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South Carolina votes to leave Episcopal Church

South Carolina votes to leave Episcopal Church

The Diocese of South Carolina held a special convention today to vote to affirm the Bishop and Standing Committee’s resolution to leave the Episcopal Church. Episcopal News Service reports:

The majority of South Carolina Episcopalians who attended a special convention at St. Philip’s Church here Nov. 17 affirmed actions by Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocesan Standing Committee a month ago to disaffiliate the diocese from the Episcopal Church.

Those actions took place after Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori restricted Lawrence’s ministry on Oct. 17 after the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops certified to her that he had abandoned the Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the discipline of the church.”

On that same day, the Standing Committee announced that the action of the Disciplinary Board “triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the diocese from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention.”

The bishop referred to the special convention as “the Valley of Decision” during his address and asserted, “It is time to turn the page.” He referred to attempts to prevent separation of the diocese, and his oft-mentioned issues of theology, morality and disagreement with church canons.

…during his address, he claimed that “for now and the foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC, we remain an extra-provincial diocese within the larger Anglican Communion.”

Such a designation requires action by the Anglican Consultative Council, which concluded a 12-day meeting in Auckland, New Zealand, on Nov. 7. No action on South Carolina was taken during that meeting and the council will not meet again until May 2015.

According to a fact sheet posted on the Episcopal Church’s website: “Dioceses cannot leave the Episcopal Church. While some clergy and individuals may choose to leave, congregations and property remain in the diocese to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church.”

From the bishop’s speech to the convention – live blogged (notes not verbatim by the Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon):

You may remember that during a stormy first consent process I stated that: “I have lashed myself to the mast of Jesus Christ and will ride out this storm wherever the ship of faith will take me.” It brought me two years later here to the marshes and cypress swamps of the Low Country. Where many of your relatives landed centuries before—some searching for wealth and others herded like cattle in the hulls of ships. During these past years I have grown to love this land and seascape, spreading down roots in your history and, even more to our purpose this morning, becoming one with you in a common allegiance to Jesus Christ, his Gospel, and his Church.

Consequently, I trust you will understand that I have strived in these past years, contrary to what some may believe or assert, to keep us from this day; from what I have referred to in numerous parish and deanery gatherings as the Valley of Decision.

We have spent far too many hours, days and years in a dubious and fruitless resistance to the relentless path of TEC. And while some of us still struggle in grief at what has happened and where these extraordinary days have brought us, I believe it is time to turn the page. The leaders of TEC have made their positions known—our theological and creedal commitments regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture, the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ, and other precious truths, while tolerated are just opinions among others; our understanding of human nature, the given-ness of gender as male and female, woven by God into the natural and created order, is now declared by canon law to be unacceptable; our understanding of marriage as proclaimed in the Book of Common Prayer “established by God in creation” and espoused by Anglicans around the world hangs precariously in the life of the Episcopal Church by a thin and fraying thread; and our understanding of the church’s polity, which until the legal strategy of the present Presiding Bishop’s litigation team framed their legal arguments, was a widely held and respected position, evidently, is now tantamount to misconduct or worse—abandonment. While the first of these on this listed are by far the more essential and should be center stage, it is the latter that has finally left us no place to stand within TEC. So be it. They have spoken and we have acted. We have withdrawn from that Church which we along with six other dioceses help to found.

The Presiding Bishop and her legal team are now emerging from the shadows. Changing from their previous practice of seeking peace, peace, while waging canonical war.

Those who are not with us you may go in peace.

Rich in heritage is the Episcopal Church, and when I have quarrelled with her it has been a lover’s quarrel.

But we must turn the page. Let us tear our hearts and not our garments.

Therefore, we cannot allow either personally or corporately any root of bitterness, resentment, un-forgiveness, anger or fear to take us like untied and forgotten buoys in an outgoing tide, burying our hearts and mission in some muddy marsh or to float adrift in some backwater slough.

No, we shall turn the page. We shall move on. Actually let me state it more accurately. We have moved on. With the Standing Committee’s resolution of disassociation the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically. The resolutions before you this day are only affirmations of that fact. You have only to decide if that is your will….

The full text of Bishop Lawrence’s speech is here.


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Ronald Caldwell

Thanks Joan for that enlightening summary. Yes, there is a big connection between Pittsburgh and South Carolina. Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge PA was established in 1976 in reaction to the social movements o the 1960’s and 70’s. I would describe it as fundamentalist. SC bishop Allison (1980-90) was a big advocate of it and began bringing in to SC graduates of Trinity. It was under Allison that SC started its diversion down the road of reaction and finally secession (at 85 he is still a loud voice advocating anti-Episcopal views and cheering on Lawrence and secessionism). Lawrence allowed seminarians to attend only Nashodah or Trinity. Thus the rightward trend in SC is nothing new. It has been going on for about 30 years. You may have noticed that DSC failed to consider realignment at its meeting on 11-17. That’s because ACNA already has a bishop of the Carolinas thus precluding Lawrence.

On the property issues, SC is even more complicated than PA because of some peculiar state laws. Too, I think the only case in the entire US where a breakaway parish won a court fight that was not appealed was Pawley’s Island. Lawrence refused to appeal to the US Supreme Court. When St. Andrew’s of Mt. Pleasant bolted he gave them his blessing (and the property). So the secessionists in SC can take heart in those things. It is curious that in view of all this Lawrence still felt the need to issue quit claim deeds at all parishes. I believe he did so not to give them their property, which he believed they already controlled under state law, but to encourage secessionism and to provoke TEC to move against him (he issued the deeds while he was under the first investigation by the DBB). When TEC later did, he claimed “attack” and “assault” on the diocese. But Lawrence is not so sure about property himself. He said to a congregation where I was present “You can follow the buildings if you want to.” His tone turned somber as he gave this group which held a great deal of downtown property no assurance they would keep the property. He knows he is in for a long, difficult, and expensive span of contentious litigation. Rumor has it he has amassed a war chest of $10 m.


In Pittsburgh the crucial case was filed in 2003 by a group concerned that diocesan property was going to be removed from TEC. The case has a laundry list of plaintiffs and defendants, but the first named on each side are Calvary Episcopal Church v. the Right Rev. Robert Duncan. That case resulted in a stipulation signed in 2005 which said diocesan property belonged to the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” In 2006 Calvary returned to court asking that the stipulation be enforced because Diocesan leadership was trying to remove the diocese from TEC. This matter was still before the court when the diocesan convention voted in favor of proposals that purported to remove it from TEC. The diocese which remained in TEC was admitted to the suit shortly after the 2008 vote. In October 2009 the court ruled that the stipulation language clearly meant that diocesan property belonged to the diocese that was still part of TEC. A further order in January 2010 resulted in the turn over of the property to the Episcopalians. The Commonwealth Court panel ruled in February 2011 that the original decision was correct and the full court declined to rehear the matter. The PA Supreme Court also declined to hear any appeals.

The property that was without doubt owned by the diocese included 23 parcels of property occupied by congregations claiming they were no longer in TEC. In these cases title was in the name of the Board of Trustees of the diocese. Eight of these congregations have now voluntarily left the buildings and turned over the control to the Episcopal Diocese.

Half (24) of the ACNA parishes within the bounds of the Pittsburgh diocese are now in rented buildings or sharing space with another congregation, often of another denomination. Some of these are new congregations or congregations that owned no property at the time of the 2008 vote.

There are 14 parishes where title was in the name of the parish. These 14 parishes must contend with the December 2005 PA Supreme Court ruling in the St. James the Less case that upheld Dennis Canon claims by the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

A further footnote. Mark Lawrence was originally from Pittsburgh, attended seminary in Pittsburgh and served Pittsburgh parishes before moving to San Joaquin. Also the South Carolina diocese has numerous priests who either studied at seminary in Pittsburgh, taught at the seminary here or were ordained by Pittsburgh’s bishops.

Joan Gundersen

Paul Powers

TEC and TEC-loyal dioceses have won most of the lawsuits involving a withdrawing parish. All Saints Pawleys Island is the only exception that I’m aware of. However, there hasn’t been a final decision on an appellate court level in any of the lawsuits involving withdrawing dioceses.

Ann Fontaine

The cases in the Diocese of Los Angeles have all gone to TEC

Paul Powers

Ronald, there have been no cases where a court has rendered a final judgment in favor of a withdrawing diocese. The trial court in both San Joaquin and Fort Worth ruled for TEC and/or the TEC-loyal diocese. Both of these rulings are on appeal. The Fort Worth case has been directly appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, and a decision is expected sometime next year. The San Joaquin case is before the California Court of Appeal. Whoever loses in that court may seek further review by the California Supreme Court, but I don’t know whether there’s an automatic right to review in that court.

The Quincy lawsuit is still before the trial court.

Pittsburgh is more complicated. As I understand it, the trial court has ruled in favor of the TEC-loyal diocese with respect to certain properties, but primarily because of a stipulation that Bishop Duncan and others entered into in a previous lawsuit. Unless Bishop Lawrence has entered into a similar stipulation in South Carolina, the Pittsburgh court’s decision is not likely to carry much weight in South Carolina (or the other 3 states). Both the intermediate court of appeals and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have declined to overturn that ruling. I believe that are other properties in dispute that aren’t covered by that ruling, but I’m not clear on how the properties included in the ruling are distinguished from those that are excluded.

The thing to keep in mind with respect to South Carolina is that trial court decisions carry much less precedential weight that appellate decisions, and even appellate decisions from one state are not binding on the courts in another state. So even if the final decisions in the four pending cases all favor the breakaway dioceses, the South Carolina Supreme Court could rule for TEC and/or the TEC-loyal diocese. And the converse is equally true.

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