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Breakaway South Carolina diocese moves on two legal fronts

Breakaway South Carolina diocese moves on two legal fronts

Following a second loss before the state supreme court, the breakaway diocese in South Carolina will continue to pursue its claim to Episcopal Church property through the court system.


Late last week the South Carolina Supreme Court denied the request for rehearing made by the breakaway diocese. In a decision issued in August the court said 27 parishes occupied by the breakaway belonged to the Episcopal Church and its local diocese.


After their appeal was rejected by the state supreme court, the breakaway diocese has decided to ask the United States Supreme Court to take up the case.  In a statement , Bishop Lawrence of the breakaway diocese wrote in a statement;

So we have before us our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ to which we are unwaveringly wedded; a civil concern for religious freedom for ourselves and others; and a public duty to petition for constitutional due process to be upheld. Any of these might justify taking the next step down this legal road. Together they make a three-fold cord not easily broken.


In a separate legal action, the breakaway diocese has made a claim against the 27 parishes that the State Supreme Court has said are rightfully part of the continuing diocese of the Episcopal church.  They filed a suit in Dorchester County seeking compensation for “betterments” made during their occupation of the property.


Bishop “Skip” Adams and Thomas Tisdale, Chancellor of the continuing diocese both expressed their disappointment in the continuing recalcitrance of the Lawrence-led diocese as well as their hope that all parties might begin putting their energy towards reconciliation.

“This new filing is not only completely without merit, but unfortunate and inappropriate. It moves us no closer to the kind of resolution that restores unity to our diocese,” Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale said.

Bishop Adams said; “I appeal to the leaders of the disassociated group and their counsel to allow the people in the affected parishes to start having the necessary conversations with us to ensure that they can continue to worship in their churches. It is time to begin healing this division.”


All parties in the case have previously agreed to mediation to work out how to implement the Supreme Court ruling as well as issues raised in a separate federal lawsuit over the name and seal of the diocese. That mediation is scheduled to resume in Columbia, SC December 4-5.


image: Bishop Gladstone “Skip” Adams and Bishop Mark Lawrence


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Prof Christopher Seitz

I am on holiday at Hilton Head Island SC and return to France soon.

I was looking at the specific case of St Mark’s Port Royal, as illustrious of the situation across the diocese. Fully 14 years ago. So 5 before Mark Lawrence came on the scene, they declared they did not like the church options in the area (one presumes St Luke’s HHI, Church of the Cross Bluffton, St Helena’s Beaufort, all very large and central). They decided to start up their own church.

Now of course they find themselves in the new Episcopal Church of SC entity. The idea that they were driven out of area churches due to the recent developments (Bishop Lawrence, etc) is false. They acted to separate themselves 14 years ago and create their own church.

Throwing the word schismatic around is dramatic, but clarifies nothing. One could equally say that 14 years ago they broke fellowship with the active parishes where they live.

David Karoly

I don’t understand how a Diocese can leave the Church, that would be like the engine leaving the car or a County leaving the State because it doesn’t like the Governor.

The Texas Supreme Court seems to have created a presumption that a Church is congregational unless there is clear and convincing evidence that it is hierarchical and, at any rate, they construe their trust statutes strictly along with Illinois (and maybe Missouri but I didn’t read that one).

The South Carolina majority looks a lot like California except that the California Supreme Court opinion involved a parish leaving the Diocese of Los Angeles. The San Joaquin case avoided the Dennis Cannon question because Schofield waited until he was no longer the Episcopal Bishop to execute his, sketchy at best, Grant Deeds. The South Carolina dissent looks like the Texas majority.

My uneducated guess the U.S. Supreme Court will not take the SC case.

Kenneth Knapp

It seems to me that the clergy of the Episcopal Church and its Anglican offshoots would rather fight than flourish.

Jeff Cox

Believe it or not, the ECUSA probably made the wrong decisions 15 years ago to legally fight these claims. The answer should have allowed these groups to exists with hooks into the Pension and Insurance systems. In 15-20 years, people would have forgotten what they were fighting for. Ten Million dollars later you get the mess in the Diocese of California and elsewhere. I have been reading Diocesan Convention reports this year; it reads more like Chapters of the Sierra Club than a church. So many resolutions on the environment and none on reconciliation. I really care about the environment, but I believe having a relationship with Jesus creates bigger transformations that change the world.

Lathe Snyder

Are there any Episcopalians left to occupy these 27 churches? If so, TEC should fight for them. If not, why not sell the buildings to the schismatics and be done with it?

Cynthia Katsarelis

Lathe, there is a continuing church there. I don’t know how many, but they’ve had to make do without their parish homes. TEC had offered a pretty generous settlement quite some time ago. The schismatics rejected it and chose to go to court, and that continues to be the strategy. So no, they won’t buy the property and be done with it, they’d rather spend their money on lawyers and keeping the name and symbols of TEC in SC.

There was an interesting article some time ago that this was the lynchpin to a plan for ACNA to get a stronger foothold and replace TEC as the Anglican church in the US and Canada. That plan doesn’t seem to be working out.

Prof Christopher Seitz

That’s a dramatic account, Cynthia, which suffers only from not being true. By simple parish vote, any church in EDSC which wished to stay in TEC could, and did. I am at Hilton Head Island for the holiday. One parish here voted to stay, the other to leave, by large margins (they were, like most parishes, already self-positioned on one side or the other). The same situation is replicated across the diocese, with the majority staying in EDSC. Those which voted to leave were permitted to keep their church property.

Jon White

“Those which voted to leave were permitted to keep their church property”

That is the essence of the debate isn’t it? You espouse an ecclesiology that says the church is a voluntary association of dioceses. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand understands itself to be a single church, indivisible. Dioceses may be the smallest unit of the church that encompasses the “body of Christ,” but they are not self-contained “churches,” nor can they consecrate their own bishops apart from any other part of the church. The schismatic leaders, with Lawrence at the top, did not have the authority to “permit” parishes of the Episcopal Church to remain part of the church or not.

Prof Christopher Seitz

My point was addressed to a person who said that “I don’t know how many, but they’ve had to make do without their parish homes.”

That is simply false. There is a lot of misinformation going around. Liberal parishes which voted to stay in TEC were allowed to do that.

As for an ACNA base, that too is false. EDSC was quite content to function outside of ACNA for several years. ACNA does seek to replace TEC but to offer an alternative. The radical language of “schismatics” of course other churches (RC etc) can apply to TEC. This inflammatory language doesn’t help. It’s as the commentator above notes. EDSC wasn’t overconfident of a victory. They believe their account of polity and theology is correct by conviction and rationality.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Professor Seitz, there is a letter somewhere that talks about the hope of ACNA replacing TEC. I really don’t have time to find it for you. Perhaps it was that one writer’s hope, but it exists. There were South Carolinians who wrote here in this blog about pulling together gatherings in nontraditional places, as they did not want schism.

As for the radical language of schismatics, it is pretty radical to believe that you can leave the church and take the property with you. If your theology differs, you leave, you don’t stay and pretend you’re the “real church.” Homophobia looks less and less rational each day. All this brouhaha and millions of dollars to keep the gays out? That’s their conviction about the Gospel of Jesus? And it trumps “love your neighbor as yourself” and “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God,” and so on? Go in Peace, but if you want TEC’s property, then buy it. Or negotiate.

Prof Christopher Seitz

It is progress of a kind not to have you repeat: “I don’t know how many, but they’ve had to make do without their parish homes.” That was a falsehood and it confuses the situation as it exists on the ground in EDSC in order to dramatise alleged victimisation. Just looking at the church ads in the local paper, I see under ‘Episcopal’ 3 churches within driving range. Millions of dollars would have been saved if TEC had done for EDSC parishes what EDSC did for parishes wanting to keep their property and theology. Presbyterians have led the way in this fair model of dealing with entrenched and historical differences.

Cynthia Katsarelis

“That was a falsehood”…

Christopher, if an SC Episcopalian writes in a blog that they were worshipping at the fire hall (or wherever it was) after the schism, then it clearly isn’t a falsehood. You would have us believe that 100 percent of the parishioners in each of the schismatic parishes was in support of leaving. That wasn’t true, and some Episcopalians had to work out new worship spaces.

I never saw that the schismatics had any agenda other than to not associate with a gay loving church. I didn’t hear of negotiations from the SC schismatic side, in fact, they turned down a generous offer to keep the properties. So, me thinks that you are reporting as you wished it had happened, rather than the reality. It looks to me as if TEC made a terrific offer, and all this lawsuit money is about SC schismatics seeking recognition as the “real church,” rather than that gay accepting church. There’s no reason they couldn’t work out the property and tweak the logo…

Prof Christopher Seitz

You simply do not know what you are talking about. Sorry to state it this way. All Saints Hilton Head is a very nice church with a history of progressivism. Many years ago, if that was your cup of tea, you left St Luke’s Hilton Head, and vice-versa. Same for Grace Church Wentworth Avenue in Charleston, St Stephen’s Charleston, and on it goes. People in these churches chose to embrace TEC progressivism, and those who worshipped at St Michael’s and St Philip’s left if that was what they wanted, long before this recent unhappiness. The Anglo-Catholic parish in Charleston did not go with the Diocese, even though it was hardly liberal.

I wish you would quit ignoring these facts on the ground. Google Grace Church. It is a booming TEC style church. EDSC said Godspeed.

Jim Von Dreele

The gall for asking for reimbursement of improvements.

David Karoly

They would have to convince the Court that they are a good faith improver which may be difficult since there is a legitimate dispute about who actually owns the property.

I mean I think, I’m not an Attorney.

Jon White

If you steal my car and then put on new tires and a stereo, should I have to reimburse you for those expenses? That’s the exact same scenario regarding the properties at the heart of the suit.

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