8/31/2012

BIshop Lawrence: Yes or No. Will you maintain the diocese in union with the General Convention?

Some days ago I reported on the assessment of Bishop Lawrence and his time away to seek revelation and direction concerning the future of the Diocese and his future as its Bishop done by SC Episcopalians.  The SC Episcopalians article has been pulled and revised. Now SC Episcopalians reports, 

" August 29, 2012: Post-Vacation, Bishop Dampens Speculation on "Godly” Vision, Leaving the Episcopal Church
(revised from earlier story)"

It is worth quoting the beginning paragraphs:


Bishop Mark Lawrence returned from his August vacation with a "Godly course of action" for the future of the Diocese, according to senior clergy close the Bishop.  After the General Convention in July, the Bishop said he would be looking for exactly this kind of guidance as he took some time off. 

Apparently, he was not disappointed.

Shortly after his return, he shared his new vision with the Standing Committee, whose members unanimously and enthusiastically signed on.  The next day it was similarly embraced by the clergy leaders of the deaneries.

Unfortunately, official records of Standing Committee meetings are secret and the deans were admonished about sharing specific details of the plan with their parishioners. 

However, the Diocesan Council, which met with the Bishop on Tuesday of this week, was very intentionally not told about the plan the others had signed off on.  They, like the rest of the Diocese, are being kept in the dark.  The Bishop even seemed to suggest Council members that there was no plan.

After four years, the Diocese has gotten accustomed to the Bishop's cat-and-mouse leadership style.  This time though the excess of secrecy, melodramatics, and Moses metaphors has generated heightened speculation that he actually might be ready to pull the trigger on his long-standing threats to lead the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church.

However, in his meeting with the Diocesan Council, the Bishop sought to dial down speculation on what he might be planning.  “I did not bring back any tablets.  I did not bring back any jewels,” he reportedly said of his return from vacation.  

He also stated emphatically that resigning as the bishop of the Diocese is not an option for him, even though he hinted at it only weeks earlier.

He further stated that he has no plans to call a special convention or out-of-the-ordinary clergy gathering, as is his habit when planning a big move.  In response to a question, he did suggest that the timing for whatever it is he has in mind would be around the date of the Diocesan Convention in March 2013.

Apparently the Diocesan Council was told that there would be announcement of his intentions nearer the date of Diocesan Convention 2013.  Given that his intentions have been shared, at least in part, with the Standing Committee and Deanery leadership, it is a long seven months to assume that all of those worthies will keep matters under wraps. 

Stating that "resigning as the bishop of the Dioceses is not an option for him" can mean one of several things, particularly given that the formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina provides an alternate venue to Diocesan Council for most things Episcopal in the Diocese. (There is some disparity about the date of the formation of the PEC/DSC - see the constitution and canons of the Diocese.)  The issue is whether or not the PEC/DSC is understood by the Bishop and others to be detached from any obligations to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. If so, the BI shop could wait until a large majority of the parishes have put new ownership claims in place regarding their properties and wait until they declare affiliation with the PEC/DSC and detachment from the Diocesan Council and other structures of the TEC Diocese of South Carolina. The parishes then having declared their property and leadership independence from one form of diocesan structure (TEC/DSC) and their connection to the other PEC/DSC the bishop, without resigning at all would simply state that he continues as bishop under the bylaws of the PEC/DSC.

Bishop Lawrence could have his cake and eat it to.. or at least he could hope to do so. Waiting until Diocesan Convention gives a bit more breathing room to get everything lined up. So we need to watch carefully. The language that resignation is not an option does not mean that he will not try to take the Diocese out of TEC, but only that he will do whatever he does as Bishop of South Carolina (perhaps as the chair of the PEC/DSC).  It's not over yet. 

SC Episcopalians opine that he is indeed about separating form The Episcopal Church:
 
"Since 2010 the Diocese has been gradually taking legal steps to separate itself from the Episcopal Church. 

It has amended its Constitution and corporate documents in ways that make them inconsistent with membership in the Episcopal Church.  Essentially the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina" has become a free-standing "religious corporation" in South Carolina without any apparent ties to the Episcopal Church. 

Lawrence himself has repeatedly asserted his belief that the Diocese is “sovereign” and no longer under the authority of the Church.  In particular, he rejects the authority that the Church’s Disciplinary Board has to hold him accountable for failure to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

The key challenge for him has been in the arena of property and Diocesan assets.

Last year Bishop Lawrence issued quitclaim deeds to every parish in the Diocese relinquishing any legal interest the Diocese might hold in their properties and, through his canon to the ordinary, urged parishes to amend their parish charters to eliminate accession to the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons.  In the past three years, the Diocese has spent nearly $500,000 for legal services, mostly dealing with property matters.

Sources among clergy report that the Diocese is making extensive efforts to convince wavering parishes to transfer their property insurance away from that offered by the Episcopal Church, and assure clergy that an independent diocese would be able to provide retirement benefits as extensive as those offered by the Church Pension Fund.  They also believe that the Diocese is attempting to provide smaller, less financially stable congregations subsidies from current Diocesan assets to help them transition to whatever the rebels become after trying to leave the Church.

SC Episcopalians has also been told that the Diocese has been attempting to transfer financial assets to institutions only after they provided the Diocese with written assurances that they would not deny them access to these assets when they left the Episcopal Church.  In one breakaway diocese, banks froze the assets of the Diocese when it tried to secede from the national Church."

The time for preventative action by leadership in The Episcopal Church is at hand.  Waiting for Bishop Lawrence to reveal his vision and plan, articulated to the Standing Committee and Deans already, will be waiting too long.  For there to be a secret vision that must be held secret for months is a sure sign that a game is in play. But what game?

What is said in secret needs to be said openly. If legal and property matters are being aligned so that a coup can take place, then that counts as a coup in the making.  Conspiracy to a coup is itself something for which the Bishop can be held accountable. 

It is time for Bishop Lawrence to speak plainly.  We are not as interested in whether or not he believes he is Bishop of South Carolina, was we need to know is if he will maintain the Diocese of South Carolina as a constituent member of The Episcopal Church in union with the General Convention.

He needs to answer that question now. And if he responds that he will maintain the Diocese as a member of the union with General Convention he can then be held accountable to that pledge.  If not, then we know. It is sad that we need to ask again, but Bishop Lawrence has apparently acquired a vision of where things are going, a vision so secret that only a chosen few will know for some time to come.  So his past answers, some of which appear cleaver rather than transparent, do not suffice.

The question now is, "Bishop Lawrence, will you maintain the Diocese of South Carolina as a member of The Episcopal Church, consisting of those churches in union with the General Convention. Yes or No."

8 comments:

Lapinbizarre said...

Odd, isn't it? I really do suspect that Mark Lawrence is just one of several players in this game.

Unknown said...

Not in +his diocese but very aware of what is going on, as much as the rest of the 'uninformed' masses. The recent details of Tuesday's meeting that you have revealed confirm that we're not talking a Moses complex, this is far more like a 'second coming complex'. Let the wild rumpus begin so that sanity can return to ALL of those in the diocese not just the ones in on the secret.
Lynn R

Fred Schwartz said...

This sounds strangely akin to the mountain top experience that took place with Jesus and Moses and Elijah. I beleive that Jesus said upon returning to the flatlands tell no one of this exeperience. Well, looks like Bishop Lawrence has taken a page right out of the Bible. Do you suppose the big secret is the Standing Committee is going to build three houses - one for Moses, one for Jesus and one for Bishop Lawrence?

Paul (A.) said...

". . . he can then be held accountable to that pledge."

Why? Would such a pledge be more binding than ordination vows?

Leonardo Ricardo said...

It´s getting to the point that everytime I read or hear the name of Bishop Lawrence it makes my skin crawl (yes, I trust my emotions).

Daniel Weir said...

I am less concerned than I once was about property issues. What concerns me is the isolation of Christians that schism brings. Liberals only associate with liberals, conservatives with conservatives. As a liberal I have benefited from friendships with more conservative Episcopalians, but I fear that will be less likely in the future.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, the Queen of Drama Queens seems to have taken a bit of an intermission in this Greek Tragedy.

The audience, however, is still watching. Still waiting. Still listening. Which is EXACTLY what Drama Queens crave.

Roger Mortimer said...

New (August 31st) post on SC Episcopalians - Cathedral Sets Vote on Severing Ties with the Episcopal Church.