocese?
a) not growing. It most recently peaked in 2004.
b) not even the best performer. Outside of the Latin American dioceses, our diocese with the lowest rate of decline (we don't have a growing one, at least if your metric is ASA) is East Carolina. At -0.4% over the last 10 years, that's basically flat.

I'm not in that diocese (I live in Indianapolis), but we might learn a little more from a diocese that's apparently doing something right than cave to the notion that theological "conservatism" is a prerequisite to growth.

http://viewfromtheprintshop.blogspot.com/2012/09/whats-going-on-in-diocese-of-east.html

Brendan O. Hale

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