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

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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
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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?

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Mike Colligan
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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.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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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.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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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.

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John Chilton
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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,
https://episcopaldiocesefortworth.org/bishop-high-issues-statement-in-wake-of-texas-supreme-court-action/

Here's what the loyal Fort Worth diocese had to say about the South Carolina decision,
https://episcopaldiocesefortworth.org/south-carolina-supreme-court-rules-property-belongs-to-episcopal-church/
"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.

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David Allen
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David Allen

Hi Chris.

A blessed Sabbath to you.

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David Allen
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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.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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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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Mike Colligan
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Mike Colligan

Prof Seitz I am troubled by your argument that ignorance of church polity (including property ownership) should prevail over reality. This is the type of thinking that created the belief by some that they could leave the church and take (steal) its property with them. As one judge described it Bp Lawrence and his followers engaged in an elaborate masquerade. At some point there is an obligation on the part of the parish clergy (and even professors) to educate the flock about the truth of church polity, the existence of 815 and role of General Convention. If one disagrees with any organization they joined, they are always free to leave. It would have been much more truthful for Bp Lawrence (or Bp Duncan and company) to have announced he could no longer accept the teachings (or whatever) of TEC, go down the street and start a new church than to engage in an elaborate masquerade and prey on people's ignorance. Now that the masquerade is over and it has been confirmed that the emperor was wearing no clothes, it is left to others to clean up the mess he (and his followers) made. Perhaps one hopeful thing we can take away is that there is a little less ignorance about church polity today than in yesteryears.

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Chris Huff
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Chris Huff

Margaret, I was a member of the Standing Commitee of TECinSC when we offered all the parishes in the breakaway diocese their land and buildings if they would return the diocesan assets to us, such as the Camp, the Endowments, the Diocesan Office and bishop's residence, along with name and seal. We were serious, we had our former colleagues in mind with Christian charity, and wanted to bring a way forward to reconciliation. They not only rejected the offer out-of-hand, but ridiculed it as spurious and insincere. The PB approved the deal, and all the diocesan leadership was behind it unanimously. Even the leadership in the mission churches who had lost their buildings because of the schism were for it when we consulted with them.

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

Ms. Wehr, the suit was brought against the Episcopal Church, by the breakaway group. Not the other way around - not initiated by the Episcopal Church.

And surely you must know that TEC offered to give the individual parish "assets" to the breakaway group free and clear, but to have the diocesan identity and name restored. The breakaway group turned that down. Does TEC's offer indicate a motive that was about wealth and assets?

TEC is founded on, and still has, the Creeds and the catechism. I realize that TEC's reputation has suffered from accusations that it abandoned Christ and the faith, but please listen to someone who believed that was true, for a long time - me. It has not abandoned them. The allegations were not true. That people still believe TEC left Christ's teachings behind is, to me, the most disturbing thing about this lengthy controversy.

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Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

We could go back and forth scriving the intentions of hundreds of benefactors from prior generations and get nowhere -- this discussion is all subjectivity, anecdotes, and post-facto rationalization. My equally-useless contribution to that discussion would be to note that benefactors from the 18th century who started the SC Diocese would find both TEC and ACNA equally bewildering.

A better conversation would be centered around Bishop Adams's consistent emphasis on reconciliation:

"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.”

Individual SC Episcopalians, some of whom are angry and hurt, may be indulging in triumphalism, but our Bishop is keeping his eye on the ball.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Ignorant bigots, backward and racist. My father a priest rode to wva diocesan convention and shared a hotel room with an african american priest. In this era.

I lived in CT for 18 years when I was a PhD student and then tenured professor at Yale. I thank God I never met anyone with your predispositions. I do pray you can find a way to understand a world beyond your apartment.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

I can well believe that some Episcopalians in the 50s and 60s—particularly those living in areas such as NC, WVA, LA, and SC—were ill informed about many issues, Professor Seitz. Indeed, most of these regions legally enforced separate drinking fountains, restrooms, schools, etc., for whites and for people of color, didn’t they? While many of these local yokels may have viewed the national Church as “eccentric and distant,” many of us in other parts of the country viewed them as backward and racist.

In fact, many of the contemporary safeguards in the Episcopal Church today, such as the so-called Dennis Canon, were enacted in the 1970s precisely because ignorant bigots in the 50s and 60s were trying to walk off with properties because they didn’t want to be “tainted” with Civil Rights issues of their day. The more things change…

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

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Cynthia Selby
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Cynthia Selby

I pray for reconciliation, for finding the via media so none of us is distracted from our primary purpose: to love God and our neighbors and to follow Jesus.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Did you believe in the 50s and 60s that 815 Second Avenue had a claim on church property in VT, CT, WY, TX, AL, ND, Brooklyn NY; and could discipline Bishops in these and all dioceses as a National Church entity? If so, you lived in an episcopal world I have never encountered. The typical episcopalian in the states where I grew up (NC, WVA, LA, SC) could tell you about their Bishop and knew where his office was, but had no idea about 815 Second Avenue and thought GC was an eccentric and distant reality, one that could be ignored and often strenuously was.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

"No one in the fifties thought of the Episcopal Church as a national entity of some kind, but rather as the church existing in the Diocese. At least anywhere outside of the NE."--Professor Seitz

This is perhaps one of the most bizarre formulations I have seen on this website in many a year. As a life-long Episcopalian who grew up in Western New York the 1950s and 1960s, I can assure Doctor Seitz that many of us thought of the Episcopal Church as "a national entity of some kind." Indeed, I remember the news reports on the Civil Rights movement of those days in which the "national Episcopal Church" took issue with some "local congregations" over their racist and segregationist practices of those local entities...

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

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Margaret Wehr
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Margaret Wehr

This is not God's idea of what should happen. This is a human choice An error made by the Episcopal church in choosing to fight for assets as opposed to loving those brothers and sisters who reverently believe that the church has made decisions...and not just about gay issues..That are away from What Jesus' religious teachings are....

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

I suspect it is almost impossible to carry on a reasonable discussion given superheated feelings.

So when one writes "What we do know for certain is that the donors gave to Episcopal Church congregations," an obvious response for someone in SC would be, "exactly, to the Episcopal Church represented by the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

No one in the fifties thought of the Episcopal Church as a national entity of some kind, but rather as the church existing in the Diocese. At least anywhere outside of the NE.

I suspect that is what the original poster had in mind and knowing EDSC, it makes sense. But as one of the dissenting justices has said, better look out now, after this ruling.

Pray for a modicum of peace through these hard times. If you are in your thirties-forties-fifties with children and are a priest in EDSC, you will be wondering about your financial future. "Told you so" doesn't pay the bills.

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Robert McLean
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Robert McLean

To the pseudonymous C. Sinenomine: Even if were true that the church has changed beyond recognition (something which I certainly don't believe), the fact that "In many cases, these properties were the results of gifts ..." means, I would have thought, that the donors have no claim over the properties. A gift is precisely that, otherwise it isn't a gift. It's up to the recipient how it's used.

Moreover, the paragraph beginning, "It would probably be more in line with the intentions ..." is unadulterated supposition. There's absolutely no way of knowing what donors' intentions would be were they making donations nowadays.

What we do know for certain is that the donors gave to Episcopal Church congregations, not to some schismatic organization.

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

By changing what "the Church" is to the extent that the Episcopal Church (TEC) have done would reasonably suggest to us that the original builders/gift makers would likely not recognize TEC as "the Church."

Respectfully, if "the original builders/gift makers" have been since 1888, they would find TEC constituted around the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, then as now.

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

http://anglicansonline.org/basics/Chicago_Lambeth.html

The Episcopal Church has grown in faith, as led by the Holy Spirit, through the years. It has not fundamentally changed.

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C. Sinenomine
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C. Sinenomine

[Please sign your REAL first and last name when you comment. Thanks editor]

"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."

I think this (above quote), gets it slightly backwards. By changing what "the Church" is to the extent that the Episcopal Church (TEC) have done would reasonably suggest to us that the original builders/gift makers would likely not recognize TEC as "the Church." (If they were here now and could say to us what they think, I really believe many would be pretty disturbed to see what TEC has has changed their church into.) And of course that's why - in the more recent past - many parishes separated from TEC. Those "breakaway" parishes (or "continuing" parishes, to put a different probably more correct emphasis on it) are attempting to preserve "the Church".

It would probably be more in line with the intentions of all those Episcopalians of bygone days to have those churches that they built be used as places to continue what they would recognize as "the Church" - what they would recognize as Anglicanism. I don't believe they would be more concerned about what the name of the church was (TEC vs. ACNA). They would want their churches to remain with those who are seeking to continue the faith and church that they would have recognized and known. If you had a time machine and could somehow gather together a bunch of donors and people who built those churches back then, from as far back as a few centuries ago, many (most?) of them would probably not see TEC as their church, given the changes TEC has made.

Note also that some of these churches are so old that they pre-date TEC, so at least in some cases it's not possible that the ones making the gifts could have intended as the author claims above that the church they were building "remain with the Episcopal Church," which didn't exist yet. The origins of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina go back to about 1660. The US Episcopal Church (arguably a different entity than today's TEC) was formed 1789, over a hundred years later.

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