Miserable Offenses and New Directions

Big day in the playing fields of the Lord, or at least in Anglican / Episcopal land.

1. The Office of Public Affairs has just published a report that the Presiding Bishop with the advice and consent of her Council of Advice (and I am sure others) has written / emailed / phoned Bishop Lawrence that she as accepted Bishop Mark Lawrence's resignation from the ministry of this church. See HERE.

The problem of course is that, well, Bishop Lawrence has not resigned, at least in the form required by canon.  The request, which has to come from the Bishop, is to be in writing.  Tobias Haller, a wiser person than most, pointed this out in his blog today.  

Additionally, it would appear that if the bishop in question is under "presentment," by which is meant "disciplinary proceedings" he may not request resignation.  We might well wonder if being held to have abandoned communion is a "presentment" in the sense envisioned by the canon?  And then there is the matter under III, 12.8.c which requires that the Presiding Bishop, in the presence of two bishops make a declaration of removal  and then inform the House of Bishops and the Diocese from which the bishop came.  Do we have any report on that?

Well, it's a mess.  The abandonment piece is a source of miserable offense in itself. To prove abandonment one has to wait until just the right moment.  Too soon and looks like pushing someone out the door.  Too late and the bishop on his way out has managed to make such a mess that lawyers, guns and money seem the only future. But abandonment is not the same as resigning the ministry. The one is a presentable offense, miserable and so forth. The other is an honest admission of moving on. 

Now what do we do with a written statement, assuming a very clear one, that says "I'm out of here," but is not written to the Presiding Bishop but rather declared to the world?  If the Bishop of South Carolina says in writing (for example in a posted statement from a speech) that he has left the Episcopal Church, does that count?   Let's assume that Bishop Lawrence did indeed write down and then speak and then release the written document that says, "I have left the Episcopal Church."  Does that count as an "in writing" statement?  And if the statement does not specifically say "I resign" or "I request to resign" can it count if the clear intent of the statement is to tender such resignation?

It would seem to me that Bishop Lawrence did not say that he either resigned or that he requested to do so. He said he has left The Episcopal Church and moved on.  Saying he has left The Episcopal Church (meaning that General Convention union thingy) does indeed imply either abandonment or resignation, but it says neither.  

So the Presiding Bishop is left to make an interpretive judgement - that he has abandoned or left. The abandonment charge is still pending, presuming that the 60 days are still a necessity. The resignation possibility can be immediate upon acceptance of the "written" statement.  

Bishop Lawrence has simply ignored the abandonment statement and has refused to stop acting as Bishop of South Carolina. Sixty days out is a long time and plenty of time do considerable damage. The path of interpreted signs of resignation seems a quicker way too get to the same end: the disengagement of the Bishop from whatever remains of the Diocese of South Carolina as a Diocese in The Episcopal Church. 

Elizabeth Kaeton over on "Telling Secrets" has just blogged a fine essay on "Miserable Offenders."  Fine piece. But actually I don't get the giggles as often as some about using the term "miserable offender."   I think almost everyone in this South Carolina mess is a miserable offender. The bishop surely is, for no matter what else is going on here, he has used a creaky, cranky ol' system of checks on episcopal malfeasance and played the cards to suit his agenda. He has cast his lot with those who believe The Episcopal Church is distructive of -- what shall we call it? --    traditional , conservative -- values and who have decided that somewhere out there in Anglican Land they will find their rest in a place where they are not slammed but protected, not maligned but valued. So they have quit The Episcopal Church. The miserable-ness is that all of this has been near the surface in Bishop Lawrence for a long while and it has clouded his transparency on a number of levels. Bishop Lawrence has appeared more and more slippery, and more and more short of the truth. It is a condition of miserable sinner -itus.

The requirements of the Presiding Bishop in this situation, as I gather she reads it, is miserable as well, and likely to involve miserable sinner-itus as well. She has to try to hold the Episcopal Church (General Convention union) together with enough clarity so that the particular opinions of particular bishops and dioceses to not destroy the union, a union one might add that makes no provisions for dioceses simply leaving without General Convention approval. 

I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if one of the first dioceses to undergo the stress of division had come to the General Convention and petitioned to leave the General Convention, gave the grounds, showed that a large majority of the people and clergy were for it, and made suggestions as to how all could be responsible to the trust or common ownershop concerns. Could General Convention have said, go with our blessings, but know that we will continue in the area where you are to keep and Episcopal Church presence. I don't know. But no diocese has to my knowledge ever petitioned General Convention on any level to a parting of the ways.  Instead leaders have gone with their followers, called themselves the Diocese and generally ended up in a spitting contest with The Episcopal Church leadership.

Into this mix the Presiding Bishop has come, making her way through a difficult time, using and interpreting canons as necessary, and sometimes forging new common law by necessity. 

One of the interesting side problems she has presented us with is the question as to whether or not the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons are interpretive at all.  When we ask if a public statement handed out in written form (which the PB receives along with everyone else) can be understood to be a written statement of resignation we are asking if the Constitution and Canons are interpretive materials as well as 'the letter' of the law.

There is no way she too is not miserable in all this, and no doubt a sinner. No one working their way through this mess could be otherwise.  So when some of us wonder, as Tobias did, if she "jumped the gun" we are really wondering if her agenda got in her way as well.  Agendas go astray are indeed miserable sins.

Then of course there are all of us sitting on the side lines wondering what to do with all this. 

I don't like the princely powers idea, I don't like in Jesus, I don't like it in our bishops and I really don't like it in our Chief Pastor, primate, etc.  But there it is in the Book of Common Prayer, in the prayer over the new bishopWhat the hell do we think we are doing?  

Princely power is exactly what we do not need.  And yet we ask the Presiding Bishop to exercise fiduciary and trust functions, as defined by the laws that govern in society it is executive power every bit as princely as power is in other realms. More, it is required of her as the President of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and the Executive Council that she precisely and carefully defend and protect the holdings, operations and programs of the Church from harm. Sometimes the most miserable sin is the one that is not on the surface a sin at all, but a responsibility.

So after all is said and done, Bishop Lawrence is gone. He is Mr. Lawrence now, at least within The Episcopal Church. He is either on his way to being deposed because he abandoned the church (sure looks like that from here) or he has had all license withdrawn to be a minister in this church because he resigned the ministry.  I sort of hope it is the second, if not because it is the most likely "real" situation but because it does not affect his moral character.  If he is finally deposed because he abandoned the church ( a moot point if the resignation takes) it will more likely involves moral questions. 

On this very same day the Episcopal News Service announced the names of those who will serve on the special task force on structure, etc. They are:

  1. •The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams, Diocese of Western Michigan
  2. • The Rev. William H. Allport, II, Diocese of West Texas
  3. • The Rev. Joseph M.C. Chambers, Diocese of Missouri
  4. • Canon Judith G. Conley, Diocese of Arizona
  5. • Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, Diocese of North Carolina
  6. • Bishop C. Andrew Doyle, Diocese of Texas
  7. • The Rev. Miguelina Espinal-Howell, Diocese of Newark
  8. • Professor Victor A. Feliberty-Ruberte, Diocese of Puerto Rico
  9. • The Venerable Robert Anton Franken, Diocese of Missouri
  10. • Dr. Catherine George, Diocese of New Jersey
  11. • Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, Diocese of El Camino Real
  12. • Ian L. Hallas, Diocese of Chicago
  13. • Julia Ayala Harris, Diocese of Florida
  14. • The Rev. Dr. Bradley S. Hauff, Diocese of Pennsylvania
  15. • The Rev. Leng Leroy Lim, Diocese of Los Angeles
  16. • Thomas A. Little, Esq. Diocese of Vermont
  17. • The Rev. Canon Craig W. Loya, Diocese of Kansas
  18. • Sarah Miller, Diocese of Alabama
  19. • The Rev. Kevin D. Nichols, Diocese of New Hampshire
  20. • Bishop Sean W. Rowe, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania
  21. • Margaret B. Shannon, Diocese of Texas
  22. • T. Dennis Sullivan, Diocese of New York
  23. • Jonathan McKenzie York, Diocese of North Carolina
  24. • The Rev. Dr. Dwight J. Zscheile, Diocese of Minnesota
  • the Very Rev. Peter Elliott of the Anglican Church of Canada, dean of the Diocese of New Westminster and rector of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver
  • the Rev. Sathianathan Clarke, Th.D., of the Church of South India, who is the Bishop Sundo Kim Chair in World Christianity and professor of theology, culture and mission at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Resolution C095 said "up to 24 persons." Well, just for the record this is 26 persons.  I've no complaint except to note that some modifications seem to happen in process. 

Very interesting list. As an old fart who has mucked about in the church over the years it is interesting that the PB and the President of the House of Deputies ended up with a list where I know only about eight of those chosen.  How many do you know? I have no idea who is conservative or progressive, who is old or young (well a few exceptions), gay or straight, etc. I can only hope they are representative of the church to come and not the church that is.

They are tasked to take on the effort “for reforming the Church’s structures, governance, and administration.” Prayers are needed, that and patience.

Perhaps they might early on look at the miseries of these days and see if a new way of thinking of canons and their use might be put forward. Maybe they can think on the vocation of this church in the larger world of christian denominations and world churches and work to find a place to be that will be an offering to the whole world wide body of Christ, whose form is no church and many churches all at the same time.


  1. However you want to put it Mr. Lawrence is no longer the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina - he says he is not an Episcopalian - so that is done IMO.
    Re: the task force - I did not apply and know little about how the people were chosen - I am sure they are all of good will but whether or not they will be able to do anything - we shall see. I have seen so many reorganizations and listening processes in my years of active service in the church (Lay and ordained) - nothing really changes on the group regardless - churches keep chugging along responding to local needs with the heart of Christ as they understand it. I know some of the people - shared an apartment at seminary with one. I am sorry that once again even though the majority of people in TEC are women - there is a majority of men on the Task Force - but of course "father knows best" even in these days.
    I am personally serving on the Flower Guild at our local church and occasionally doing clergy supply at nearby churches -- I offer my prayers and good wishes for South Carolina and for the Task Force.

  2. "I am willing to speculate that Beers or another of the lawyers spotted something deep in South Carolina law that they think will give them some advantage if they can now say “but he was no longer recognized as being in orders, so on an emergency basis, we installed a new bishop”- an argument they would not have been able to use had they waited until Jan 1.

    I also speculate, that after watching the outcome of the CoE vote on women bishops, KJS might have had some concern over whether she could command the 2/3 vote necessary to depose +Lawrence, even under the unconstitutional method used to depose Duncan (which was 2/3 of whoever happened to be in the room at the time, rather than the 2/3 of all bishops entitled to vote, as called for in the constitution and canons). So it appears that the motivation to be rid of +Lawrence (a) without risking an embarrassing loss in the HoB and (b) prior to the new canon taking effect on Jan1, led KJS to the expedient of one more fraudulent act. But after 100 others, what is 1 more?"

    --this comment hits the nail on the head. I struggle to understand how a canon that GC deemed inappropriate and so edited, was cynically appropriated because the deadline for its demise has not passed. This is the worst kind of quasi-legalese. Also to be noted is that a supermajority of HOB is required for Title IV voting against Lawrence, and that is hard to get even at the level of a quorum.

    Why have canons at all if they are merely guidelines/suggestions? Follow the rules that are there or change the rules.

    My gosh, this is basic common life.


  3. People seem to have short memories. In November 2008, Bishop Iker of Fort Worth was inhibited for abandoning the communion, and then the Presiding Bishop cited public statements by Iker saying he was now a member of the Southern Cone to declare he had renounced his orders. It was a reasonable and common sense approach in 2008 then and now. For Mark Lawrence to say "I am not in the Episcopal Church and you have no authority over me" and then to complain that the Episcopal Church takes him at his word is hypocritical.

    Also, there is no "presentment" in Lawrence's case. Presentment is a term used under the old disciplinary canons, and appears in Title IV only in the section on transitions to the new process. The Court made a finding on an complaint and determined an offense occurred. Renunciation of orders comes under Title III. Its language needs to be cleaned up now that the church has finished the transition to the new Title IV. The Presiding Bishop followed the procedures in Title III with the exception that she declared that public statements were the equivalent of a personal letter directed to her.

    Joan Gundersen

  4. Bishop Iker did not renounce his orders. To do that, one must follow the letter of the canons. You cannot declare a renunciation on the part of someone else. Short or long memory is irrelevant. It was wrong then and now.

    Bishop Iker remains a Bishop in Orders. If you want to speak about jurisdiction then you are not referring to this canon.

    It was absurd to say that +Henry Scriven 'renounced his orders' as he functions without let or hindrence as a Bishop in the C of E.

    The upshot of this kind of thinking is that a Bishop is consecrated not in the Church of God but as a denominational functionary. I fear that some in TEC want to make it such a thing.


  5. Perhaps some do...my memory is mostly long enough. I agree that the same argument is being used. It's a good argument. The question remains however: Title III renunciation is not allowed when the bishop is in a disciplinary process (the marginal note stresses that rather than while under presentment.) If words other than the written letter count as the "request" (a bit of editorial license) does he same work for Title III.. It speaks of presentment, but does it really mean the processes of Title IV. So that if one is in a Title IV event you can't simply step aside and quit.

  6. Mark, Abandonment doesn't come under the concept of "Offense" or "Presentment." The Abandonment canon itself makes provision for the use of the renunciation of ministry canon. The real problem here is that that canon requires an express statement to the PB including the "desire" to be removed from ministry. None of ML's statement rise to that level.

    This was expediency, not due process and decent order.


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.