Q&A with disaffected Episcopal diocese: Officials explain status and positions
On Sunday, The Post and Courier reported that both the breakaway diocese and the continuing diocese of The Episcopal Church had announced meetings meant to define next steps.
The majority of officials and worshippers in the Diocese of South Carolina appear to be aligned with the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, who has severed his ties with the church because of long-standing disputes over theology and administrative authority.
On Thursday the breakaway diocese issued a strongly worded statement critical of those who have formed a new steering committee in order to reconstitute the “continuing diocese” of The Episcopal Church. At least 12 parishes and hundreds of parishioners throughout the diocese have chosen to remain part of the church. The intact diocese included a total of 70 parishes.
For “the other side of the story” — a timeline of events concerning the Diocese of South Carolina that was prepared by The Episcopal Church — go to http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/perspectives.
The exchange last week prompted The Post and Courier to seek some clarification. Answers were assembled by Joy Hunter, communications director for the disaffected diocese.
Q: Is “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” asserting it is a diocese of the Episcopal Church even though it has disassociated from the Episcopal Church and declared itself sovereign?
A: We continue to be The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina known also to our parishes and the wider community as The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the Diocese of South Carolina. We are no longer associated with The Episcopal Church. The term exists in the legal incorporated names of our Diocese and many of our parishes. Its application is far broader than and not exclusively franchised by TEC. It is rightly used to designate any church which has bishops, for that is what the term refers to in the Greek and Latin from which the English word is derived. The episcopos is the bishop. An episcopal church is simply one that has bishops. We continue, both as a diocese and as parishes to be that kind of church. This is both our legal and ecclesiastical heritage and we embrace it as such. There are other churches with “Episcopal” in the name, including the Reformed Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. For many years what is now called the United Methodist Church was known as the Methodist Episcopal Church and was by far the largest church in this country with “Episcopal” in its name. Other dioceses in the Anglican Communion, not part of TEC have the word “Episcopal” in their names: The Scottish Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church of Sudan, The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, The Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba and The Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain (Extra provincial to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Q: Is the PECDSC saying The Episcopal Church cannot maintain a diocese in the area, even though at least 12 parishes and hundreds of parishioners have chosen to remain part of TEC?
A: We have received no written notice that any parish or parishioner has left the Diocese of South Carolina, as you assume in your question. There are already at least five Anglican bodies functioning in the Lowcountry. If some parishes wish to withdraw from the Diocese of South Carolina, Bishop Lawrence has consistently said that he would not attempt to block such action, and feels that any attempt to force a parish to remain with the Diocese by means of litigation is unchristian.
Q: What authority does the PECDSC have, if any, over those parishes that chose to remain part of TEC? And what obligation, if any, do those parishes have to the PECDSC?
A: See the answer to the preceding question. We have said with clarity from the beginning that any parish wishing to reaffiliate with TEC may do so, in accordance with their own bylaws and articles of incorporation, just as the majority of the parishes and missions are likewise free to remain with the diocese and retain all their customary rights and privileges in its membership.
Q: While we’re at it, define the word “diocese.” My understanding is a diocese is, by definition, part of something larger; it’s a geographical designation and regional authority within a church. Is the PECDSC technically a “diocese”?
A: We believe that your understanding of the concept of a diocese is incorrect. The proper definition is that a diocese is a district or churches under the jurisdiction of a bishop. The Diocese of South Carolina, for example, predated the existence of The Episcopal Church. A diocese is a community of parishes, in freely chosen union with its Convention, and led by its bishop. No less an authority than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has stated that “The organ of union with the wider church is the diocese and its bishop, rather than the provincial structure ... rather than the abstract reality of the ‘national church.’ ” In other words, the organ of union with the wider church is the Diocese, not The Episcopal Church.