Presiding Bishop issues Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina

 

Presiding Bishop issues Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina

Author: 

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Katharine, a servant of Christ, to the saints in South Carolina.
May the grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus our Savior be with you all.
You and the challenges you are facing in South Carolina remain in my own prayers and in those of many, many Episcopalians.  As the confusion increases, I would like to clarify a number of issues which I understand are being discussed.
1)  While some leaders have expressed a desire to leave The Episcopal Church, the Diocese has not left.  It cannot, by its own action.  The alteration, dissolution, or departure of a diocese of The Episcopal Church requires the consent of General Convention, which has not been consulted.  Examples of legitimate separation from The Episcopal Church include the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, which separated from The Episcopal Church in 1990 to form an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion.  Another is the Diocese of Liberia, which moved from The Episcopal Church to the Province of West Africa, by mutual consent, in the 1980s.  Both are now part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and continue in covenanted relationship with The Episcopal Church.  Nothing of the sort has transpired within the Diocese of South Carolina. 
The decisions “announced” by leaders in South Carolina appear to be unilateral responses to anxiety about decisions made by General Convention and/or the actions of the Disciplinary Board concerning Bishop Lawrence.
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed.  If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with The Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognized by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our Constitution and Canons.
2)  I want to urge every parishioner and cleric in South Carolina to recognize that, as long as you wish to remain in The Episcopal Church, no leader, current or former, can exile you, remove you, or separate you from it without your consent.  That decision is yours alone.  It is one reason why we have imposed checks and balances on the authority of members of the clergy, including bishops.  In our tradition decisions about the Church are not made unilaterally.
Disagreement about a variety of issues is normal in this Church, and has historically been considered a healthy sign of diversity.  Since the time of the early Church we have recognized that none of us is fully cognizant of the mind of God.  The major struggles of the first generation of Christians were over much-debated issues of inclusion – could the uncircumcised be full members?  Who could be baptized? 
Please know that The Episcopal Church wants you to remain!
Your presence adds to the ability of this community to discern the will of God, even if you disagree vehemently with one or another resolution passed by a particular General Convention.  There will be another General Convention in less than three years, and another after that.  Never in the history of Christianity have all the faithful agreed about everything, and I doubt very much that we will come to full agreement about everything before we join the saints in light at Jesus’ Second Coming! 
3)  A number of charges have been raised by these apparently departing leaders around actions by the wider Episcopal Church.  They fall into two areas – one having to do with Bishop Mark Lawrence, concerning his actions in South Carolina, and the other having to do with several bishops who filed statements about Episcopal Church polity (governance) in courts in Illinois and Texas.  These are entirely separate matters, governed by independent processes.
Bishop Lawrence was charged by several members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with having “abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church” by making or condoning actions which repudiate the polity (violate the canons or rules) of The Episcopal Church.  These actions have to do with formally attempting to separate the Diocese of South Carolina, its congregations, and their property from the wider Episcopal Church without its consent.  The Diocese of South Carolina is a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, and that status cannot be altered without the action of General Convention.
The disciplinary processes of this Church carefully considered the matters with which Bishop Lawrence was charged, and the Disciplinary Board found that he had indeed repudiated the polity of this Church.  It then became my canonical responsibility and obligation to limit (“restrict”) his formal ability to function as bishop until the entire House of Bishops can consider these charges.  Bishop Lawrence has an extended period (60 days) in which he can repudiate those charges, and I stand ready to respond positively to any sign that he has done so. 
The other matter concerns nine bishops of The Episcopal Church who have participated in court filings that deny the hierarchical nature of this Church.  Charges have been made by some Standing Committees and other bishops against those nine, and the parties involved are being asked to agree to seek conciliation under the disciplinary canons.  That means that those involved are trying to find a resolution that will end the disciplinary process.  I believe all involved see that as a positive endeavor.
4)  Clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina should be advised that they remain members of this Church until they renounce their orders or are otherwise removed by Title IV processes.  They may also continue to contribute to the Church Pension plan until such formal separation.  In any case, the contributions made while the member was active in The Episcopal Church remain vested in the plan and a pension may be drawn when the plan’s rules permit. The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support Episcopal clergy in South Carolina who wish to remain members of this Church. 
5)  The same is true of all – The Episcopal Church will do everything in its power to support loyal Episcopalians who wish to remain members of this Church.  My desire, and that of most Episcopalians, is that every member of this Church find a home here that supports his or her spiritual growth in the love of God in Christ, and the love of neighbor.  The Episcopal Church has traditionally been broad and diverse enough to welcome and include a great variety of ways of pursuing that spiritual growth.  We want it to stay that way, because we believe that we have greater opportunity to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit when diverse voices are present. 
At the same time, we recognize that an individual may decide that his or her spiritual growth means the individual needs to find another worshipping community.  After thorough discernment, if a person decides that the journey will lead elsewhere, our task is to bless and pray for that person.  Nevertheless, the saints have generally shown us that stability – remaining in relationship, even when it is challenging – is ultimately the healthier, if harder, choice. 
6)  The Episcopal Church and its leaders are working hard to keep the doors and relationships open to all who wish to be part of this body.  We are far from perfect, but we do believe we have greater opportunity for repentance and redemption in dialogue with those who differ or disagree, because we believe God is likely speaking through those around us.  Together we pray in hope of discovering a fuller sense of God’s leading.
I give thanks for you and will pray for your decision making.  I remain
 
Your servant in Christ,
 
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
 
November 15, 2012