Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Lawsuit filed in South Carolina against The Episcopal Church

See this press release: Diocese Seeks Declaratory Judgment to Prevent Episcopal Church from Seizing Local Parishes and “Hijacking” their Identities.

St. George, SC, January 4, 2013 –The Diocese of South Carolina, the Trustees of the Diocese and congregations representing the vast majority of its baptized members today filed suit in South Carolina Circuit Court against The Episcopal Church to protect the Diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.

The suit also asks the court to prevent The Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the Diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent the church from assuming the Diocese’s identity, which was established long before The Episcopal Church’s creation.

“We seek to protect more than $500 million in real property, including churches, rectories and other buildings that South Carolinians built, paid for, maintained and expanded – and in some cases died to protect – without any support from The Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary. “Many of our parishes are among the oldest operating churches in the nation. They and this Diocese predate the establishment of The Episcopal Church. We want to protect these properties from a blatant land grab.”

The Diocese of South Carolina was established in 1785 as an independent, voluntary association that grew from the missionary work of the Church of England. It was one of nine dioceses that voluntarily joined together to form The Episcopal Church in October 1789, which eventually became an American province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, also a voluntary association.

“When the Diocese disassociated from The Episcopal Church we didn’t become a new entity,” Canon Lewis explained. “We have existed as an association since 1785. We incorporated in 1973; adopted our current legal name, ‘The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,’ in 1987; and we disassociated from the Episcopal Church in October of 2012. The Episcopal Church has every right to have a presence in the area served by our Diocese – but it does not have a right to use our identity. The Episcopal Church must create a new entity.”

The Diocese of South Carolina is made up of 71 parishes with approximately 30,000 members. Of those, 22,244 members have decided to remain with the Diocese and 1900 are undecided. Fifty Three Hundred say they want to be with The Episcopal Church with nearly half of those from one church in Charleston. While the Diocese has disassociated from The Episcopal Church, it remains a part of the Anglican Communion.

Though theologically more conservative than the leadership of the national Episcopal Church, Bishop Lawrence has for five years struggled to keep the Diocese intact and in The Episcopal Church, even as some 200 parishes and four other dioceses nationwide disassociated. The parishes and dioceses have disagreed with The Episcopal Church’s recent interpretation of scripture, which is widely considered to be unorthodox by most of the world’s 80 million Anglicans…

And there is this letter from Bishop Mark Lawrence.

There is a long version and also a short version of a document entitled Stewardship of the Gospel - Stewardship of the Diocese.

And there are other materials and letters of support from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion and beyond over here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 11:55am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: ECUSA

Am assuming that the "letters of support from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion" may owe something to Bishop Nazir Ali's two-year and ongoing appointment as "Visiting Bishop for Anglican Communion Relationships" in the diocese, which I noted yesterday.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 1:34pm GMT

Is this significant that the suing is being done by Lawrence?

Aren't we constantly told ( no matter what the truth happens to be) that it is always TEC that is taking their fellow Christians to court?

Or have I missed something?

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 1:47pm GMT

There was no "diocese" preceding the formation of the Episcopal Church. There were Anglicans in South Carolina, and those representing that group in attended the General Convention and accepted the Constitution. But they didn't have a bishop until 1795 -- a bishop consecrated by White, Provoost and Madison, in accordance with the law of the church.

The Episcopal Church was not formed as a federation of existing dioceses, but as a unitary Church whose members were distributed in the various States, later termed 'dioceses.' The polity is catholic, not congregational.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 2:14pm GMT

This is really sad. There are plenty of Episcopalians in South Carolina who want to stay in the national church. In fact, there are plenty of whole parishes that want to stay in TEC. Apparently this lawsuit is so that the renegade bishop can "own" even the parishes that chose to stay in TEC. So this is basically like a Civil War, hopefully with no bloodshed. It has pitted brothers and sisters against one another. Apparently the former bishop has racked up legal fees of $500,000 already, in all the schemes to keep all the stuff.

Here's a website that may interest folks: http://scepiscopalians.com

It might be interesting to note that there is a Diocese of Upper South Carolina. We have over 100 dioceses. And the Diocese of Upper South Carolina (I'm glad they didn't call it Northern South Carolina!) is doing just fine. In fact, they are ministering to Episcopalians in the Diocese of SC.

All this in order to insist on the inevitable right to oppress LGBT persons. How Christian. Me thinks that something would have been rotten even without the LGBT excuse.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 8:08pm GMT

Here is a heartbreaking situation from one parish in SC.

4 Vestry members resigned because of the hostile takeover. 4 out of 9.

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 8:20pm GMT

The question that might be asked of Bishop Mark Lawrence in all of this, is:

"When you accepted election to be Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, did you, or did you not, state that you would not attempt to take the diocese out of TEC? A simple 'Yes' or 'No', would help to settle your seeming need to alienate the diocese and its property from the stewardship of TEC".

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 10:43pm GMT

Fr Haller--are you saying that the seal, name and property of the incorporated diocese of SC are in fact the legal holdings of a 'national church'? That does not sound 'catholic' to me; it sounds like the PCA.

Posted by: cseitz on Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 11:44pm GMT

Father Ron:

An additional question for Bishop Lawrence: "Did you or did you not, on ordination as a priest, and later on consecration as a bishop, take a solemn vow to abide by the canons and disciplines of TEC?"

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 3:34am GMT

"...and the Earth has Always Been Flat too, by gum!"

Kyrie eleison. God bless and defend the Episcopal Church. God bring reconciliation, in God's Time.

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 5:27am GMT

The numbers cited are propaganda. No one knows how it'll shake out, but at this point 1/3 of the clergy stated their intentions to go with Lawrence, though few seem to have resigned from TEC. The numbers of individuals and parishes is looking 50-50 right now. But a lot of people and parishes are in discernment.

I think that when people look at Lawrence's behaviour, there will be a lot of second thoughts. Apparently Lawrence and his ilk are none too fond of women clergy as well. This pretty much plays into my stereotypes of older generation white men from SC. They couldn't win the Civil War, but by golly they can kick uppity women and gays out of their church.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 6:23am GMT

The worrying thing for those of us here in the C of E is that, judging by the recent General Synod amongst other rumblings, those in our church who are against the ordination of women and vehemently anti full inclusion of the LGBT community want to hold up Lawrence as some kind of icon. They say - look how a church that accepts women and gay people treat decent people like Lawrence. Yet in his actions and words I see no humility, decency, or even vaguely Christ like behaviour. He seems to believe he has some kind of divine right to create his own church. That's fine - let him go. But let's not pretend he is Anglican or has any thing worth modelling here in England.

Posted by: Andrew Godsall on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 9:27am GMT

Dr. Seitz, I said nothing at all about the property, seal, and so on. According to the above statement the corporation dates from 1973. I am referring to the founding period of the church, in which it is manifestly clear that it was not thought of as a simple "voluntary association" (not, in my opinion, a very 'catholic' description of the church) but a unitary entity expressed in the various regions. The use of "in" as part of the name of the church is significant in this regard. The church as a whole subsists in these subdivisions -- but they do not simply make it up like bricks of a wall.

I surmise that the court -- if the dissatisfied continue with their case, which I hope they will suspend -- will find that the property is indeed intended for the use of the Episcopal Church in that place -- not the private property of the current generation, and certainly not of those who have disassociated themselves from the church in whose name and for whose use the property was set aside.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 2:53pm GMT

I do not believe Bishop Lawrence was honest with the Episcopal Church at the time of his consecration. Theft of property that does not belong to himself or others leaving The Episcopal Church will always belong to the national Church and the outcome of such actions by the former Bishop Lawrence will bear no fruit. Theft is theft. The property, seal and "right" to call themselves The Episcopal Church belongs to the national Church and is therefore just another hostile action that ultimately will yield nothing for the former Bishop Lawrence and his followers.

Posted by: Chris Smith on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 5:37pm GMT

South Carolina Episcopalians reports, that "According to the U.S. Office of Patents & Trademarks, the PECDSC Inc. filed an application to trademark "Diocese of South Carolina," "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina," "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina," and its corporate seal on November 8th [2012] .....one day after Lawrence went ballistic over the Clergy Day business." So although Tobias said nothing about "property, seal, and so on", it would appear to be a pertinent question.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 5:57pm GMT

An association of dioceses under Bishops is perfectly Catholic. And that is TEC. Legally, an unincorporated association.

You surmise that the SC Court is going to hand 500M worth of Episcopal Diocese incorporated property to a national church backed entity without a name? I have even received emails from those loyal to the national church in SC saying the property quest is a bad idea.

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 7:43pm GMT

The name and seal have been in operation for many moons and were registered with SC years ago. My hunch is that the federal registering was to keep the national church from trying to do this.

Such is the season of discontent.

Posted by: cseitz on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 7:51pm GMT

"are you saying that the seal, name and property of the incorporated diocese of SC are in fact the legal holdings of a 'national church'?"

OF COURSE they are, Dr Seitz. Lawrence, like all his SC predecessors, made his vows to *The Episcopal Church*, not the "Episcopi Vagantes Churches"!

Posted by: JCF on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 9:10pm GMT

I think Bishop Jefferts Schori boobed when she allowed him not to be consecrated by herself.

Would Jensen and co have accepted him, if he had been consecrated by a woman?

However just as the US Civil war started in South Carolina... they have no chance of winning, and will lose all the property four years from now.
And a lot of folk attached to the buildings of some old churches will filter back....

Posted by: robert ian Williams on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 9:37pm GMT

One gathers that Bishop Lawrence's diocese has issued quitclaim deeds on parochial property to most if not all the parishes in the diocese, Dr Seitz. In which case, on its own terms and regardless of the questionable legality of these documents, the "diocese" has no legal claim on the property which it is filing suit to "protect" from the national church. True? Equally - also on Bishop Lawrence's own terms - any parish which opts to acknowledge continuing allegiance to TEC has the right to do so, holding its property as it does so, does it not?

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 2:25am GMT

"Equally - also on Bishop Lawrence's own terms - any parish which opts to acknowledge continuing allegiance to TEC has the right to do so, holding its property as it does so, does it not?"

No. The lawsuit that Lawrence is filing claims ALL of the property. Every parish, even those who want to stay in TEC. It is an attempted hostile takeover. It is unlikely to succeed, but that's the legal effort.

It plunges everyone in turmoil. Every Episcopalian has to make a decision. A lot of people are being hurt.

Posted by: Cynthia on Friday, 11 January 2013 at 4:01am GMT

Precisely, Cynthia. Which makes nonsense of the quitclaims and makes one wonder what adjectives - other, perhaps, than "expensive" - might appropriately be applied to Mark Lawrence's legal team.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Friday, 11 January 2013 at 1:48pm GMT
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