15 more parishes join South Carolina lawsuit against the Episcopal Church

 

15 more parishes join South Carolina lawsuit against the Episcopal Church

Author: 

George Conger

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina reports that 15 further congregations have joined it in their 4 Jan 2013 lawsuit against the national Episcopal Church.
The 22 Jan statement reported that of the dioceses congregations, 31 had joined the lawsuit against the national church, 13 congregations were supporting Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocese against the national church but had not yet joined the litigation, nine missions and two parishes had not declared how they would act, while eight parishes and eight missions had indicated they would remain affiliated with the national Episcopal Church.
“We are saddened that legal action is necessary to protect our members from an organization that uses the threat of legal action as a cudgel to keep its parishes in line,” Bishop Lawrence said.
“The colonists came to this land seeking freedom to worship in the manner they believed faithful. We seek to be free from the national church’s unorthodox theology which separates it from centuries of Anglican teachings and the fundamental beliefs of the global Anglican Communion,” he said, adding that South Carolina Episcopalians “hold a different understanding of the Gospel, the trustworthiness of Scripture and the person and work of Jesus Christ,” than that propounded by the national church’s leaders. “We will not deviate” from the historic faith, the bishop said.
On 4 Jan 2013 the trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and 16 parishes filed suit in the First Judicial Circuit Court in Dorchester County asking the court to affirm the vote of the November Diocesan Special Convention to quit the Episcopal Church.
The complaint further alleged the national church had committed identity theft by unlawfully using its name, symbol and seals and had also slandered the title to all the diocesan and congregational property in the Diocese of South Carolina by stating it had a “right, title and interest” in all assets.
On 22 Jan the national church’s New York office released a statement saying Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori would lead a special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in Charleston on 26 Jan that would elect the retired bishop of East Tennessee, Charles vonRosenberg, as provisional bishop of the diocese as well as new legal officers for the diocese.
A new standing committee would be elected, the announcement said, “nearly two dozen parishes and missions and six worship communities have indicated their intent on remaining with the Episcopal Church; others are expected to attend the special convention.”
The Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of South Carolina, the Rev. Jim Lewis told Anglican Ink the Diocese of South Carolina was composed of 48 parishes and 22 missions.
Under the bylaws of the diocese, for a quorum to be present at a convention, of the 101 total clergy holding the right to be seated, voice and vote, 51 per cent must be present. A quorum of lay delegates is determined by parishes. “Parishes get one vote by our canons.   Missions get half a vote,” he said noting that with “48 parishes and 22 missions, total possible votes 48 + 11 = 59.   A quorum of the congregations was a vote of 30.”
If all of the parishes and missions claimed by the national church to support its stance were present, that would render the proceedings legally void. Canon Lewis noted that “even if they claim 30 congregations, under our canons, all would have to be parishes for there to be a quorum.”
The question of a proper quorum must be considered with the issue as to “whether this was a legitimately called convention” or if there will be a “legitimate election” for a provisional bishop and standing committee Canon Lewis said as canon law requires the ecclesiastical authority to convene a convention.  The presiding bishop, under diocesan and national canons, has no authority to convene a convention.
A spokesman for the presiding bishop on 18 Jan told Anglican Ink the national church had no comment to make about the litigation. However, Executive Council member, the Rev. Canon Mark Harris noted on his blog the “proposition that people who leave The Episcopal Church have a right to take the property and stuff with them” was false. The Episcopal Church was “hierarchical enough so that when you give something to The Episcopal Church (locally St. SaltyBottom in the Swamp) it stays with The Episcopal Church (on the most local level possible).”
The diocese, however, argues the belief the Episcopal Church is hierarchical body with the dioceses subordinate to the national church was historically false and legally suspect. “In fact, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina helped to create the Episcopal Church in 1789 as a confederation of sovereign dioceses,” the diocesan statement said.
“The Diocese chose to disassociate from The Episcopal Church, but we did not leave behind more than $500 million in intellectual, personal or real property that was paid for by members of the Diocese through the 228 years of our existence,” Canon Lewis said.
“The Episcopal Church is welcome to establish a new diocese in the Lowcountry to serve those who wish to remain with them, but it may not commandeer our property or our identity.”