Still I have to confess what the Diocese of South Carolina (the one led by Bishop Lawrence) does is of less interest to me than what the Diocese of South Carolina (part of The Episcopal Church) does. It seems to me that a trimmed down diocese of people who are willing to be part of The Episcopal Church no matter their complaints of the moment or even their long term problems with EC polity, theology and practice, can be a force for good new work in the vineyard.
So, here we go: A wee small mapping of the Diocese of South Carolina, a best guess of the matter, guaranteed to make some people upset.
1, The Diocese of South Carolina in its unconfused form, was until just a few weeks ago, this:
People may argue as to whether or not the Diocese of South Carolina is autonomous, may or may not have the option to go as an organization, etc, but it is pretty clear that The Episcopal Church - meaning the General Convention Union - understands the Diocese of South Carolina, whatever its geographical boundaries, to be the presence of the Episcopal Church in that area of the State of SC.
The long standing, but mostly unspoken object of domestic missionary strategy has been to have an Episcopal Church jurisdiction for every part of the map of primary territory of the United States.TEC is committed to a jurisdiction in that area.
3. The PECDSC determined this past weekend at a special convention that it was withdrawing from everything organizationally having to do with The Episcopal Church, and that in doing so the DSC had moved with it, since PECDSC continues to call itself the DSC. So from the PECDSC standpoint there continues to be one diocese, and it is the one by whatever name is needed corporately.
4. The Episcopal Church, to the contrary says the people who formed the PECSC can indeed leave, but when they do the continuing reality of the DSC exists because (i) there continue to be members of the DSC in that jurisdiction, (ii) there are properties and monies held in trust for The Episcopal Church and / or the DSC that is part of The Episcopal Church, and (iii) TEC continues to have a mission imperative to have an area ministry - a diocese- in every part of the United States, and until it otherwise determines, the DSC covering the area of ministry assigned to it, is the expression of that mission.
5. The Episcopal Church understands that there are now two entities - DSC and PECDSC :
DSC is without a bishop, Lawrence having been inhibited and now by his own admission having left TEC, and
PECDSC which is an organization of people and parishes that consider themselves a diocese without province, with Bishop Lawrence as their bishop.
TEC is both by right and by law expected to retain those assets of DSC and its parishes as are deemed by law to pertain to the DSC. Unfortunately for it to challenge the PECDSC walking away with assets it has to go to court.
6. The PECDSC claims that it is the full presence of the DSC and that there are not two dioceses, but rather the diocese and those who chose not to go with the sizable majority of parishes and people into this new place - a diocese that is "outside" the province in which its jurisdiction is located. Its claim to diocesan assets is based on there being one diocese and it is that diocese. It believes parish assets are to be used as parishes determine and that they are not held in trust for any other agency unless explicitly stated.
So there we have it: Of the two claim sets, I go for the TEC propositions, which are:
The Diocese of South Carolina exists as an entity in The Episcopal Church until it, in General Convention, determines otherwise.
People, clergy and bishops can leave the TEC, but when they leave the remaining people, clergy and bishops (if any) constitute the continuing diocese of South Carolina.
The remaining people and congregations must reorganize following the leaving of many in leadership and TEC can provide interim leadership to help them in the process.
As to the future of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina - The people of PECDSC are every bit as much the beloved of God as are any other body of Christians, so God will provide for them and we ought to keep them in our prayers. As for the organization PECDSC, I believe it is in for a hard time. Whatever our emerging Anglican ecclesiology, I don't belive there is are provisions for dioceses that unilaterally claim independence from the Province in which they were previously lodged. Further I will be surprised if the Anglican Consultative Council or any other "instrument of unity" in the Anglican Communion will be moved to allow this.
As the case of Uruaguay is now proving out, the request to move from one Province to one contiquous to that diocese is difficult to get permission for, but one could imagen that if both Provinces determined to do so and ACC said fine, it could be done.
In this case, however, becoming a free floating diocese without becoming part of another Province, claiming that this diocese continues to be part of the Anglican Communion, and all without the approval of the Province departed and without approval of the ACC is stretching whatever Anglican polity there is to the extream. If it were allowed by ACC or any other "instrument of unity" it would open the door to the several dioceses that do right now claim such Provincial connection.
The leadership of the departed community, the PECDSC, is living in a fantasy land, where they are whatever they want to be without reference to reality.
And, no matter past accusations back and forth, the reality of the break and the abandonment of the communion of this church by Bishop Lawrence is now a matter of record - not the record provided by TEC, but the record provided by the group itself. They and their bishop have nothing to do with TEC organizationally. Friends, that is abandonment.
Which of course can be a good thing. If I abandon my pool playing, beer drinking buddies and give up their evil ways and take up a new life with a more faithful people I have no doubt abandoned the communion of rascals that were my community for something better. So, perhaps, those who form this thing called PECDSC are about a better thing. But it is not the Diocese of South Carolina, part of The Episcopal Church. And God will judge, I suppose, just what of all that was right and who was righteous.
Meanwhile perhaps the PECDSC might remember. When you leave, you don't get unilateral rights to determine that you carry forward all that was good about the old DSC, nor do you carry the right automatic right to the intellectual and real properties of the Diocese of South Carolina, or the right to determine whether or not trust responsibilities have been discharged. Whatever Lawrence proclaims, it stands in the dock for examination and trial.