Tomorrow, October 15, is an anniversary to remember. How one remembers it depends on which side of the fence one is on. It was three years ago, October 15, 2012, that the authorities of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina finally enacted, at least among themselves, their plan to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church.
At 12:00 noon, on Monday, October 15, 2012, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, initiated a conference telephone call from her office in New York City. It included the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, Mr. Wade Logan, the chancellor of the Diocese, and the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. Schori announced to all that the Board had certified that Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church, and therefore under the canons of the Church, the Presiding Bishop was required to place a restriction on the Lawrence. She forbade him for exercising any ministry until this issue could be resolved. He would have sixty days in which to make a written appeal to the Presiding Bishop who then would have the discretion to remove the restriction and restore the bishop to his constitutional ministries. As an alternative, Lawrence could wait until the next meeting of the House of Bishops, scheduled for March of 2013, make his case to the House and have a trial and verdict of the bishops.
Jefferts Schori followed the rules in the canons of the Church, then she added a personal request. She asked Lawrence to keep this private until they met on October 22 in the conference already planned of Jefferts Schori, Lawrence and Bishop Andrew Waldo, of Upper South Carolina, in New York. There they could meet again and try to resolve the issues privately and quietly. Lawrence listened and the conference call ended. Lawrence then proceeded to ignore all that Jefferts Schori had directed to him.
Immediately after the call, Lawrence arranged a conference call with the diocesan standing committee at 1:30 p.m. Apparently, Lawrence, the committee, and perhaps the lawyers Wade, and Alan Runyan, all agreed that the "restriction" automatically enacted the previously secret plan of to disassociate the diocese from the Episcopal Church. Earlier, on October 2, 2012, the bishop, lawyers, and committee had agreed in a private meeting on a secret plan to remove the diocese from the Church. The committee passed a resolution that if the Episcopal Church took "any action of any kind" against Lawrence, the diocese would automatically leave the Episcopal Church. For the time being, this plan remained the secret of the clique of twenty or so persons in on it. Lawrence met Jefferts Schori and Waldo the next day in New York and did not mention the committee's vote.
Thus, it was on the afternoon of October 15, 2012, that the officials of the Diocese of South Carolina unilaterally decided on the withdrawal of the diocese from the Church. This was kept secret for two days to allow Lawrence and the other officials time to prepare for the announcement to the rest of the world.
On Wednesday, October 17, Lawrence called Jefferts Schori and told her the diocese had disassociated from the Episcopal Church because of the heretofore secret October 2 resolution of the standing committee. The break went into effect at noon of October 15, the moment of the phone call to Lawrence with the announcement of the "restriction." Jefferts Schori made it plain she was still planning on the previously scheduled meeting of October 22. In fact, there was no meeting between Lawrence and Jefferts Schori after October 17. Lawrence claimed that he had disaffiliated from the Church; therefore, there was no point in a further meeting with Episcopal Church officials. Nevertheless, Jefferts Schori called Lawrence several more times in a vain effort to keep talks going.
As soon as Lawrence ended his phone call to Jefferts Schori of October 17, the diocesan office issued a prepared barrage of press releases announcing the removal of the diocese from the Episcopal Church. It also announced a special diocesan convention on November 17 in order to revise the diocesan canons to reflect the disassociation the standing committee had already made. It is important to note that the purported removal of the diocese from the Church was made in secret by a group of no more than twenty people who appointed themselves authorized to do this. The clergy and communicants of the diocese were informed of this only by the press releases of October 17. This was a revolution from the top down.
The special diocesan convention met on November 17 at St. Philip's in Charleston. As expected, the assembly passed all the resolutions presented to them by the ruling clique with large majorities. Lawrence announced to the assembly they had disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church but they would continue as the Diocese of South Carolina with himself as the bishop. The convention affirmed this.
On December 5, 2012, Jefferts Schori issued to Lawrence a formal "Release and Removal." She said she and her council of heads of the provinces of the Episcopal Church recognized that Lawrence had left the Church and so abandoned the Holy Orders the Church had bestowed on him. The Release and Removal released Lawrence from this vows to the Church and removed him as a bishop. Lawrence, and the majority of the diocese however made it plain they still considered Lawrence the legal and legitimate bishop of the diocese. Some primates of the Anglican Communion, namely in Global South, agreed with Lawrence and declared their recognition of his claims to office. Now the self-declared bishop, validated by the majority of communicants, Lawrence announced the diocese to be an extra-provincial diocese of the Anglican Communion. Global South agreed but the official structure of the Anglican Communion ignored it. After three years, the "diocese" is still on its own, unaffiliated with a province of the Anglican Communion. It remains the only one among the five breakaway cases in the U.S. not to join the Anglican Church in North America.
Thus, dear reader, October 15 is a date to remember. Mark it as you wish. I think everyone should pause at noon for a minute of silence. I for one see October 15 as a day of infamy, another needless self-inflicted disaster for South Carolina. The direct cause of the schism, opposition to equality for homosexuals, is a cause past its time. That front of the great modern culture war is closed. America has moved on leaving the schismatics to their peculiar "discriminate inclusivity." Nevertheless, the destructive effects of this premeditated conspiracy to create division will last for a long time in a state that has already seen more than its share of tragedies. I expect to pass the day in quiet reflection and prayer that it all may end as soon as possible. Healing, restoration, and reconciliation will come, and not a moment too soon. And, I have a feeling it is much closer than I had thought after I witnessed the state supreme court hearing of Sept. 23.