Tuesday, March 18, 2014


By Ronald Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

In October of 2012, I was one of a hundred attendees at a local parish forum with Bishop Lawrence. He had just been "restricted" by the Presiding Bishop. Lawrence opened the meeting by declaring boldly, "I am no longer an Episcopalian!" The adoring audience murmured its approval. An hour later, after hearing everything that was wrong with the Episcopal Church, one man arose to ask a final question, "Shepherd, where will you lead us from here?" It was the best question of the day, simple and direct. The crowd grew still in expectation of some great words of wisdom from their esteemed leader. Lawrence responded hesitatingly, well, maybe here, maybe there, or perhaps over there. He failed to give a coherent answer to a simple question. It did not matter to the crowd. They gave him a standing ovation. In a nutshell, that is the history of the independent Diocese of South Carolina in the past few years. Neither here nor there. The DSC has a major identity crisis. Its bishop does not.

As the DSC convention of the 15th was closed to the public, we still do not have a full picture of its proceedings, only three pieces of information: a press release by the "administrator," Lawrence's address, and a newspaper article (P & C, 3-15). I think we can safely assume that all of the proposed resolutions passed easily and without discussion, as R-3.

Earlier posts here have described the resolutions. They fall into three categories:  1-primatial oversight. Lawrence and his good friend Anis have concocted a strange scheme to give DSC a "council" of primates, but with the provision that DSC can back out whenever it wishes. This is a transparent charade meant to convince the good people of South Carolina that they are authentic "Anglicans";  2-authoritarian control. The bishop alone can: -appoint the members of the "Discernment" committee, -remove a parish or mission from the diocese, -dictate what liturgies can be used in churches, -appoint and dismiss clergy at will, -control all parish properties through the rector who was given "authority" over the properties, -require worship to follow only the Episcopal Church services. There is much more to these resolutions than meets the eye.

For reasons still not apparent, Lawrence refuses to join the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). All of the other four departing dioceses have joined ACNA and are dioceses in it. He and Bob Duncan, the archbishop of ACNA, have a long and close history going back more than two decades when Lawrence was a rector in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Duncan was canon to the ordinary then bishop of the diocese. Lawrence's refusal to join ACNA certainly does not stem from unfamiliarity. And perhaps that the point--too much familiarity. It is interesting to note than one of the resolutions, C-5, required that only Episcopal Church liturgies be used in DSC services. Others have to have the express approval of the bishop. This precludes use of the newly published book of services of the ACNA. Is this a slap at Duncan and Keith Ackerman, head of the committee that drew up the new liturgies?

In the convention, apparently there was no talk of the 800 pound elephant in the room, litigation. Even so, it is entirely possible that this is in fact the issue propelling everything going on in the DSC these days.

Given the recent court rulings on church properties, there is a good chance that the Episcopal Church and its diocese will regain the church properties now held by DSC. In spite of all their bluster about the Dennis Canon being dead in South Carolina, the DSC leadership is obviously anxious about their legal future. The supreme courts in nearby Virginia and Georgia have overwhelmingly recognized the Episcopal Church and its dioceses as the owners of church properties, even of ancient parishes. This is bound to impact on South Carolina.

Lawrence knows very well that DSC will be in for a major crisis if the courts finally rule for TEC. In the first place, a certain number of DSC communicants will stay with their ancestral shrines and family graveyards. In the second place, the wayward clergy can easily return home as they have been only released and not defrocked. When the DSC leaders are removed from the presently occupied churches, they will have a whole new set of daunting problems.

This returns us to the original problem, identity. What the DSC convention was all about was building identity. Lawrence's peculiar arrangement of a primatial "Council" run by the Global South, but at the discretion of DSC, is meant to develop a patina of legitimate Anglicanism. It will not work. On the other hand, refusal to join ACNA will not build Anglican identity either. That begs the question of what will work.

The DSC has been separate from TEC for well over a year now. In that time two co-dependent factors have become clear: it has joined no larger group, and the bishop has expanded his authoritarian power.

It is crucial for the future of the independent diocese that it develop a distinct identity. This is the only way it can survive the shock of losing in court. However, Lawrence is not succeeding in making a certain identity for his diocese. So we return to where we started. "I am no longer an Episcopalian!" Okay. A year and a half later the good people of South Carolina are still awaiting a coherent answer to their pertinent question, "Shepherd, where will you lead us from here?"