Wednesday, July 16, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

Judging from remarks on the Internet, there seems to be some confusion on just when and how the schism occurred. Actually, the documents are clear and are readily available to anyone online. A simple review of these should clear up this issue.

The diocesan website,, presents a treasure trove of original documents and other sources on the history of the schism. Look under convention, media, and news for the various postings. They can all be easily and freely downloaded. For this, we should all be grateful to the diocesan staff. The most important source of all is Lawrence's bishop's diary that was printed in the annual journal of 2013 for the year 2012. Next is a collection of documents the diocese posted as a news release on Oct. 17 (erroneously listed as Oct. 15) called "Episcopal Church Takes Action..." Through these and other original sources one can get a clear picture of when and how the schism occurred.

As background, two separate movements were going on by the summer of 2012. I have seen no evidence that the people involved in the one knew about the other. One movement was the internal development in the diocese toward disassociation. The other movement was the work of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.

In the second, the Disciplinary Board received a complaint from a committee of fourteen persons in the diocese. The Board investigated the evidence then voted by majority on September 18 that Lawrence had abandoned the Episcopal Church. I am not aware of any evidence that Lawrence knew about this until he was informed by the Presiding Bishop on October 15.

In the first movement, the internal actions, a few background factors should be recalled. Earlier diocesan conventions had passed resolutions removing diocesan accession to the canons of the Episcopal Church (including the Dennis Canon), and had kept only a conditional accession to the Constitution of the Church. They had also voted to remove all references to the Church from the corporate charter that had originally said the diocese was incorporated "under" the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Moreover, the convention had given the bishop the sole authority to interpret the constitution and canons of the diocese. It was clear the diocese saw itself as a sovereign and independent entity. In addition, Bishop Lawrence had issued quit claim deeds to all parishes in the diocese.

The final crisis began in July of 2012 with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. The Convention approved two controversial measures, the blessing of same-sex unions and equal rights for transgendered persons. Lawrence vehemently protested these and staged a dramatic walk-out from the House of Bishops. He returned home to lead a diocesan reaction.

On August 21, Lawrence met with the standing committee and announced a secret plan for himself and the diocese. I have not seen any evidence of what was in the secret plan. Shortly thereafter, through Bishop Waldo, of Upper South Carolina, Lawrence agreed to meet with the Presiding Bishop in New York City on October 3.

On September 18, Lawrence and his lawyers met with the standing committee. The committee submitted to Lawrence a formal request for an interpretation of Canon XXXVII that addressed the right of the diocese to disassociate from the Episcopal Church. On September 21, Lawrence issued a brief statement that he and the standing committee were in agreement on a secret plan.

On October 2, Lawrence met with the standing committee and presented to them his 16-page judgment on the questions they had asked. He said that disassociation was legal. He also said it could be done by any of three parties, the diocesan convention, the bishop, or the standing committee. Upon this advice, the committee proceeded to pass a resolution unanimously: "[DSC] withdraws its accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and disaffiliates with the Episcopal Church by withdrawing its membership from the Episcopal Church. The decision shall be effective immediately upon the taking of any action of any kind by any representative of the Episcopal Church against The Bishop." 

The next day, October 3, Lawrence met in New York with Waldo and Jefferts Schori. I have seen no record of the discussion in the meeting. It was announced that Lawrence would meet the Presiding Bishop again on October 11. I have seen no evidence that Lawrence told Waldo or Jefferts Schori about the standing committee resolution of October 2.

Owing to a funeral, Nick Zeigler's in Florence on Oct. 11, the meeting of Lawrence and Jefferts Schori that had been scheduled for Oct. 11 was moved to Oct. 22. On Oct. 9, Jefferts Schori called Lawrence to ask for a meeting in Atlanta on Aug. 13. Lawrence declined the offer.

On October 10, the Presiding Bishop received from the Disciplinary Board the official certification that the Board had found Lawrence had abandoned the Episcopal Church. At noon on Monday, October 15, Jefferts Schori called Lawrence and told him she had placed a "restriction" on his ministry effective noon of Oct. 15. She asked him to keep it confidential until their Oct. 22 meeting. I have seen no evidence that Lawrence told Jefferts Schori about the standing committee resolution at this time.

Under Church rules Lawrence had two choices at that point. He could send a letter of explanation of his actions to the Presiding Bishop who then had the discretion of removing the restriction and restoring the bishop to his full rights. Or, he could wait until the next House of Bishops meeting to be tried by the bishops.

Lawrence chose neither. He immediately called his Council of Advice to spread the word among his inner circle and then went about his bishop's duties as if nothing had happened. For the next two days he huddled with his lawyers, top clergy, and Council of Advice.

On Wednesday, October 17, Lawrence called the Presiding Bishop and told her confidentiality was impossible because of the standing committee's resolution of October 2. Apparently, this was the first time she knew of the resolution. The resolution had gone into effect at noon on Oct. 15, the moment Lawrence was the subject of "any action of any kind." It meant that the diocese had "disassociated" from the Episcopal Church as of noon, October 15, 2012. It was either in this call, or shortly thereafter, that Lawrence cancelled the scheduled meeting with Jefferts Schori on Oct. 22. It was not rescheduled.

Soon after the call of the 17th, on that afternoon, the diocesan office released a large number of documents in a press release on its website "Episcopal Church Takes Action..." A cover letter in it announced the diocese had "disassociated" from the Episcopal Church and had called a special convention. The convention was necessary under the canons that required a convention to make the canonical changes necessary to finalize the disassociation.

The special convention was attended by the large majority of parishes and missions of the old diocese. It voted overwhelmingly to make canonical and constitutional changes removing all references to the Episcopal Church. They continued recognition of Lawrence as the one and only legal bishop of the diocese. Lawrence declared "we've moved on" out of the Episcopal Church and into an extra-territorial diocese in the Anglican Communion.

On December 5, the Presiding Bishop called Lawrence to inform him that she had accepted his renunciation of orders in the Episcopal Church and had released him from all orders in the Church immediately. Lawrence had not sent a letter of resignation or renunciation to the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop did this, on advice of the heads of the Church's provinces, as a result of Lawrence's words and deeds which she judged to be abandonment of the Episcopal Church.

These I believe to be the salient facts around the moment of the schism. The section I have written on Aug-Sept-Oct 2012 in my manuscript runs to forty single-spaced pages with 150 footnotes.

These are the conclusions I draw as my own personal opinions:

1-The schism occurred at 12:00 p.m., Monday, October 15, 2012 upon the unilateral action of the standing committee of the diocese which took this action on the advice of the bishop.

2-The decision to enact the removal of the diocese from the Episcopal Church came from a small group of people, perhaps no more than Lawrence, the lawyers, and the standing committee.

3-The decision was secret among the small group. Only later and after the fact was it revealed to the Presiding Bishop, all the clergy of the diocese, and the public.

4-The diocesan leadership used the crisis of Lawrence's "restriction" to enact the previously held secret resolution.

5-Lawrence chose to remain as the bishop of the diocese which claimed to leave the Episcopal Church on Oct. 15. This meant he left the Church at the same time.

6-The special diocesan convention was called on Nov. 17 only to finalize a disassociation that had already been made by amending the constitution and canons.

7-The Presiding Bishop officially deposed Lawrence as a bishop of the Episcopal Church on December 5, 2012, seven weeks after he had gone along with the diocesan leadership out of the Church.

8-I would not agree that in August-September-October of 2012, Lawrence, or anyone else in the diocesan leadership did all they could to keep the diocese in the Episcopal Church.

If anyone knows of any original documents that would change any of these conclusions, please let me know of them. I welcome new information.

As always, I encourage everyone to e-mail me with your comments (the good, the bad, and the ugly): .