Bishop Lawrence has told his people, we are going out. That was the theme of his address to the annual meeting of the Diocese of South Carolina, on March 10, 2018. The printed copy of the speech is given here . This link also provides the audio version.
The tone, as well as the message of this bishop's address, varies markedly from all of his earlier annual remarks to the convention. This one has an air of resignation, even sorrow, and a sound of defeat, at what has happened and what is to come. The overall theme is leaving home but it is masked in the imagery of the sower going out to sow seed that will grow and flourish. The sower has to "go out" to do this. Lawrence used the term "going out" or some variation of it twenty-one times in his address. The other themes woven in are change, decline, growth, and the uncertainty of the future, all highly relevant points of the day, but none hopeful or uplifting. One can easily envision a cloud of despair over last week's diocesan convention.
Although gone were the all too familiar military metaphors of past speeches, Lawrence could not let the Episcopal Church go unscathed. He said the Episcopal Church had the parishes of DSC in its "crosshairs," implying the Church was aiming to shoot them: "The Episcopal Church ["our former denomination" in the oral version] is an attempt to bring every congregation of the diocese (and even those outside the diocese) into their crosshairs." A moment later, he said, "When the Disrupter [Episcopal Church?] comes, he puts you in the crosshairs." He was also fond of the word "persecution," using it six times, clearly implying TEC. Several times, he used the imagery of early Christians being forced out of their homes.
Lawrence made only one direct remark about people leaving the 29 parishes when he said, "Then there is the related question, such as 'If we should lose, who will stay with the building and who will not?'" He said he was not going to lose his "resolve" and suggested his listeners do the same, implying they should leave the buildings.
Signaling defeat, Lawrence said, "With just a few exceptions, as far as I can tell, most of us are not going out as sowers sowing the seeds of the gospel. The growth statistics just do not bear it out." True! As I have pointed out in detail in three recent posts, active membership in DSC has fallen off a cliff since the schism, down 35%. In fact, the Diocese of South Carolina has lost almost half its active membership in the decade of Lawrence. The imagery of sowing seed for growth is an irony not to be missed.
So, who is to blame for the failure? He put the blame on himself and his followers. True again.
In fact, Lawrence had at least three opportunities to settle his differences with TEC peacefully. After Oct. 3, 2012, the Presiding Bishop tried three times to get in-person meetings with Lawrence to work out a solution in private, Oct. 11, 13, and 22. Lawrence backed out of every one. The second chance was in June of 2015 when the Church offered to release the 36 parishes from their trust obligations to the Episcopal Church. This was to be in exchange for the legal entity of the old diocese. If Lawrence had accepted this, the parishes would be independent today and the outright owners of their properties. The third opportunity was the mediation of October 2017-January 2018. It was a failure, but is still technically open.
There are two major issues in the litigation between the two dioceses. One is control of the parishes. That has been settled by the state supreme court which declared that TEC and its diocese had trust control over 29 parishes. The other issue will be settled by the federal court. It is which one is entitled to the legal entity of the pre-schism diocese. Odds are strong in favor of TEC. In spite of desperate appeals, it is clear DSC is on the brink of legal disaster.
Lawrence ended his speech of sadness on a lament, St. Brendan's Prayer. It is all about leaving home and facing the wild dangers of the open sea:
"Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home?...
O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?/O Christ, will You help me with the wild waves?"
And so, the experiment of the schism has failed and the stark reality is finally settling in on the leadership and people of the Diocese of South Carolina. The DSC leaders told their people they could defy the laws of their Church and leave with the body of the diocese and with the local church properties. They assured the people they had every right to do this. In fact, they have been proven wrong, terribly wrong. After squandering millions of dollars of the people's money, they failed in the high court of the state. The SC supreme court ruled that the 29 parishes remain under the Episcopal Church, along with Camp St. Christopher. Chances are the federal court is about to recognize the Church diocese as the true heir of the old diocese.
Where does DSC go from here? The leaders gave the people no clear picture. They are "going out" but where? The "seeds" they planted failed to sprout. Now they face no harvest, only brokenness and loss. In spite of all of the DSC leaders' demonization of the Episcopal Church, we know that at least some of the communicants who were misled are not "going out" from their church families and homes.