No doubt about it, the working out of what ever it means when a sizable majority of people and bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina leave, insisting that name and seal and organization and goodies and all went with them, is going to be the Church Snit of the year.
The latest reports from Anglican Curmudgeon and Anglican INK, the first an accomplished and detailed legal reporter (I have no idea his canon law "credentials"), the second (Anglican INK) several reporter types on the Internet led off by George Conger, indicate that a Temporary Restraining Order is now in place making it illegal for The Episcopal Church, meeting with remaining members of the Diocese who did not leave The Episcopal Church, from using the seal, name, organizational title, etc of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Since the Presiding Bishop is coming to chair a meeting of the remnant members of The Episcopal Church, and there are no doubt plenty of uses of the seal and so forth, and a clear claim on organizational control, it would appear that TEC has several choices.
(i) Meet, use the symbols, signs, organizational structures, etc. and whatever version of canons for the diocese and so forth and see what happens. So they disobey the ruling. What happens? Well they meet insisting that they ARE the Diocese of South Carolina and cannot be forced to say, admit or imply otherwise, take their first lumps (arrest on the spot? I think not. Arresting the PB and members of the community is not a great publicity point. So they meet, and then are served a whopping fine. They protest the fine, the ruling and claim that the TRO does immediate damage to those who maintain they are the Diocese. The Anglican Curmudgeon thinks this is a very bad idea. So do I.
(ii) They obey the ruling, but make careful note that although they are using no signage, symbols, etc, of the Diocese of South Carolina, they are meeting as the Episcopal Church Diocese of South Carolina in an assembly called because they are the remaining members, and organize with a new set of temporary canons (perhaps those of the diocese before the changes of the past several years were made), go about their business and as part of that business engaged to legally retain the signs, etc, and the diocesan assets, properties, etc, that they are prevented from using at the moment. This would be to obey the TRO under objection and with immediate plans to have that overturned.
(iii) They could blow the whole thing off. Ignore the TRO and save the arguments over property, seal, etc, for another day. Meet, use the name "The Episcopal Church Diocese of South Carolina" with the understanding that the meeting understands this to be the same entity as the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and so forth.
Well, lets see how it goes. Any way it goes there is more coming. This will be a feisty mess, the sort that most of us will find difficult to unwind.
But under it all is the reality: There are Episcopalians in the place where the Diocese of South Carolina has jurisdiction. If the Diocese of South Carolina as an organization is found to have left the Episcopal Church, so be it. There are still those Episcopalians there. And they are organizing to form a new government for themselves as a Diocese in The Episcopal Church. So later this spring there will indeed by an Episcopal Church Diocese of South Carolina, by whatever name.
As of January 26th, 2013 there will be an organized diocese within The Episcopal Church with jurisdiction in the counties of South Carolina which formed the jurisdiction previously. There it is.
Effectively the Lawrence crowd will become whatever it is. May they go in peace. But whatever it is will itself be interesting to see. The claim that it can be an extra provincial diocese in the Communion will require some fancy footwork. Perhaps Bishop Lawrence is making overtures to the new Archbishop of Canterbury for recognition and "full communion" status, like say, the Faulkin Islands
If they can't have the former name, that still doesn't answer the question of the property or assets. More legal stuff.
If the courts finally understand that they have first claim on assets, being a continuation of the entity from the past, then the road branches into new work on division of assets, or even better reconciliation of persons so that asset division is less legally determined and more determined by mutual regard and ministry needs.
Still, the fact will be in place as of January 26th. There will be an organized Episcopal Church presence in the counties of South Carolina that are / were the boundaries of jurisdiction of the Diocese of South Carolina. It will be organized and it will move forward with the ministry of those who chose to stay members of The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Lawrence and company may or may not retain the property of the diocese, they may or may not retain the name and so forth. But they will be gone. Where to is another matter. Bishop Lawrence seems to think they will be "extra provincial" in the Anglican Communion. The "Falkland Islands" option is dopey at best and really really stupid at worse. The Falkland Islands are listed as "extra-provincial" to Canterbury. In this case we are talking about one parish and an embarrassing war. Other "extra-provincial" areas are Bermuda, The Lusitanian Church, The Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain. Bermuda is a diocese island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no need, desire or history of connection with anything but England. It is extra provincial only because it would screw things up to have it be a diocese of the Church of England. The Lusitanian and Spanish Reformed Churches are extra-provincial because the Church of England Diocese of Europe, the Episcopal Convocation of Churches in Europe, and these two can't deal with the issue of union of the four Anglican entities in Europe. None of these is a very promising model. And more, it would require getting the new ABC to buy on to the idea that his office might take on dissatisfied dioceses around the world. What a really bad idea.
So, The Episcopal Church Diocese of South Carolina will be there, whatever the name. The Lawrence group are and will remain gone, whatever the name. The determination of assets, etc, will remain, and the name thing will just make it harder to get a sense of what is going on.
The name thing is a diversionary tactic, but one that has some possibilities. When in doubt that your primary actions are acceptable, do something near the edge to take the eye away from the mess that is in front of us. And its only January.