THE THIRD DAY OF THE TRIAL
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
Yesterday, Thursday, July 10, was the third day of the trial. Once again we have three first-hand reports from courtroom observers: Steve Skardon (www.scepiscopalians.com), Holly Behre (www.episcopalchurchsc.org/july-2014-trial-in-state-court.html), and the independent diocese (www.diosc.com). These reports give us a good deal of information about the proceedings of the day. Behre's report is most useful for describing the framework of the plaintiffs' (independent diocese) courtroom strategy. Once again, the anti-Episcopal Church report was rather brief, suggesting that side was not very pleased with the day.
Day three continued the pattern from day two of witnesses testifying for the individual parishes that claimed to have left the Episcopal Church, this time Alonso Galvan for the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul; St. Luke's on Hilton Head; Holy Comforter in Sumter; Resurrection in Surfside; Pinckney Thompson of Redeemer in Orangeburg; and Allie Walker of St. John's in Florence.
The point of all the testimony was that all of these local churches had removed ties to the Episcopal Church on the assumption that it was perfectly legal to do so.
The blockbuster news of the day was that the Douglas Trust at St. John's of Florence, an estate trust worth $2.7 million, had been left to St. John's on the stipulation that St. John's remain an Episcopal Church in communion with the Church of England. St. John's congregation voted in December of 2012 to leave the Episcopal Church and to adhere to Mark Lawrence, who was no longer an Episcopal bishop. The non-Episcopalian majority continues to occupy St. John's property. That group is not in the Episcopal Church and not in communion with the Church of England. They may be in violation of the Douglas Trust. Therefore, one might imagine it is only a matter of time before the Episcopal Church diocese is in court claiming the Douglas Trust for the Episcopal Church in Florence. The Episcopal Church part of old St. John's withdrew to meet separately and adopted the name of St. Catherine's. It is the only church in Florence that is part of the Episcopal Church.
Obviously the parade of witnesses yesterday was planned and coached. They all said basically the same things on why they left the Episcopal Church, their talking points: that the Episcopal Church was against them, that Mark Lawrence was badly treated by the Episcopal Church, that they had to choose between the diocese and the Episcopal Church, and that the Episcopal Church would "seize" their property if they did not fight for it. In my view, all of this is historically incorrect.
The witnesses were repeating the points that the diocesan leaders had so successfully ingrained in the diocese for years before the schism. For these myths see the posting "The Myths of the Independent Diocese." For the assertion that Lawrence was mistreated, see the posting "The Second Day of the Trial."
All of the people who took the stand yesterday reflected the effectiveness of the old diocesan leaders' public relations campaign. Bishop Lawrence was a tireless, devoted advocate for his views. He traveled endlessly around the diocese carrying his message to clergy and laity everywhere he went for years before the schism. This campaign reached its high point in 2012. From January to July, Lawrence carried out a busy schedule of local church stops conducting numerous bishop's forums, vestry meetings, classes and the like. After the General Convention of July 2012 he accelerated the campaign of bonding with the people for the rest of the year. The energy and stamina of this one-time undefeated wrestler were truly astonishing. He was astoundingly effective and successful.