The New Orleans Saints, there being precisely one football team load of them, all the rest of NOLA folk being sinners, won the Super Bowl. They are sovereign - that is they RULE.
Over in South Carolina Bishop Lawrence has written his clergy and people a letter, dated February 9, 2010, in which states that the retaining of a lawyer in South Carolina by the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop to represent The Episcopal Church in "some local matters" constitutes an action that is "an unjust intrusion into the spiritual and jurisdictional affairs of this sovereign diocese of The Episcopal Church."
Got to love this sovereignty business. The diocese is sovereign, just as one supposes the NO Saints are sovereign. They RULE. I suppose in a monarchical turn of the head the Bishop could say he rules in the Diocese of South Carolina, and not the Presiding Bishop, but I doubt he would go there. South Carolina may wish of for the good old days at times, what some of my relatives used to call "anti-bedlam" times, but the good citizens of South Carolina are as dubious of monarchical rule as any of us. No, let's take him at his word: it is the local organization that is sovereign, not an individual. The NO Saints rule: The Diocese of South Carolina rules.
Except of course that is just not true. The bishop has jurisdiction just as the local manager and owners of the NO Saints have jurisdiction, but they exercise their rule in accord with the wider context of NFL or TEC law, and within those as they even further involved the organization with State and Federal law. And, contrary to the sense we are sometimes given by the Communion Partner bishops, episcopal sovereignty is limited by license and vows of obedience to canons beyond those of the diocese.
I am sure Bishop Lawrence, by saying that the diocese is sovereign that it exists apart from TEC, but only that it exists apart from interference by the Presiding Bishop and her chancellor.
Well, he knows what is going on. For The Episcopal Church to have a lawyer in town, mucking through the papers and flashing a card that states that he is the "South Carolina counsel for The Episcopal Church," is for TEC to be something more than a second level abstraction from the real context for sovereignty, namely the diocese. For there to be a TEC counsel in South Carolina is for the long tendrils of the dreaded synodical hierarchy so present in England but surely, surely not here in the land of the free. No, the Bishop of South Carolina knows what is going on here: for there to be a local branch officer of the national chancellor cannot go unnoticed. It is the beginning of the end of autonomy for the Diocese.
Something like this must be what is going on here. If so, I kind of admire the spirit of it all.
Bishop Lawrence has hung his hat with the Communion Partner bishops who among other things are again' the idea that The Episcopal Church is anything other than a voluntary association of dioceses. The argument, mentioned in the letter, that the Diocese and several of its parishes predate the beginning of The Episcopal Church is of limited value, although it is regularly brought up. Several of the parishes do indeed predate the establishment of TEC. The Diocese of South Carolina, however, was formed from the hearth that forged TEC, not before it. And, not to put a fine point on the matter, when the Diocese of Upper South Carolina was formed in 1922 from it, the Diocese of South Carolina had to receive permission from TEC, by way of General Convention, to do so. The limits on diocesan sovereignty included the fact that it could not split into two or otherwise change its jurisdictional boundaries without General Convention approval.
So, the challenge Bishop Lawrence sees in the presence of a lawyer for TEC in South Carlina is being met by postponing the Diocesan Convention from March 4th to March 26th so that the "Bishop and Standing Committee and Diocese" have a chance to "adequately consider a response to this unprecedented incursion into the affairs of the Diocese of South Carolina."
What that response might be is an interesting question.
The Bishop's letter, as well as letters from the TEC Lawyer and the Diocese of South Carolina lawyer, can be found as PDF files HERE.
The DSC lawyer, you will notice, makes use of the sovereignty issue several times in his letters to TEC's lawyer.
Two things: (i) Sovereignty sounds an awful lot like States rights, an idea that backfires sometimes. (ii) TEC was, I believe, involved with the legal battle in DSC over a previous property battle. The door has been opened to inviting the hierarchy in. How do you close it? Some of the correspondence suggests that the Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of South Carolina ought to speak to each other. OK. That would be useful, I am sure, but it does not address the issue of this being a hierarchical church, and if so what sort of hierarchy it has.
My, my, my. Interesting stuff. Still, I must agree with Bishop Lawrence. We ought not get too riled up. "Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit" trumps this stuff every time.
Meanwhile, keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail.