Judge issues restraining order against Episcopal Church; group loyal to Bishop Lawrence stakes claim on name and seal
A circuit judge in Dorchester County issued a 10-day restraining order against The Episcopal Church, prohibiting it from using the names and seal of the Diocese of South Carolina led by Bishop Mark Lawrence.
The Diocese left The Episcopal Church late last year over theological and administrative disputes. It filed a lawsuit against The Episcopal Church this month in an effort to retain control of property and identifying titles and marks.
On Jan. 21, St. Andrew’s Church-Mount Pleasant, which left the diocese and The Episcopal Church in 2010 and realigned with the Anglican Church in North America, joined the diocese’s suit to protect its property, according to a letter to the congregation from its rector. “In this action we are not seeking anything from Episcopal Church other than our peace,” the Rt. Rev. Steve Wood wrote.
The restraining order, issued by Judge Diane Goodstein, lasts until Feb. 1 when a hearing is scheduled to determine whether an injunction should permanently block others from using the names and seal. It is based not on federal trademark law but on state law that protects registered names and marks.
Some congregations and individuals in the diocese have opted not to leave The Episcopal Church. A steering committee was formed to reconstitute a local administration for those remaining part of the church.
This “continuing diocese” also has staked a claim to the name “The Diocese of South Carolina,” arguing that a diocese is by definition part of a larger institution and cannot leave the church, only people can.
Leaders of the breakaway group, which claims a majority of parishes and worshippers throughout its jurisdiction, have a different view.
“A diocese is a collection of churches led by a bishop,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to the ordinary. “By that definition we are a diocese, we are not a diocese in The Episcopal Church, but that doesn’t make us not a diocese.”
Episcopal Church officials, who have organized a special convention for Saturday to install a provisional bishop, said they planned to comply with the court order.
“We are aware of a temporary restraining order that names The Episcopal Church, but we do not expect it to have any effect on our plans to welcome the presiding bishop on Friday and meet with her on Saturday to choose our new bishop,” said Holly Behre, spokeswoman for the steering committee, in a statement. “We will adopt a name for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina that will comply with the spirit of the order until the matter can be resolved in court. But that will not change the fact that we are moving forward together as faithful members of our Church.”