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BY ROBERT LUNDY, EDITOR
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina announced that it would postpone its annual meeting while it considered how to respond to what it described as “provocative interference” by the presiding bishop’s office. On February 9, diocesan Bishop Mark Lawrence wrote a letter to his diocese announcing the postponement from March 4 to March 26 and detailing a series of exchanges between attorneys for the presiding bishop and the Diocese of South Carolina’s attorney.
The letter said that in January, 2010, the Diocese of South Carolina was informed that the presiding bishop’s Chancellor, Mr. David Booth Beers, had retained an attorney in South Carolina that would “represent The Episcopal Church in some ‘local matters.’” The national church, along with the diocese had both been plaintiffs in a lawsuit against All Saints Waccamaw Island, a parish that voted to leave TEC and the diocese in 2000. A number of further requests led diocesan leaders to “believe that perhaps the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, if not the Presiding Bishop herself, is seeking to build a case against the Ecclesiastical Authorities of the Diocese (Bishop and Standing Committee) and some of [their] parishes.”
Attached to Bishop Lawrence’s message were copies of 12 letters, most of which were authored by Mr. Wade Logan, the current diocesan chancellor, or Mr. Thomas Tisdale, former diocesan chancellor and attorney retained by the presiding bishop’s office to represent TEC in South Carolina. In the letters, Mr. Tisdale requested information about the diocese and its parishes including parish bylaws and amendments since 2006, all Standing Committee minutes since the former bishop left office, parish deeds and mortgages and a number of other documents. In one letter, Tisdale, who described himself as “South Carolina counsel for The Episcopal Church,” asked Mr. Logan to confirm that Bishop Lawrence was not planning to sue parishes that threatened to leave the diocese. Mr. Logan responded by saying that no parishes had threatened to leave and that the bishop was the sovereign authority in the diocese and it was his job to work with parishes. He finished his reply by saying, “it seems transparent that TEC is trying very hard to find reasons to involve either the Bishop or the Diocese, or perhaps both, in an adversarial situation.”
Like the diocesan chancellor, Bishop Lawrence viewed the TEC attorney’s actions as adversarial and a challenge to his and the diocese’s authority. Lawrence asked members of the diocese to not strike out in unilateral directions and told them he would be communicating to them in the days leading up to their new convention date.
The Diocese of South Carolina and its bishop have been critical of the national church. In October of 2009, the diocese voted, among other things, that it would limit its involvement with TEC bodies that assented to actions contrary to the faith.
It also appears that the Diocese of South Carolina will not join in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the case against All Saint’s Waccamaw Island. The All Saints parish, now a member of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, won their case after it went to the South Carolina Supreme Court. While the diocese and the national church have so far opted to not appeal that decision, a group of former parishioners is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The national church and the diocese have until March 8 to decide if they will join in the petition. The Supreme Court will decide whether or not to hear the case in late April or early May.†