Disciplinary Board dismisses abandonment complaint against Bishop Lawrence
November 29, 2011
TEC has yet to consider the consequences of SC Diocese issuing Quitclaim Deeds
Disciplinary Board dismisses abandonment complaint against South Carolina bishop
-Communicants alleged Mark Lawrence aimed to leave Episcopal Church.
By: Mary Frances Schjonberg, November 28, 2011
[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops Nov. 28 said it cannot certify that Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence has abandoned the communion of the church.
"Based on the information before it, the board was unable to make the conclusions essential to a certification that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the church," the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr., board president, said in a statement e-mailed to Lawrence and reporters. (Henderson said he informed Lawrence of the board's conclusion by telephone as well.)
The board met Nov. 22 via conference call to consider information given it by a group of communicants in the diocese.
Under Title IV, Canon 16, a bishop is deemed to have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the doctrine, discipline or worship of the church; by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the church; or by exercising episcopal acts in and for a religious body other than the church or another church in communion with the church.
"Applied strictly to the information under study, none of these three provisions was deemed applicable by a majority of the board," Henderson said in his statement.
In the Nov. 28 statement, Henderson said that the disciplinary board faced what he called a "basic question" of "whether actions by conventions of the Diocese of South Carolina, though they seem -- I repeat, seem -- to be pointing toward abandonment of the church and its discipline by the diocese, and even though supported by the bishop, constitute abandonment by the bishop."
"A majority of the members of the board was unable to conclude that they do," Henderson said.
Henderson, the retired bishop of Upper South Carolina, noted that it is "significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church -- that he only seeks a safe place within the church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it."
"I speak for myself only at this point, that I presently take the bishop at his word, and hope that the safety he seeks for the apparent majority in his diocese within the larger church will become the model for safety -- a "safe place" -- for those under his episcopal care who do not agree with the actions of South Carolina's convention and/or his position on some of the issues of the church."
Lawrence told the diocese Oct. 5 that he was being investigated for abandonment. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the House of Bishops were not involved in making the claims, Henderson said at the time via a "fact sheet."
The package of documents alleging his abandonment of the church that Lawrence said he received Sept. 29 from Henderson, is posted here on the diocese's website. The documents contained 12 allegations of when Lawrence's "actions and inactions" sought to abandon the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.
Those allegations cited five specific diocesan convention resolutions that Lawrence supported. In addition, the allegations also claimed that Lawrence has removed all references to the Episcopal Church from the diocesan website and noted that half of the congregations with working website have done the same or offer links to breakaway Anglican organizations.
"The bishop appears to have done nothing to stop other parishes which are outwardly moving in the direction of withdrawal" from the Episcopal Church, including parishes that have sought or obtained legal advice on those moves, allegation seven said.
Three allegations referenced comments made by Lawrence about what he calls the Episcopal Church's "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity" and his description of the church as a "comatose patient" that has slowed down Anglicanism in the 21st century.
It is also alleged that missions are being planted in the diocese but Lawrence has not recognized "a congregation of loyal Episcopalians" as a parish or mission.
The 12th allegation surrounded the circumstances of the ordination of Lawrence's son.
The diocesan leadership has engaged in a series of moves to distance itself from the Episcopal Church, ultimately stemming from disagreements over human sexuality issues and theological interpretation. In October 2009 the diocese authorized Lawrence and the Standing Committee to begin withdrawing from churchwide bodies that assent to "actions deemed contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them, the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference which have expressed the mind of the communion, the Book of Common Prayer and our Constitution and Canons, until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions."
That authorization came in response to two General Convention resolutions passed two months earlier that focused on human sexuality and reaffirmed the Episcopal Church's commitment to the Anglican Communion. Resolution D025 affirms "that God has called and may call" gay and lesbian people "to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church." Resolution C056 calls for the collection and development of theological resources for the blessing of same-gender blessings and allows bishops to provide "a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."
In his Nov. 23 interview with the Living Church Lawrence said that provision gave permission to bishops to act contrary to the Episcopal Church's canons, its prayer book, church history and the church's historic teaching on marriage.
In October 2010, the South Carolina convention approved six resolutions in response to General Convention's 2009 passage of revised Title IV canons on clergy discipline, according to an explanation posted on the diocese's homepage before the convention. The convention met again in February 2011 and passed two of those resolutions again as required, amending the diocesan constitution to remove the accession clause to the canons of the Episcopal Church and to enable the convention to meet more frequently than annually. The diocesan said at the time that the resolutions were meant to "protect the diocese from any attempt at un-constitutional intrusions in our corporate life in South Carolina."
At Lawrence's direction, Diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan Nov. 16 sent a quitclaim deed to every parish in the diocese. A quitclaim deed generally transfers ownership of the property from the party issuing the deed to the recipient.
"For 190 years (1789-1979) there had never been any idea that somehow the parishes did not completely and fully own their property," Logan said in his letter posted here. He said the diocese could issue quitclaim deeds because the state Supreme Court has said that the 1979 passage by the General Convention of the so-called Dennis Canon was not binding on the parish of All Saints, Pawley's Island, South Carolina.
The "Dennis Canon" (Canon 1.7.4) states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church.
Logan said in his Nov. 16 letter to parishes that removing the accession clause was part of the "continued pursuit of our historic unity based on common vision rather than legal coercion."
The quitclaim action was not included in the original material submitted to the board.
Lawrence told the Living Church on Nov. 23 that he issued the quitclaim deed in part because "the threat of property disputes" should not be "the only thing that holds us together."
"Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom, not the keys to the building," he said.
Lawrence said that when he awoke the day after having decided to issue the deeds he felt that "for the first time, I am the bishop of this diocese."
The disciplinary board's investigation of Lawrence appears to be among the first it has conducted. The board was created under the revised Title IV canons on ecclesiastical discipline which went into effect on July 1. The board is made up of 10 bishops elected at any regularly scheduled meeting of the House of Bishops, and four priests or deacons and four lay persons initially appointed by the president of the House of Deputies with the Executive Council and thereafter elected by the House of Deputies. Henderson noted in his fact sheet that the board "operates confidentially."
-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.
Link to ENS article
Bishop Lawrence, quitclaims and croziers - Mark Harris
I am glad the specifics of those charges were not found sufficient. I too felt they fell short of the abandonment canon.
They did not include the matter of the quitclaim deeds, as those were issued only on November 15th and were not part of the charges first brought.
Bishop Lawrence, quitclaims and croziers
Bishop Mark Lawrence, in an interview with The Living Church, opined that “For 190 years, no one imagined that parishes did not own their property, yet they were connected to the Episcopal Church through the bishop. The parishes provide the bishop’s chair and the bishop brings the crozier.”
That sounds nice, but what in the world does it mean? The reference to 190 years is to the time from the Constitution of The Episcopal Church (1789) to the time of the passage of the Canon I.7.4 in 1979. There is considerable legal opinion that Canon I.7.4 makes explicit what was previously covered by canon 47.....
The former Canon 47 and the current Canon I.7.4 seem to indicate that churches are not to be "alienated from those who profess and practise the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of this Church"(meaning The Episcopal Church). The church is held in trust for the ecclesial body called The Episcopal Church. Property can, of course, be let go, but only by consent of the Bishop and Standing Committee. The holder of the deed may be the parish, but as far as the church is concerned it is held in trust for people of this Church.
So Bishop Lawrence, believing that absolute authority to dispose of church property resides with the vestries of parishes, has set out to relinquish whatever legal claim he had on the the disposition of church property, on behalf of the diocese or The Episcopal Church. He is using what is called a quitclaim deed to give over to the vestries whatever legal claims there may be to the properties.
The Bishop apparently feels that he doesn't have a claim on these properties anyway and that the quitclaim deed is a way to make that clear. But of course if canons going a long way back do indeed make change in use of the Church dependent on his approval, and if the Church is understood to be held in trust for members of The Episcopal Church, then he does have responsibilities for the proper disposition of the property in accordance with canons of the Church.
This action on Bishop Lawrence's part seems clearly to be in disregard of the canons of the Church, canons which he has vowed to uphold as part of the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of The Episcopal Church. If he didn't want to do thing, perhaps he should not have accepted the office of Bishop. But he did and he is thus bound by the canonical proposition that he is required to hold churches in trust for the people of the Church, and if such property is to be disposed of to first seek the assent of the Standing Committee and then remove it from church use. He is not, in this read, simply able to hand over his trust responsibilities to the parish vestry in a quitclaim deed.
This is going to add to his troubles regarding possible charges. Well, there it is.
What is sad is his comment, "(parishes) were connected to the Episcopal Church through the bishop. The parishes provide the bishop’s chair and the bishop brings the crozier.” The notion that the connection is that when the bishop visits they offer him a chair and he brings the symbol of being their pastor. So, suppose a parish vestry decides to leave The Episcopal Church:Do they throw out the chair? Do they suggest that the Bishop leave his crozier at the door, as if it were a loaded weapon?
No. I am afraid what the bishop suggests is that a congregation might leave The Episcopal Church, that they might keep the chair and invite him to come visit with his crozier and sit in that chair, and that he would be their bishop quite outside the context of The Episcopal Church. Or, for that matter, they might stay in The Episcopal Church and do the same. Either way they bring the chair, he brings the crozier and that's enough. Too bad about the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of The Episcopal Church.
This thing will do him no good. One day he will visit a parish where they will indeed invite him in to sit, crozier and all, and he will wonder just where he is. And when, crozier in hand, he attempts to provide sound teaching, preaching and sacramental offices, they find him objectionable, they will throw him out. After all the chair is theirs, the church is theirs, and he may have a crozier, but he is not their shepard.
Sayonara baby, indeed.
Link to Article
Bishop Lawrence Writes to Diocese about Disciplinary Board Decision
November 29, 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I write to you in this season of Advent when we await with eagerness the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in great glory to judge both the living and the dead, even while we prepare to celebrate his birth among us so long ago in that unlikely place and with an unimaginable wonder and unspeakable grace—the Word made flesh. In this season of hope we also rejoice in his daily visitation. To that end it is with such hope that I report to you that late yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from Bishop Dorsey Henderson, President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, regarding their ruling on my case which has been before them for several months. In a conference of the board members on November 22nd the Disciplinary Board was unable to certify that I had abandoned the Episcopal Church. While the statement leaves many questions unanswered—frankly, to my mind it appears to read like a complex statement of a complex decision in a complex time within a complex church. Nevertheless, I believe it is best to take it at face value (even while noting that this diocese has not recognized the constitutionality of the new disciplinary canon). For now given no more allegations from anonymous sources within the diocese it is my hope we can all get back to focusing our full attention on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and to Glory of God the Father that the Church here in the Diocese of South Carolina may add daily to its number those who are being saved.
Please know our vocation has not changed. While making disciples and witnessing to the unassailable Truth of the Gospel to a hurting and troubled world, and speaking truth to power within the unfolding struggles of The Episcopal Church, as well as taking our place in the larger Anglican Communion, we are, as you have heard me say on many occasions, called by God to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age. Even while I write this we have a group of Irish priests from one of our companion dioceses, the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh visiting at Church of the Cross in Bluffton to share, learn and experience renewal and refreshment in the Lord. They and their bishop, The Right Reverend Ken Clarke, will be meeting with our Diocesan Anglican Communion Development Committee to further yet another mutually enriching missional relationship within the emerging Anglicanism of this 21st Century.
Before concluding let me express my heartfelt gratitude for the innumerable letters, emails and spoken words of encouragement I have received from so many within the diocese (even from those who do not always agree with my theological position or my constitutional and canonical concerns). I am also grateful for assurance of prayers from those all across The Episcopal Church, and those in continuing Anglican circles across North America, as well as from significant Provinces of the Communion. I must also give thanks for Christians in various denominations who having read of our situation in the diocese have offered prayers to God for our strength and steadfastness. May we get on with the grace-filled work of Jesus Christ that is before us “that when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing.”
Gratefully yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence
XIV Bishop of South Carolina
Link to diocese website
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