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Diocesan leaders to gather in SC to figure out “what next?”

Diocesan leaders to gather in SC to figure out “what next?”

Statement from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina

Episcopal Church leaders from across eastern South Carolina will gather on Friday at Grace Church Cathedral to review the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling on church property and assets and consider the next steps toward resolving the division and confusion resulting from a breakaway group’s lawsuit against The Episcopal Church.

Bishop Skip Adams called the meeting on August 2, hours after the court issued the ruling. Friday’s meetings will include a joint gathering of the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and Trustees, three bodies of clergy and non-ordained elected leaders. Bishop Adams also has called a meeting for the leaders of nine congregations that organized as mission churches since the 2012 breakup left them without buildings where they could worship as Episcopalians.

Both gatherings will give local Episcopalians an opportunity to discuss the complex, 79-page court decision, which includes separate opinions written by all five Supreme Court justices who heard the case. The decision cannot be viewed as final until all possible steps toward an appeal have been resolved.

There are few steps that the diocese can undertake until the court decision is considered final, Bishop Skip Adams said Thursday, making it difficult to answer people who are understandably wondering what happens next.

Once some of the legal questions are resolved, the hope is that conversations can begin with leaders of the congregations that aligned with the breakaway group. “We continue to be guided by the hope of reconciliation,” Bishop Adams said. “We are committed to finding a path that will allow people to continue their life of faith as Anglicans in the Episcopal Church.”

The Bishop called for prayers for all the people of the diocese in a pastoral letter issued on August 2. That letter will be read aloud in each of the 31 Episcopal Church congregations that make up the continuing diocese.

Thursday’s ruling upholds the Episcopal Church’s position that it is a hierarchical church, rather than a congregational one in which a vote within a church congregation can override church law and polity. Churches that adopted the Episcopal Church’s governing documents as part of their governance were then bound to those laws, including the so-called “Dennis Canon.” That canon requires that church properties be held in trust on behalf of the diocese, to be used for the benefit of the Episcopal Church.

According to the ruling, the continuing Episcopal diocese will control all diocesan property of the Diocese of South Carolina, including Camp St. Christopher, along with 29 of the parishes who aligned with the breakaway group and sued the Episcopal Church in 2013. The court found that these parishes had “acceded” to the Dennis Canon. The court ruled that seven other parishes involved in the lawsuit had not acceded to the canon, and could retain their properties. (The 36 churches named in the decision are listed below.)

In many cases, these properties were the results of gifts made by Episcopalians over many years, given with the intention that they remain with the Episcopal Church. In defending itself against the lawsuit filed by the breakaway group, Episcopal Church leaders were charged with a duty to protect the assets of the Church from being removed and used for other purposes.

Under the Episcopal Church’s hierarchical system, when Bishop Mark Lawrence was consecrated as bishop, he was charged with caring for the diocese and its assets on behalf of The Episcopal Church. After he and his leadership took actions aimed at removing the diocese and numerous parish properties, then-Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori placed a “restriction” on his ministry in October 2012, effectively suspending him, and asked him to explain his actions before a disciplinary panel. Instead, he announced that he and the diocese, clergy, and parishes were no longer a part of The Episcopal Church. The breakaway group then filed a lawsuit against The Episcopal Church and the group of local Episcopalians who reorganized the continuing diocese. Eventually, 36 parishes joined the suit.

In 2015, TECinSC made a settlement offer that would have given up any claim to those parishes’ property, in exchange for the breakaway group handing over the diocesan property and assets. The offer was rejected, and TECinSC moved forward with its appeal to the state Supreme Court, resulting in Thursday’s decision.

Subject to the final ruling, parishes listed in the opinion are as follows:

Seven named as not subject to the Dennis Canon:
Christ the King, Waccamaw
Prince George Winyah, Georgetown
St. Andrews, Mount Pleasant
St. John’s, Florence
St. Matthew’s, Darlington
St. Matthias, Summerton
St. Paul’s, Conway

29 named as subject to the Dennis Canon:
All Saints, Florence
Christ Church, Mount Pleasant
Christ-St. Paul’s, Yonges Island
Church of the Cross, Bluffton
Epiphany, Eutawville
Good Shepherd, Charleston
Holy Comforter, Sumter
Holy Cross, Stateburg
Holy Trinity, Charleston
Old St. Andrew’s, Charleston
Church of Our Saviour, John’s Island
Redeemer, Orangeburg
Resurrection, Surfside
St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville
St. David’s, Cheraw
St. Helena’s, Beaufort
St. James, James Island
St. John’s, John’s Island
St. Jude’s, Walterboro
St. Luke’s, Hilton Head
St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston
St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte
St. Michael’s, Charleston
St. Paul’s, Bennettsville
St. Paul’s, Summerville
St. Philip’s, Charleston
Trinity, Edisto Island
Trinity, Pinopolis
Trinity, Myrtle Beach


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William (Bill) Paul III

A very good point. An interesting thought experiment for me, as way of trying to be even handed, has been to imagine how I would have answered a GOE question as a seminarian in 1988 about these matters before the storm hit or before its intensity increased to its breaking point, and before sides on property (and other issues) were taken. I know my seminary class on church governance emphasized the diocese as the fundamental unit of ‘hierarchy’ for instance. That seems to have changed in the collective mindset of TEC. What powers and role does the PB have? Does holding things in trust require an explicit and specified form of assent? What structure do we have to adjudicate the constitutionality of a new canon and old canons and to direct their enforcement? What are the implications of understanding that a Bishop is elected for the whole church? What counts as schism? I won’t list all the questions I have posed in this thought-experiment. But, in the main, for me, following this exercise and trying to think outside of the persons involved in these issues, I think that the political will, expressed by the majority in leadership in TEC has led to some abuses of the canons (Bishop Duncan’s deposition by the means it was accomplished for instance seems to me to have been wrong, even though, I agree, he was moving out the door. Wrong canon used, and not even followed by its own rules.)

A lot of the sloganeering that goes on might be eliminated, it seems to me, if people would take the time to work for a careful description of the issues and problems that caused this crisis. A lot of the caricature of the positions of others might disappear, too. I note in this regard that few here note that the resolution of SC to disaffiliate was triggered by moves made by TEC against Lawrence post-Duncan. Are the descriptions here fair? There is much evidence that his real intent–expressed by the way when the Anglican Communion was considering consequences against TEC, and urging moratoria on us– was to work to stay, as opposition it is true but to stay, in TEC and in the Anglican Communion. But this context is never mentioned in the attacks on him, nor that he was asked from Day 1 by the conservatives in his diocese to leave right away. Why not try to paint the picture fairly?

Mike Colligan

Prof S seems to imply that there is ignorance on the part of the South Carolina Supreme Court. In our judicial system courts actually make binding decisions. Here the Court has spoken. No matter how many locker room kibitzers you get to nit pick the decision, it does not change the result. The masquerade has been revealed for what it was and the Court has declared what the law is.

I hope people are not being misled by reliance on a couple of outlier cases. The law is not what someone thinks it is or ought to be. It’s what the Court says it is. Failure to teach the cases of the vast majority of US jurisdictions continues the march down the path of the uninformed and ignorant.

Prof Christopher Seitz

I am implying no such thing. It was a 3-2 decision. The most recent rulings in TX and ILL went the other way. Obviously an extremely well investigated subject yields different results.

Intelligent people conclude from that that the polity and the law aren’t coming together like tongue and groove.

Prof Christopher Seitz

Mr Allen, The Texas Supreme court and courts in Illinois did not find the arguments fictional.

In addition your ad hoc description of our view is, unsurprisingly, false.

But of course that is how you conduct business. I should think Mr Colligan can do his own evaluation. He does not need coaching or misleading cliff notes.

John Chilton

I would be grateful if Prof Seitz would give more evidence on the Texas and Illinois cases.

For example, has the Texas Supreme Court ruled on the merits of the case? Last heard that court declined to issue a stay of mandate, meaning the loyal Fort Worth diocese’s appeal of lower courts continued,

Here’s what the loyal Fort Worth diocese had to say about the South Carolina decision,
“we await the ruling of the Appeals Court of Fort Worth in our own case.”

Regarding Illinois, I presume Seitz is referring to the Diocese of Quincy where the state supreme court declined to take the appeal of the TEC loyalists.

David Allen

Hi Chris.

A blessed Sabbath to you.

David Allen

Mike C, I knew that you were lacking a more in-depth history of whom you expected to have a logical conversation. He and his friends with a website are some of the originators of the recent idea that TEC has never been a national church. They want to argue that TEC is a loose confederation of dioceses who may come and go as they see fit. At the same time, they also propagate another fiction regarding the Anglican Communion, that it is an international church with a magisterial authority embedded in the dictates of the Primate’s Meeting and the bishop’s meeting, the Lambeth Conference.

When in fact they have it backwards; it is the AC which is the loose voluntary confederation of regional and national churches and TEC which is the autonomous national church made up of dioceses which are not free to come and go.

Prof Christopher Seitz

Ignorance of church polity worries me tremendously since I teach it and see TEC consistently misrepresented by people, whether in LA or in SC, on left and right.

The relationship between a Diocese, diocesan property and something latterly called a ‘national church’ is fraught, given the peculiar history of this church in the USA.

Until that ends up in genuine TEC constitutional revision, there will continue to be SC and LA, on left and right.

A good place to start is to read the link supplied by Ft Worth in respect of the SC decision. You will see relevant points at concern. Thinking Anglicans has the link available.

A more serious effort to explain the polity when it confronts state law can be found in the ruling of the Illinois Judge in 2015. When you have digested these you can begin to understand what proper use of the term ‘ignorance’ means. I heartily commend these sources.

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