South Carolina quits the Episcopal Church


South Carolina quits the Episcopal Church


George Conger

The Diocese of South Carolina has withdrawn from the Episcopal Church.

On 17 Nov 2012 delegates to a special meeting of the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina endorsed resolutions affirming the withdrawal of the diocese from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church made last month by the Standing Committee and adopted resolutions amending the constitution and canons to delete reference to the national church.

“Ask yourself how long do I want to spend my time, my soul and my energy in a resistance movement that has proven so fruitless,” Bishop Mark J. Lawrence asked the convention. “We have spent far too many hours and days and years in a dubious and fruitless resistance to the relentless path of the Episcopal Church,” the bishop said, saying it was now time to “move on.”

He added: “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 affirmations of that fact.” 

In a press conference held at the close of the meeting, the canon to the ordinary, the Rev. Jim Lewis said, for the sake of clarity the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is our legally incorporated identity. We have been the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina and remains so.”

The split comes after years of theological and political disputes between the conservative diocese and the liberal hierarchy of the national church over theological issues such as the nature of Jesus, his persons and works and the doctrine of marriage. Disputes over issues of church order and discipline such as the ordination of non-celibate homosexual clergy have also caused tensions, but issues came to a head at the 77th General Convention last July when the diocesan delegation and Bishop Lawrence withdrew from the convention after it adopted provisional rites for the blessing of gay marriages.

On 15 Oct 2012 Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori suspended Bishop Lawrence with the intent to depose him in 60 days for having “abandoned the communion” of the Episcopal Church for not having blocked diocesan moves to insulate itself from recent decisions of the national church. By attacking Bishop Lawrence, the national church triggered a “poison pill” clause in the diocese’s governing documents that automatically disaffiliated it from the national church.

Writing to the diocese on 15 Nov, Bishop Jefferts Schori said the convention had no authority to remove the diocese from the General Convention.  “The alteration, dissolution, or departure of a diocese of The Episcopal Church requires the consent of General Convention, which has not been consulted,” she said.

The presiding bishop told the Bishop of Springfield, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins last week she had not declared the standing committee to be vacant, but acknowledged her surrogates in South Carolina had begun work setting up a rival ecclesial structure.  A spokesman for the presiding bishop told the Charleston Post & Courier the standing committee had lost its authority and were no longer lawful officers of the diocese, in the presiding bishop’s opinion, after they had voted for disaffiliation.

However, the church’s constitution and canons are silent on this point, as they are on and the question of diocesan secession whether a diocese may withdraw.  The issue is currently before the state courts of Texas, California and Illinois. 

Saturday’s vote is the second time the diocese has withdrawn from the General Convention.  During the American Civil War the diocese left the Episcopal Church to join the Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. In 1868 the diocese rejoined the General Convention – the last “Confederate” diocese to vote to do so.

However, Bishop Mark Lawrence told his diocese that this time round the diocese would not affiliate with any other Anglican body, but for the time being would be an extra-provincial diocese of the Anglican Communion.

“We have heard from Archbishops, Presiding Bishops, and diocesan bishops from Kenya to Singapore, England to Egypt, Ireland to the Indian Ocean, Canada to Australia,” Bishop Lawrence told the diocese.

“They represent the overwhelmingly vast majority of members of the Anglican Communion and they consider me as a faithful Anglican Bishop in good standing and they consider this diocese as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church,” he reported.

Bishop Lawrence told Anglican Ink he had been in conversation with bishops of the Church of England who were “eager to help in various ways." However, he declined to say more noting it was best to say nothing more at this time.  But South Carolina Episcopalians were conscious they were “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses praying for us, supporting us, interceding on our behalf with the martyrs,” the bishop said.

A quorum present, three resolutions were brought to the convention for action.  The first affirmed by voice vote the disaffiliation from the national church taken by the standing committee and bishop. The second approved by voice vote amendments to the diocesan constitution removing all references to the national church. A third resolution that amended the diocesan canons to remove references to the national church was approved by a vote by orders with 71 clergy in favor and 3 abstaining, while in the lay order it was passed with 47 in favor and 5 abstaining.

Those abstaining told AI their congregations had not yet decided on what course of action to pursue.  Approximately 12 congregations were not present at the meeting and of those, some are known to be active members of the faction loyal to the national church.

The Rev. Dow Sanderson, rector of the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston said that “Because the Episcopal Church does not recognize the authority of what the Diocese of SC Standing Committee has done, our contention is that we have not "disassociated" from the Episcopal Church. I as rector continue to be a priest in good standing in the Episcopal Church.”

His congregation seen its curate and some members leave to join the Anglican Ordinariate, and his parish had not voted on how to respond to the events of recent weeks. “Voting one side or the other would only divide our congregation further and we do not believe that is necessary, as this is likely to be litigated for a long and painful time.  I am simply trying to build up the Body, survive the sad but understandable departure of some of my closest friends, and stay as far out of the controversy as I can.”

South Carolina Resolutions R1!3!11!17!12 (2)