Sunday, October 13, 2019


Tuesday, October 15, 2019, will mark seven years since the schism in the old Episcopal diocese of South Carolina. To be exact, the split happened at 12 noon on Monday, 15 October 2012. I suggest that everyone pause for a moment at noon on this Tuesday, Oct. 15, to remember this event. Right now, the anniversary is a convenient time to reflect on what happened seven years ago and what has happened since. Where does the schism stand now all these years later? What about the future?


Space here permits only a brief summary of events. See my history of the schism for exhaustive (or exhausting) details. 

At noon, on 15 October 2012, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, telephoned the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Also on the call were the members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops and Wade Logan, chancellor of DSC. Jefferts Schori telephoned from the church headquarters in New York. Lawrence was in the diocesan house, on Coming Street, in Charleston.

Jefferts Schori told Lawrence that on Oct. 10 she had received a certificate of abandonment from the DBB finding that Lawrence had abandoned the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. She announced she was placing a restriction on him as of 12 noon of Oct. 15. He was not to perform any ministerial function until the matter was resolved.

The presiding bishop asked Lawrence to keep this confidential as she was to meet him in person seven days later in NYC. She, Lawrence, Bishop Waldo of Upper SC, and the two chancellors were scheduled to talk on October 22. Jefferts Schori wanted a private, and peaceful, end to this problem.

Under the canons, a bishop under restriction remains a bishop, at least for the time being. The DBB is only a sort of grand jury bringing charges that others have to process. A restricted bishop has two ways to remove the restriction. In one, he or she can write a letter of explanation to the presiding bishop who then has the discretion of restoring the bishop. In the other, he or she may plead his or her case to the next meeting of the House of Bishops whereupon the bishops would vote whether to depose or restore the restricted bishop. Lawrence chose neither of these.

Why did Lawrence not choose one of these options? He knew something the presiding bishop did not know. He knew what her action on restriction meant. It meant schism. 

Why did it mean schism? It meant schism because the leaders of the diocese had set a hidden trap. On October 2, the DSC Standing Committee adopted a secret plan to disassociate the diocese from the Episcopal Church if TEC took "any action of any kind" against Bishop Lawrence. Lawrence did not mention this to Bishop Waldo. Lawrence did not mention this to Jefferts Schori when he met with her, and Waldo, the next day in NYC (Oct. 3). Lawrence did not mention this when Jefferts Schori was on the phone on the 15th. In fact, Jefferts Schori tried two times to meet with Lawrence between Oct. 10 and 15 but Lawrence refused. On one occasion she was in Atlanta, a five hour drive from Charleston. Lawrence refused to go.

The evidence suggests Lawrence listened quietly to Jefferts Schori in the call. He did not argue against the charges. Apparently he did not dispute the request for confidentiality. However, as soon as he hung up the phone he sprang into action.

The hidden trap snapped shut. Lawrence immediately called Logan, who had been in on the call. Under the terms of the Standing Committee resolution of Oct. 2, the chancellor had to certify that "any action of any kind" had been taken against Lawrence. Evidently Logan did that and a conference call was set up with the diocesan Standing Committee, at 1:30 p.m. Jeffert Schori's confidentiality lasted less than an hour and a half. Obviously, the Standing Committee and the others in on the 1:30 call agreed to put into effect the Oct. 2 resolution that provided for disaffiliation. Appartently, all agreed that the diocese was now independent of the Episcopal Church. The moment of the break was officially set as 12 noon, October 15, 2012. 

One should bear in mind that Lawrence had made this oath at his ordination as bishop in 2008:  I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

Now came the task of how to relay the news of the separation to an unsuspecting diocese and the world.


The secret plan of Oct. 2 was a unanimous resolution of the diocesan Standing Committee to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church if and when the Church took any action against Bishop Lawrence. Since Lawrence had flagrantly and openly disregarded the Dennis Canon of TEC, it was widely suspected that he could well be charged with abandonment of communion (even though he had been cleared of this by the DBB in 2011). The Committee would not have passed such a statement if they had thought Lawrence was safe from charges.

The plan was not a sudden event. It was several months in the making. For the first half of the year 2012, the diocesan leadership had carried on a concerted campaign around the diocese against the expected approval of the blessing of same-sex unions at the General Convention, of July 2012. In the Convention, Lawrence had staged a dramatic walk-out from the House of Bishops in protest of the GC's adoption of the blessing. Back in SC, diocesan leadership began preparing for a separation. 

On August 21, an ultra secret meeting of the diocesan leadership was held. No word of this gathering has ever leaked out. To this day, the discussion remains absolutely sealed. However, circumstantial evidence suggests this was the point at which the leadership finally resolved to break the diocese away from the Episcopal Church. The problem now was the best way to effectuate this. The leaders agreed to go through the Standing Committee rather than having a public discussion as in a diocesan convention or other open venue.

At the next meeting of the Standing Committee, the committee secretly asked the bishop for a statement on how the diocese could disassociate from TEC. A sixteen-page letter was drawn up with all the signs of having been written by lawyers. It was signed by Lawrence. The letter gave permission to the committee to disassociate the diocese from TEC. An earlier diocesan convention had given to the bishop the sole right to interpret the constitution and canons. The letter was delivered to the Standing Committee on Oct. 2. With this, the committee adopted a resolution for conditional separation. Meanwhile, all of this remained secret, known only to the tightly bound leadership of the diocese. No more than two dozen people were in on the plan, the bishop, the chancellor, close associates and advisors, and the standing committee. There was never an open and public discussion in the diocese about whether they should secede from the Episcopal Church. 

The very next day after the committee's vote, Lawrence went to NYC, to meet with Waldo and Jefferts Schori. He failed to mention the resolution. Nothing came of the meeting. Afterwards, Lawrence refused to meet in person with them.


The schism was a pre-meditated event. Even so, it required a great deal of work to effectuate and so the leadership went at it immediately. The separation would have to be announced in the strongest possible way to the diocese and the public.

Two days later, on 17 October, the leadership was ready to move into action. Lawrence called Jefferts Schori and told her the diocese had disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church. That afternoon, the diocesan office posted on its website a slew of documents announcing to the world that the diocese had left the Episcopal Church. They also announced a diocesan convention meeting on 17 November to make the necessary changes in the diocesan canons. At that point, the clergy and laity of the diocese were given a fait accompli and therefore had two choices, go along with it or stay behind with the Episcopal Church. The majority choose to go along. When the convention assembled on 17 November, Lawrence told them the break had already occurred and the purpose of the convention was only to alter the canons to reflect this. This was a revolution from the top down. It did not arise from the pews.


Although the break occurred on 15 October 2012, it was thirty years in the making. The diocesan divergence from the mainstream of the Episcopal Church started in 1982 under the episcopacy of Bishop Fitz Allison, a devoted and outspoken Evangelical theologian and writer. Criticism of the church's social reforms built up after that. More and more the diocese moved to differentiate itself from the Church. This ratcheted up in 2003 with the Church's confirmation of an open and partnered homosexual bishop. In 2006 and 2007, a search committee and standing committee hostile to Church reforms on sexuality chose as the next bishop a man who had written two essays defending diocesan departure from TEC and the submission of TEC to the wider Anglican Communion (his own diocese voted to leave TEC in 2006 and 2007). In 2009 and 2010, the diocesan convention declared the diocese sovereign and self-governing. In 2011, Bishop Lawrence issued quit claim deeds to the local parishes surrendering any claim the diocese might have in the properties. This was in blatant disregard of TEC's Dennis Canon. This gave the national church an offer it could not refuse. 

The trajectory of the diocese from 1982 to 2012 was away from the mainstream of the Episcopal Church. No evidence of a written agreement among the diocesan leadership to make a schism has ever surfaced, but circumstantial evidence suggests an attitude, perhaps an understanding, among them of continued differentiation from TEC the logical outcome of which would be schism. In fact, the schism of 2012 was the third division of the old diocese. The first was the breakaway of All Saints of Pawleys Island, in 2004. The second was the separation of St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant, in 2011. A pattern of schism was well-established before 2012.


The old diocese has split into four parts: All Saints, St. Andrew's, ADSC, and EDSC. 

By federal court order, the Episcopal Church diocese is the legal and legitimate heir of the historic diocese. It is in fact the Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with all the legal rights this entails. The Episcopal diocese was started in 1785.

At the schism, the breakaway group seized (illegally as we now know) the names, emblems, and rights of the historic diocese. In 2019, the federal court ruled they had no right to do so. The breakaway organization is an entity separate from the old diocese. The new diocese chose to name itself the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. The ADSC is now appealing the federal decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals which almost certainly will uphold the lower court.

The direct cause of the schism was social policy, particularly equality for and inclusion of homosexuals, the transgendered, and women in the life of the church. After the schism, both sides developed policies and procedures along their preferred lines. The Episcopal diocese adopted the blessing of same-sex unions, then same-sex marriage. The Anglican diocese established a Statement of Faith and made it a blanket requirement in the diocese. It banned same-sex marriage in the diocese. The Anglican diocese joined the Anglican Church in North America which discriminates against both homosexuals and women. Women are not allowed to be bishops and are therefore excluded from power. Both dioceses have institutionalized their social policies.

The schism has been fought out for almost seven years in the courts. The Episcopal side won the entity of the historic diocese as well as the bulk of the local parishes. Both the highest state court and the federal court ruled on the side of the Episcopal Church diocese. This has come at a heavy cost to both sides. The total amount we cannot know, probably never will know. However, it appears as if the total legal costs are in excess of ten million dollars.

Was the schism and the subsequent legal war necessary? No. The diocese had the local option to block the blessing of same-sex unions. The diocese could have stayed in TEC and kept its socially conservative attitudes. TEC left participation in its social reforms up to individual conscience. Nor was the legal war necessary. On at least three occasions, the breakaways had opportunities to make compromise settlements and refused. In June of 2015 they could have swapped the parishes for the diocese. Moreover, they had two chances at mediation. Now, after millions of dollars and years in court, which they initiated, they have six parishes and a few missions. 


Having won back the entity of the diocese and 29 parishes, it is just a matter of time before the Episcopal diocese repossesses the assets of the old diocese and the local parishes. The breakaways can stall temporarily but not indefinitely.

The Anglican diocese has adopted a deny and delay strategy in the legal war. This is buying time but will inevitably play out. They have lost the old diocese and the bulk of the local parishes.

The Anglican diocese faces two possible choices: 1-merge what is left into the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, under Bishop Wood, of St. Andrew's in Mt. Pleasant; 2-rebuild itself as a separate diocese in ACNA with a dozen or so local churches. The second will depend somewhat on how many people leave the 29 parishes after reunion with the Episcopal Church. The ADSC leadership has been working hard to establish an "Anglican," i.e. anti-Episcopal, identity in the diocese (as the recent African prelates' appearance in Charleston). If they can extract enough parishioners from the 29, they may be able to create enough new Anglican congregations to sustain a viable diocese. This remains to be seen. At this point, no one can know how many communicants will remain in the 29 parishes.

In the near term, as one awaits the wrap-up of the litigation, one may expect the Episcopal side to prepare for an expeditious return of the diocese and parishes. The Anglican side will delay this as long as possible. Eventually, they will exhaust all possibilities. Then, the remaining Anglicans will have to decide where they go from there. 

After seven years, it is not too soon to start thinking about success and failure in the schism. Evaluating this depends on how one looks at various factors. In terms of empirical evidence, the schism has been a failure. The breakaways lost the diocese and most of the parishes. After the schism, they lost a third of their communicants. All quantifiable indicators show relentless decline in ADSC. Meanwhile, the Episcopal diocese has gained members steadily, now at twenty percent growth. 

However, looking at it another way, the schism has been a big success. The original goal of the anti-TEC movement in the 1980's and 1990's was political. Conservative PACs set out to destroy or diminish the Episcopal Church in order to neutralize its "liberal" influence in American life. On that level, the schism has succeeded to some degree. It has certainly done great damage to the old Episcopal Church in South Carolina, arguably the most important religious institution in the Low Country. It will take many years, perhaps generations, before the Episcopal Church returns to its pre-schism place in the life of lower South Carolina. 

The schism, or schisms, in SC have also created a significant parallel, rival "Anglican" presence in the region. All Saints, St. Andrew's, and now the ADSC are all connected to GAFCON which is a shadow government in the Anglican world challenging the traditional structure of the Anglican Communion. Its aim is to coalesce the majority of Anglicans in a new fundamentalist alliance devoted to social conservatism, particularly against the rights of homosexuals and women. One must recognize that this anti-TEC Anglican presence in SC will continue.

The general outlines of the legal resolution have been determined. For both sides now, the really hard work begins. For EDSC, the enormous challenge will be to restore the diocese and rebuild the parishes. Some communicants will stay. Some will leave. Only time will tell how many of each.

For ADSC, the challenge will be to decide whether to join other local Anglican entities or to go it alone. Going it alone will present a host of difficulties.

Thus, the schism has been going on for seven years, after brewing for thirty. All signs indicate a very long process of recovery for both sides in the future. 

Was the schism worth it? I know what I think. You, dear reader, have to decide for yourself. So, I suggest you stop at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and reflect on what the schism has meant to you.

Then, we must turn our eyes to the future.