The Lawrence Diocese of South Carolina and the matter of hierarchy.

Bishop Lawrence and those members of the Diocese of South Carolina that have wandered away to be a diocese, for the moment, not landed in a wider synod (Province), have argued that the churches in the Diocese, and the Diocese itself, are only voluntarily bound to The Episcopal Church. They disagree with the contention that the Episcopal Church in South Carolina holds in trust for the whole church (The Episcopal Church) such properties as belong to the several parishes of the diocese. At the core of the dispute are the notion that The Episcopal Church and its predecessor church The Church of England have or had any real claim on the properties of the congregations in South Carolina.  This in turn raises issues about whether or not The Episcopal Church and or its predecessor church is or was hierarchical, and therefor justified in the claim to the right to dispose of properties of the various congregations in so far as they were related to the religious life of the whole church "society."

Well we are in for a long ride.

Here are several interesting tidbits, however, from the Charger of the Carolinas and from the 1778 Constitution of South Carolina.

From the Charter of the Carolinas, the following paragraph pertained to the subjection of the churches in the colony to "the ecclesiastical laws of our kingdom of England."  Making the state church of the Carolinas the Church of England. Now one might have an argument that the Episcopal Church is not a hierarchical church (I don't think that holds), but the CofE certainly is. And as a State Church, the established churches (Anglican) were part of that hierarchy.  Here what the charter says:

"3d. And furthermore, the patronage and advowsons of all the churches and chappels, which as Christian religion shall increase within the country, isles, islets and limits
aforesaid, shall happen hereafter to be erected, together with license and power to build and found churches, chappels and oratories, in convenient and fit places, within the said bounds and limits, and to cause them to be dedicated and consecrated according to the ecclesiastical laws of our kingdom of England, together with all and singular the like, and as ample rights, jurisdictions, priviledges, prerogatives, royalties, liberties, immunities
and franchises of what kind soever, within the countries, isles, islets and limits aforesaid."
OK, so what happens with independence.  Well South Carolina put together a first stab at a constitution in 1776 and came back and visited that in 1778. The 1778 constitution Article XXXVIII is worth quoting in its entirety.

"XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges. To accomplish this desirable purpose without injury to the religious property of those societies of Christians which are by law already incorporated for the purpose of religious worship, and to put it fully into the power of every other society of Christian Protestants, either already formed or hereafter to be formed, to obtain the like incorporation, it is hereby constituted, appointed, and declared that the respective societies of the Church of England that are already formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship shall still continue incorporate and hold the religious property now in their possession. And that whenever fifteen or more male persons, not under twenty-one years of age, professing the Christian Protestant religion, and agreeing to unite themselves in a society for the purposes of religious worship, they shall, (on complying with the terms hereinafter mentioned,) be, and be constituted a church, and be esteemed and regarded in law as of the established religion of the State, and on a petition to the legislature shall be entitled to be incorporated and to enjoy equal privileges. That every society of Christians so formed shall give themselves a name or denomination by which they shall be called and known in law, and all that associate with them for the purposes of worship shall be esteemed as belonging to the society so called. But that previous to the establishment and incorporation of the respective societies of every denomination as aforesaid, and in order to entitle them thereto, each society so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles, without which no agreement or union of men upon pretence of religion shall entitle them to be incorporated and esteemed as a church of the established religion of this State:
1st. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.
2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped.
3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion.
4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.
5th. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth.
And that every inhabitant of this State, when called to make an appeal to God as a witness to truth, shall be permitted to do it in that way which is most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience. And that the people of this State may forever enjoy the right of electing their own pastors or clergy, and at the same time that the State may have sufficient security for the due discharge of the pastoral office, by those who shall be admitted to be clergymen, no person shall officiate as minister of any established church who shall not have been chosen by a majority of the society to which he shall minister, or by persons appointed by the said majority, to choose and procure a minister for them; nor until the minister so chosen and appointed shall have made and subscribed to the following declaration, over and above the aforesaid five articles, viz: "That he is determined by God's grace out of the holy scriptures, to instruct the people committed to his charge, and to teach nothing as required of necessity to eternal salvation but that which he shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved from the scripture; that he will use both public and private admonitions, as well to the sick as to the whole within his cure, as need shall require and occasion shall be given, and that he will be diligent in prayers, and in reading of the same; that he will be diligent to frame and fashion his own self and his family according to the doctrine of Christ, and to make both himself and them, as much as in him lieth, wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ; that he will maintain and set forwards, as much as he can, quietness, peace, and love among all people, and especially among those that are or shall be committed to his charge. No person shall disturb or molest any religious assembly; nor shall use any reproachful, reviling, or abusive language against any church, that being the certain way of disturbing the peace, and of hindering the conversion of any to the truth, by engaging them in quarrels and animosities, to the hatred of the professors, and that profession which otherwise they might be brought to assent to. No person whatsoever shall speak anything in their religious assembly irreverently or seditiously of the government of this State. No person shall, by law, be obliged to pay towards the maintenance and support of a religious worship that he does not freely join in, or has not voluntarily engaged to support. But the churches, chapels, parsonages, glebes, and all other property now belonging to any societies of the Church of England, or any other religious societies, shall remain and be secured to them forever. The poor shall be supported, and elections managed in the accustomed manner, until laws shall be provided to adjust those matters in the most equitable way."

Near then end of this Article there is the following "But the churches, chapels, parsonages, glebes, and all other property now belonging to any societies of the Church of England, or any other religious societies, shall remain and be secured to them forever."  

A question:  I assume that the State of South Carolina, which was pretty clear about its sense that England had abused its powers, was not suggesting that the English societies had rights to the holdings, but rather that the societies they formed in what was now a State of South Carolina continued to hold the property held by what is now a "foreign" society.  The properties of the colonial churches in South Carolina were understood by this Constitution (at least on this read) as belonging to the societies (not the individual congregations) that constituted the religious organization out of which they arose. The 1778 Constitution carried forward the notion of congregations belonging to a society of churches who in turn held the property.  

I presume this is affirmed by the sentence in the same section that states:

"it is hereby constituted, appointed, and declared that the respective societies of the Church of England that are already formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship shall still continue incorporate and hold the religious property now in their possession."

So here is the question:

If the Church of England was deemed in the colonial period to have jurisdiction over the several societies that the CofE had in South Carolina (thereby establishing a hierarchical system) and if with independence the properties held by the several societies were continued "incorporate"and held by some agency, what was that agency?   If there was no longer a state church in South Carolina, namely the CofE, then what was the agency, the incorporated entity, that held the  properties  "formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship."  Who is the "they."

I think it was The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. PECUSA became the agency that was the "they" that held ultimate incorporate status as the continuing agent in place of the Church of England.




  1. PECUSA was not then and is not now an incorporated entity. In law it is an association.

    The hard work that could be done to make TEC what the CofE was -- this has not been done. It would be as unpopular in liberal dioceses like PA as in conservative ones.


  2. Suspect the issue will be decided as much or more by politics and the personal whim of individual justices, as by the facts of the case. Is the Chief Justice's church - that of Rome - also an "association", SCM? She may not be chief justice by the time this case is heard, btw.

  3. The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS) is a corporate entity. I don’t pretend to fully understand the relationship of the PECUSA to the DFMS. In any case, I suspect that there is nothing amiss in having an association that is hierarchical.

    I don’t really know what to make of this post, though it is certainly interesting. Also interesting is the fact that some similar language exists in the Pennsylvania constitution: “No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth.” (See my post of 9/15/2012.)

  4. DFMS is a legal entity (needs to be as a NY State corporation).

    TEC is not. In law, it is an association.

    The only hierarchy in TEC is diocesan. Dioceses are frequently legal entities (incorporated). So if you mean there are legal hierarchies in clear legal terms in TEC, you are correct.

    "I don’t pretend to fully understand the relationship of the PECUSA to the DFMS."

    Correct. And you are not alone.

    Therein is the problem. If you want TEC to be a legally incorporated hierarchical institution, there are lots of good examples of that in law. You will need to get the constitution changed. That can be done. The hard work is out there.

    But it has not been done.


  5. I'm not Episcopalian or Anglican. However, I am South Carolina college student who recently completed a research project on the colonial church. As part of that project, I had to read the Church Acts, the laws that established the Church of England, which one can find at Google Books. My understanding is that the societies that the 1778 Constitution speaks of are the corporate bodies of each congregation. Before the 1778 Constitution, the only churches that could incorporate were CofE parishes. When the colonial legislature created a parish, it was incorporated as a "religious society." My reading of this means that the Constitution is basically saying the CofE parishes retain control of their own property (which was necessary, since they were essentially state property). I don't believe that the 1778 Constitution was referring to the PECUSA, since the CofE in South Carolina was never very centralized and was always of a congregationalist bent. The colonial CofE was basically individual parishes that had very little organization beyond the colony's Lay Commission and commissary, however, even his authority was disputed and often ignored. In many ways, the clergy were powerless. In addition, after the war, the Church was in chaos. Finally, in 1778, the formation of PECUSA was several years away. Also, in 1778, the Articles of Confederation were still the law of the land. Most Americans were still thinking on state level. I doubt the legislature was envisioning a future national church. I'm not an expert, and it's been awhile since I've studied any of the documents, but this is from my own study.

    Michael Locklear

  6. Still holding my breath on whether or not the Roman Church is an "association", SCM

  7. The Roman Church an association? Of course not. They have done the hard constitutional work to create a legal entity and hierarchy. So too PCA, UMC, and many others.

    You can take a breath.


  8. Neal Michell7/7/13 11:48 AM

    Dear Michael Locklear,

    Although you are not of our tribe, I appreciate your venturing into this blog and offering your reflections on your research. It takes courage. May you do well and follow the path of scholarship.

    I tend to agree with SCM with his or her more precise description of the legal relationships and ramifications--as well as the confusing relationship between DFMS, TEC, and not to mention the 501(c)(3) status of dioceses and churches in relationship with ECUSA.

    Michael cautions us not to read our own modern-day interpretations into the words of those from previous generations. Preachers and scholars are warned against "eisegesis" when interpreting biblical texts. Michael has applied this safeguard to our own situation. Thank you, Michael.

    Mark, I would say, "Of course, TEC is a hierarchical church." But then we have to decide what that means. Clearly what Michael and SCM are saying is that the lens of those early founders was very individually-state-focused, not nationally-focused.

    Certainly at its origin, the PECUSA was more patterned after the voluntary Articles of Confederation than the more federally-focused U.S. Constitution. Does it remain so now? Although most bishops seem to be espousing the latter, the practice the former.

  9. The Rev. Canon E. T. Malone, Jr.12/7/13 6:40 PM

    I was for three years an editor in the Colonial Records Branch of the Historical Publications Section of the N. C. Dept. of Cultural Resources. We were editing and preparing for publication documents of the Church of England in the colonial Province of North Carolina. There was no bishop, nor any diocesan organization, in any of the colonies. The royal governor acted as clergy deployment officer. Local vestries were very independent, often withholding salaries of clergy. Funding for construction and maintenance of churches and chapels was almost entirely local. Clergy were not "canonically resident" in any particular colony. What the fledgling Episcopal Church inherited from the Church of England in North Carolina was primarily chaos, and it was not able to organize a diocese until 1817. The colonial Anglican congregations that survived and continued to operate in North Carolina, from 1776 until 1817, were for all intents and purposes independent congregational entities. When they, at last, formed a diocese and elected a bishop, one senses from the documents of the time that many of them looked at the bishop more as their "employee" than their boss.

    The Rev. Canon E. T. Malone, Jr.
    Diocese of North Carolina
    Historiographer, 1996-2006
    Secretary of Convention, 1991-2001


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.