Diocese asks courts to return property, identity

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From the news blog of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina:

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S.R.Price
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S.R.Price

I suspect all breakaway congregations are composed of three groups,those strongly opposed to TEC positions ,those who are O.K. with TEC positions,and those without strong opinions who will stay with the building regardless .I doubt that anyone truly has any kind of accurate numbers on those groups.I only know one family,W in a small breakaway parish and they're staying

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

It depends a lot on the parish itself. Church of the Cross Bluffton has very few of your categories 2 and 3. I suspect St Philips in Charleston has slightly more. St Luke's HHI, maybe a bit more...hard to say. All Saints HHI left the EDSC free and clear. St Helena's Beaufort, more like Bluffton. So Prince George Winyah in Georgetown (it is not one of the 28 at all). St Michael's Charleston could have parishioners reluctant to leave the historic property. Yonge's Island -- very much like Bluffton. Summerville, ditto. Sumter, ditto.

"I only know one family" -- I would agree this makes it hard to judge. I know the parishes above, clergy, and folk in them very well. This is simply a fact of my life in the area.

Hence my puzzlement at your comment about people out on the street returning. That is just a false idea tout court.

BTW, I never liked the first name policy here but I see you have been given a pass.

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S.R.Price
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S.R.Price

I don't have personal knowledge of the S.C. parishes but I have been a confirmed Episcopalian since 1966 across the relatively narrow Savannah River in GA.I don't believe Episcopalians/Anglicans on the S.C side are very different from us.I can only use my knowledge of what Georgia Parishioners might do. to speculate on what S.C.parishioners might do.But it is speculation.I wonder if we could move the dialogue to some of the other issues raised by the recent TEC court initiatives?For instance,what happens when TEC auditors begin reviewing financial transactions that occurred during the breakaway period with resources designated for the benefit of the Episcopal Church that were used for some other purpose?

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

"For instance, what happens when TEC auditors begin reviewing financial transactions that occurred during the breakaway period with resources designated for the benefit of the Episcopal Church that were used for some other purpose?"

What resources would this be? The EDSC voted overwhelmingly in Convention to leave TEC. Those parishes which wished to stay did, and their finances are entirely their own and outside of any EDSC business.

The real legal question that will have to be decided is what TEC could owe EDSC if they win, given the long term maintenance of parishes TEC did not contribute to. I believe both sides accept this, even as they may disagree about how to tally it.

The EDSC is not a geographically close twin of Georgia Diocese. They are as different as the Diocese of Dallas and the Diocese of Texas, theologically.

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Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

Many of us loyal Episcopalians would prefer the Lawrencite organization carry on even after the property handover -- thus the possibility of a property settlement exists. If the Lawrence folks, bereft of churches, try to integrate back into TEC congregations, they might try to roll the clock back to 2004 and shame our LGBTQI parishoners, protesting any LGBTQI presence on vestry and in positions of responsibility. As painful as it has been, the schism has drawn an intolerant poison from the TEC in SC body. Having a fifth column in each TEC parish derailing Diocesan Convention with motions about Gene Robinson's eventual damnation would be the true disruption.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

"Many of us loyal Episcopalians would prefer the Lawrencite organization carry on even after the property handover" -- well you may feel you are among "many" who feel this way, but this is not the position of those litigating on behalf of TECSC and TEC. You have a hard sell to change their mind.

Your fifth column idea also sounds like your own -- I have never heard anything along these lines. People who are faced with losing the properties they believe are their own are not returning to the same properties as strangers and foment anti LGBTI propaganda they never had much interest in to begin with. These churches are their homes; they are not staging grounds for LGBTI hatred.

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Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

Under Lawrence gays and lesbians were banned from leadership positions. The price of sitting on vestry, chairing a committee, and/or bearing chalice, lectoring, etc. was to renounce same-sex relationships in theory and practice. This is not rumor, but fact, attested to by gay and lesbian Episcopalians across the diocese. If you were a regular attendee at a Lawrence church since his coming SC, you would not have missed this message. I can't say how many of Lawrence followers "had much interest" in their bishop's preoccupation with this matter. Thousands, if you look at plate and pledge in 2012. Far fewer in 2018, as the ACNA group has hemorrhaged parishioners, but still hundreds.

The continued existence of an ACNA sect in South Carolina would provide a home for folks who agree with Lawrence's worldview. Any loyal Lawrencite is not going to be happy in a building that is transitioning back to a TEC congregation. Heavens! Lesbians are now allowed on the altar guild!

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Even if this overly focused LGBTI attention is remotely true, it doesn't mean your starting point remotely is.

The idea that kicked-out people would return to their formerly home churches to attack LGBTI folk is nonsense times 5.

Have peace in your heart. If TEC wins it will be the end of any further resistance to the progressive agenda. It will be an exit of EDSC people to other places. It will be up to TECSC to decide how to make these churches work. No one will return to assault your prized agendas.

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Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

Please don't reframe my words so you can avoid the icky truth--I am talking about people, not a "prized agenda." Christians who wanted to serve their churches and were told --emphatically and repeatedly -- "no!" by their bishop. People are not agendas. They are people. An "agenda" can't be assaulted, can't be hurt, can't be betrayed or dehumanized. People can be.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

The TEC folk were given complete freedom to keep their churches and follow the teachings of TEC of recent vintage. Complete freedom. No lawsuits. Carry on.

But of course that wasn't good enough for TEC. They have demanded that all toe the TEC line. How much money has been spent to carry this out?

Icky truth? There it is in front of you.

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

Prof Seitz, are you unaware that the campaign against gay members that Dan describes, eliminating their participation, and then telling the whole congregation that the weekly offerings would no longer have the traditional portion given to TEC unless the member specifically requested it; are you unaware that this was to drive away the greatest possible number of members who approved full inclusion? To engineer a voting majority? Are you unaware that the Lawrence group claimed TEC had abandoned the incarnation, the resurrection, and the creeds, which it absolutely had not done? That was the disinformation given in the meeting I described attending, the meeting in which a vestry member told us TEC was no longer Christian. Because that faction knew that too few opposed gay inclusion alone, to give them that voting power? Please don’t assume that TEC people were given complete freedom. The driving-away of those who followed TEC was expertly engineered.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

It is incontrovertible that every parish which stood aside of the EDSC in favor of TEC left with their own property.

What is also incontrovertible that TEC and TECSC did not return the favor but has demanded every parish property they can get their hands on. It is an all-or-nothing policy that, if successful, will empty churches.

Thank God the Diocese of Pittsburgh avoided this kind of retaliatory and expensive stance.

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S.R.Price
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S.R.Price

No one but God knows who will stay.Christ Church ,Savannah left after a church vote of around 250 total votes.Five years later the GA.Supreme Court ordered the historic property returned to TEC.Christ Church was awarded 3 delegates to the 2017 diocesan convention based on an average attendance of around 250.*Just saying

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Christ Church Savannah like 28 parishes in EDSC dug in for now a decade...several of which have over 1000 members? Not likely. The historic church in Bluffton had over 1000 in church at all services at Easter. They have a second campus which they own free and clear. If TEC gets the historic church how many will stay? At the next Easter service there would be under 100. The rest would leave and attend the other campus. At the historic churches on the Pennisula how many would stay? Many would have trouble leaving the buildings but I'd suspect over 60% based on what I have heard. In the rural areas, the attrition will vary north and south of this. My memory of the parish in Savannah is that is not very big and had lost a lot of members over the years due to all the commotion. I spoke to their congregation just before the legal loss. It would be impossible to compare the EDSC with Georgia where CC was a loner.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Boy this will look good on the ground. If granted. 28 parishes. Whose members loyal to the historical diocese could number 75%. What a mess to execute, neighbor against neighbor, on the ground.

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Kenneth Knapp
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Kenneth Knapp

I think I agree with your assertion, but a couple of questions for clarity of my understanding: When you say "the historical diocese," are you referring to the PECUSA diocese or the ACNA diocese? Also, what is the basis for your estimate of 75% loyalty?

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Your question helpfully illustrates just what is at issue. There is only one historical diocese. TECSC--as it is called--is asking that as an "associated diocese" (a term confected) they be able to use that name and occupy it in the various manners here noted.

I have spent many many years in the diocese, have a second home in HHI, and know the clergy and parishes reasonably well. The 28 parishes in question have been through long years of struggle on the side of EDSC. The other parishes that wanted to leave were free to do so and did so.

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Kenneth Knapp
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Kenneth Knapp

So you are saying that in actuality, the parishes that are affiliated with PECUSA left the "historical diocese" by disaffiliation from their elected bishop? That is interesting. I hadn't thought about it in those terms before.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

The EDSC is the legal name of the historical diocese. The entity called TECSC and TEC are suing to block EDSC using the name because they wish to be that entity; the alternative would be to petition the GC to become a new diocese. TECSC does not want that outcome.

EDSC voted in Convention to protect their name and identity if TEC sought to claim them, which transpired. EDSC allowed parishes that 'voted' to stay in TEC to do so, with their properties. That happened some years back. So if you belong to one of the 28 parishes and you wanted to stay in TEC you could join those parishes -- Grace Church Wentworth Ave grew as one of these TEC parishes. Having NOT left means you are not likely to opt to stay if TEC succeeds. Hence 75%. Of course some will stay due to the graveyards and history in the buildings, etc, OK with TEC theology.

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Kenneth Knapp
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Kenneth Knapp

You have raised another question in my mind that goes beyond the property dispute. In a church with episcopal governance, is my primary loyalty (as just the third parishioner in the the third pew) to the diocesan bishop or the presiding bishop if they disagree?

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Do what every generation has done. Ask if the Presiding Bishop is a Bishop in line with the faith Catholic. If not, say your prayers and ask God to help you know how to follow and live in the catholic faith. Or, just enjoy being a protestant consumer of the best religious product that suits...

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Gwen Palmer
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Gwen Palmer

The gay members of my former parish, some of whom had been TEC Christians for decades, and for years-to-a decade+ in that parish, who had served in music and on committees, who had been treated as fellow congregants and neighbors, who had always felt welcome, had their hearts broken. It must have felt like getting getting the breath knocked out of them. This had been their church home. New policies Dan mentioned understated the change, if anything. They were openly called “sodomites” and small gatherings talked about how to “get rid of them.” I sat in a meeting in which a vestry member announced that to go with the Lawrence group was to remain a Christian. The exact quote was “I’ve been an Episcopalian all my life, but I’d rather be a Christian than be an Episcopalian.”

So, no, I did not look at the Presiding Bishop for whether she was “in line,” because I was looking at the (pre-split) EDSC Bishop and found him to be nothing at all like “in line” with the teachings of Christ.

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Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

That gradual purge of gay Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina 2004-2011 allowed the 2012 parish votes to follow Lawrence out of TEC to have the illusion near unanimity, which in turn allowed Lawrence apologists to claim that each congregation chose its own path.

As the legal endgame plays out those same Lawrence apologists are now emulating Captain Renault from Casablanca: "I'm shocked! Shocked to hear of homophobia!"

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Member

But, of course, the issue is what identifies a diocese as "historical?" The argument being made is that what identifies the diocese as "historical" is that which reflects continuing history of affiliation with the Episcopal Church. The action of the Court to say that the parish properties are held in trust for the Episcopal Church is to accept that critical to understanding "historical" is the continuing participation in the Episcopal Church. Thus the decision that it is the Episcopal Church in South Carolina that is the continuing - "historical" - diocese; and the diocese under Bishop Lawrence that is a new creature, name and possession of certain properties notwithstanding.

I don't argue it will be difficult and disruptive nonetheless.

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Kenneth Knapp
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Kenneth Knapp

I thought that one of the arguments was that the Episcopal Diocese of SC predates the establishment of the Episcopal Church and therefore has a history independent of its later affiliation with the national church.

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Member

It is true that the Episcopal Church in the State of South Carolina (the term "diocese" was not used in gathering for the first General Convention) was organized before the first General Convention. However, they participated in the first General Convention (1789) and accepted its Constitution and Canons within a year afterward (1790). It seems the courts felt that over 200 years of acceptance of and full participation in the Constitution and Canons were more significant than the few brief years it took to gather the state organizations for the General Convention. Fr. Seitz and colleagues have made the other argument, as has the diocese under Bishop Lawrence. It appears the courts haven't found that compelling.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

Our argument has to do with the diocesan character of TEC -- the CofE and almost all other churches in provinces of the AC do not have its historic polity. Historically, in colonial times, state lines determined dioceses, and these independent dioceses subsequently associated. New ones formed as missionary efforts and petitioned the GC once they were self-sufficient. The Constitution of TEC makes no mention of 815 Second Avenue owning property in states, and a good number of dioceses, including eg VA, still have no accession clause. Those which do are still independent corporations in great measure and as we saw in LA, can pretty much do with property as they wish without much let or hindrance. The grey area is what Jones v Wolff really means. Five judges in SC wrote five different opinions. In TX and IL the legal victories have gone against TEC. Personally I believe TEC's polity is incoherent, and that is why recourse to secular courts has not had a uniform verdict.

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

TECSC has not tended to speak of itself as 'the historical diocese' and has tended to concede that the language as used by EDSC makes a certain sense. It's argument, by contrast, is that EDSC left TEC and in so doing left the properties behind by this act.

You are free to recast the matter and use the word historical differently and outside the context operating in the region. 'Historical' is of course a popular word in a place like Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown and it means 'old.' TECSC is proudly NOT claiming to be old but to be progressive and up-to-date.

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S.R.Price
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S.R.Price

I am both "old" and "progressive".My understanding of the world is not locked in the 20th Century.The SCSC was plain in it's opinion that the historical Diocese of S.C.is the TEC diocese and left it to the Federal C out to return that name to TEC this Fall Term.Unless SCOTUS agrees to hear the appeal(I believe it's in the best interest of TEC if they do)the loyal Episcopalians will be back in their historical homes by Advent.Praise to you,Lord Christ!!

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Prof Christopher Seitz
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Prof Christopher Seitz

"...the loyal Episcopalians will be back in their historical homes by Advent."

What do you possibly mean by this? Every "loyal episcopal" parish was given the OK to have their property remain their own. No one was thrown out. Grace Church Wentworth Ave, St Stephens, et al are doing just fine as loyal TEC parishes. EDSC did not fight to take these churches away and did not put parishioners out of their "historical homes." Where did you get this idea?

If churches like St Philips become TEC parishes, "loyal Episcopalians" will stay right where they now are. The question is how many; and whether viable; and where the majority will leave and what they will do.

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Rob Donehue
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Rob Donehue

Truth be told, plenty of loyal Episcopalians were kicked out of their historical homes. In many cases, families with ancestry dating back to the original founding of congregations were told they either had to follow a schismatic bishop or else leave their churches. Ask folks from Myrtle Beach, Conway, and Edisto - to name just a few. Indeed, ask people from places like St. Michaels and St. Philips who have been "in exile" since the split.

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Rob Donehue
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Rob Donehue

The above statement is simply not true. The claim of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is that it is the historical diocese. Legal injunctions have so far prevented this assertion, but from the very beginning of the split, the contention of the people of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is that it is the legitimate, historical diocese.

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