Breakaway Anglicans forge new path; local Episcopalians reorganize
The fracturing of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has left two distinct camps of local Anglicans and a number of parishioners caught straddling the gap, unsure of what it all means and what they should do, according to church officials.
New Archbishop of Canterbury
Bishop Justin Welby of Durham, England, on Friday was appointed the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. He replaces Rowan Williamson, who will return to academia at Cambridge University.
Welby has a background in business and finance. He is associated with the evangelical wing of the Church of England and has stated his opposition to gay marriage while acknowledging the need for dialogue with the LGBT community as well as self-reflection, according to news reports.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a statement that she was delighted with the choice.
“He brings knowledge of the immense challenges of the world in which the Anglican Communion seeks to partner in the service of God’s mission to heal and reconcile. He has experience of churches in several parts of the Communion, which should serve him well.”
She also alluded to the current schism within Anglican Communion over theological issues such as same-sex unions and the ordination of gay bishops.
“I know his gifts of reconciliation and discernment will be abundantly tested,” she said. “May God bless his ministry, shelter his family, and bring comfort in the midst of difficult and lonely discernment and decisions.”
Both sides are holding separate meetings this week to plan courses of action.
The breakaway Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, now an independent, unaffiliated church body led by the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, announced it was holding a Special Convention at St. Philip’s Church on Saturday to determine the next steps and amend its governing documents.
“Though we are already outside of TEC (the Episcopal Church), our Constitution and Canons both contain multiple references to those of TEC,” officials explained in a statement. “Ours must now be amended to bring them into agreement with the present legal reality. Those changes can only be made by a Diocesan Convention.”
Meanwhile, those who remain part of The Episcopal Church have set up a steering committee that will begin the task of reconstituting a diocesan administration. Eventually, a new bishop will be elected and a standing committee formed.
An open letter from this steering committee to local Episcopalians was published in today’s newspaper:
“We write to assure you that The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is continuing. While we watch with great sadness the efforts by some to separate from The Episcopal Church, our Diocese is reorganizing with renewed dedication to carry forward the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as prior generations have done since 1789. We have much to do and many challenges to meet, but we are confident that by moving forward together in unity and faith, with God’s help, we will flourish.”
The just-formed steering committee will act temporarily as an ecclesiastical authority, communicating with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, according to the letter.
“At our next Diocesan Convention, now set for March 8, 2013, delegates will begin the work of selecting a bishop, a new standing committee, and forging ahead with our missions and ministry,” the open letter states.
The steering committee consists of 14 members from across the diocese, including five clergy. Two retired bishops living in the Lowcountry, the Rt. Rev. John Clark Buchanan and the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, are acting as advisers.
The “continuing diocese” includes at least 12 parishes and mission churches, according to church officials: Grace, St. Stephen’s, Calvary, St. Mark’s, Holy Communion in downtown Charleston; St. Thomas in North Charleston; St. George’s and Epiphany in Summerville; Christ Church in Denmark; All Saints on Hilton Head; St. Stephen’s in North Myrtle Beach; and Holy Cross Faith Memorial on Pawleys Island.
The diocese split Oct. 15 when Lawrence was restricted from performing any ministerial duties after the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board of Bishops found that he had abandoned his sworn duties to defend the constitution and canons of the church. That declaration triggered an automatic response by Lawrence and his administration that “disassociated” them from the church.
Church loyalists are holding a “Diocesan Clergy Day” on Thursday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church downtown. VonRosenberg, a parishioner at Grace Church, was invited to perform the Eucharist. All clergy in the diocese, active and retired, were invited to attend the information session.
The breakaway diocese objected in strong terms to the Clergy Day plans, insisting in a press release earlier this week that “the sender intentionally impersonated the diocese with an unauthorized use of our Diocesan seal and by stating that the sender was the Diocese of South Carolina. ... According to TEC, Bishop Lawrence is still the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina even though TEC contends his ministry has been restricted (which is not recognized by this Diocese). Therefore, Bishop Von Rosenberg (sic) would have no authority to convene or preside at any meeting in this diocese and to do so would put him in violation of TEC’s canons. Whoever called such a meeting had no authority to do so or to use the Diocesan seal in any fashion. All of this is further evidence of the necessity for the precautions this diocese has taken during the past several years.”
The clergy meeting was organized by the new steering committee, which was formed under the auspices of Jefferts Schori in the absence of a functioning diocesan administration, according to Neva Rae Fox, public affairs officer of the Episcopal Church. The steering committee will begin the process of re-establishing an administrative body in the continuing diocese, she said.
The breakaway diocese officials hotly contested the church’s actions.
“Neither Bishop Lawrence nor the standing committee have been informed that they have been removed as the ecclesiastical authority,” wrote Communications Director Joy Hunter in an email. “Has that been done without our notification?”
Fox said that Lawrence was indeed informed of his restricted status, and those associated with the new corporate entity called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina have left the church and, therefore, have neither ecclesiastical authority nor a right to dictate what those who remain in the church can do.
Disagreements over theology and authority have been simmering for many years, and local officials have been taking deliberate steps since Lawrence’s consecration in January 2008 to distance themselves from the Episcopal Church.
It is unclear what step they will take next, or under what authority they will function. They could affiliate with another church body in the U.S. or abroad, or proceed as an independent Anglican denomination.
What is clear is that the two sides do not see the situation through the same lens. Lawrence and his colleagues argue that it is the church that has abandoned them (and the rest of the Anglican Communion) by sacrificing the authority of Scripture to the whims of the secular world, and that the breakaway group is under attack by an autocratic presiding bishop.
“The Episcopal Church has made an attack against our Bishop and Diocese, in the midst of efforts for a negotiated settlement, which has fundamentally changed our common life,” wrote the Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon, canon theologian, in an Oct. 20 statement.
Those loyal to the church, instead, view Lawrence as the leader of a breakaway group unable to reconcile itself to an institution that strives to balance itself on the so-called Anglican three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition and reason.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.