Here’s some scoop concerning current affairs in the Episcopal Church. As everybody knows, the vast majority of parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina officially disassociated from The Episcopal Church last year. The reasons boiled down to fundamental religious disagreements with TEC and, according to the diocesan website, “a radical fringe interpretation that makes the following of Christ’s teachings optional for salvation.”
Indeed, it has been argued that TEC has gone beyond progressive to revisionist, and that the plummeting membership within the church over the past 20 years or so is a direct by-product.
To date, 49 churches representing 80 percent of the diocese’s 30,000 members voted remain in union with the Diocese. The Rt. Rev Mark J. Lawrence was consecrated the 14th Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of S.C. in 2008. The parishes disassociated from TEC in the fall of 2012.
In April, the Provisional Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, countered by announcing plans to remove clergy who are loyal to Bishop Lawrence and The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Bishop vonRosenberg later mailed a “Notice of Restriction” to the bishops of the national church and the clergy pension fund, saying that those who had backed Bishop Lawrence were “found to have abandoned The Episcopal Church.”
The letter followed a June 21 meeting wherein the Standing Committee of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (ECSC) voted to remove the clergy. I’m told by someone in the know that 70 clergy now have officially been removed, including the clergy of my own church, St. Philips, where I have been attending services (more or less) for over 50 years.
Court of law
The courts, both federal and civil, have been brought into the fray. One lawsuit involves a trademark question that deals with the use of the diocese’s registered name, seals or marks. Bishop Lawrence’s group was successful in January in getting First Circuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein to issue a temporary injunction that prohibits Bishop vonRosenberg’s group from using those symbols.
Bishop vonRosenberg’s group then took the issue to federal court. This summer, District Judge C. Weston Houck dismissed the federal suit. He sent the matter back to state court and Judge Goodstein. That decision is being appealed.
Last spring, according to the website Anglicanink, TEC and ECSC sought to broaden their lawsuit against Lawrence and the Diocese to include dozens of volunteers, threatening to hold them financially liable. Translation: A TEC scare tactic.
At St. Philips, all candidates for vestry were given fair warning of potential consequences if TEC were to prevail. No one withdrew, and those elected agreed to serve without reservation. Even members of the Clergy Society (one of the oldest societies in the state and founded to care for the relief of retired Episcopal clergy and/or their families, and on which I happen to [still!] serve) might not have been immune.
On Oct. 2, Judge Goodstein ruled that TEC and its local remnant, the ECSC, can’t expand their counterclaims to include dozens of parishioners who voluntarily serve as diocesan trustees (vestries, boards of directors rectors, and so forth) and members of the Diocese’s Standing Committee.
Several websites cite this quote from the Goodstein decision: “This court finds that the individual leaders whom Defendants seek to join as Counterclaim Plaintiffs are entitled to immunity” under state law. The decision further noted, “Adding the additional defendants would be futile.”
In the latest legal development, The Post and Courier reported that on Oct. 11, Judge Goodstein declined to lift her temporary restraining order. That means that until the matter is settled in court, only Bishop Lawrence and his designees can use the Diocese names, symbols and property.
When diocesan members are asked why they left TEC, the usual response is that it wasn’t so much a matter of leaving as having been left. The Episcopal Church in general is known for its “inclusiveness.” One now is left to ask which of the factions best fits that description.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.