The Disciplinary Board for Bishops has certified its finding that the Bishop of South Carolina abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has restricted the ministry of the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, bishop of the diocese since 2008, “until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.”
The Diocese of South Carolina’s standing committee has, in turn, announced its decision to withdraw the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The diocese has called a special convention for Nov. 17 to vote on changes to its Constitution and Canons to reflect this withdrawal from the Episcopal Church. Those who disagree with the withdrawal will have the opportunity to propose reaffiliation with the Episcopal Church.
The Presiding Bishop’s restriction of Lawrence’s ministry is dated Oct. 15. The restriction says Bishop Jefferts Schori received a certification of abandonment Oct. 10. The certification is dated Sept. 18.
The standing committee voted on Oct. 2, but made its decision contingent on the Episcopal Church taking any action against the bishop.
“Bishop Lawrence was notified of these actions taken by the Episcopal Church between two meetings, one held on October 3 and one to be held on October 22, which Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Upper Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Lawrence had set up with the Presiding Bishop to find a peaceful alternative to the growing issues between the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina,” the diocese said in an announcement Wednesday afternoon. “The meetings were to explore ‘creative solutions’ for resolving these issues to avoid further turmoil in the Diocese and in the Episcopal Church.”
The diocese released PDFs of documents it has received from the Episcopal Church. It also has released PDFs of documents that explain decisions by the bishop and the standing committee. It argues that the disciplinary board had previously dismissed two of the three charges against Bishop Lawrence.
“A basic question the Board faced was whether actions by conventions of the Diocese of South Carolina, though they seem — I repeat, seem — to be pointing toward abandonment of the Church and its discipline by the diocese, and even though supported by the Bishop, constitute abandonment by the Bishop,” wrote the Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson, Jr., the disciplinary board’s chairman. “A majority of the members of the Board was unable to conclude that they do.”
A document newly presented as evidence against Bishop Lawrence is a revised corporate purpose statement filed in October 2010. That document indicates the diocese’s decision, in another special convention, to qualify its accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Under the revision, the diocese operates “under the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina.”
“We feel a deep sense of sadness but a renewed sense of God’s providence that the Episcopal Church has chosen to act against this Diocese and its Bishop during a good faith attempt peacefully to resolve our differences,” the diocesan statement said. “These actions make it clear the Episcopal Church no longer desires to be affiliated with the Diocese of South Carolina.”