Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Bishop Lawrence has announced a whirlwind tour of the diocese of South Carolina stopping in five places in 10 days. Find the official announcement of this here . From July 31 to August 9 he will stop in Sumter, Walterboro, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and James Island. Is this the last hurrah, the swan song, the grand finale, the final act before the curtain falls? I sense that it may well be.

At the age of 68, with the failure of the schism too evident, his work crashing all about him, and his dreams of a great independent diocese vanishing, I expect Lawrence would be thinking a lot these days about his life and his legacy. He probably does not have many more years before he heads off into retirement although he has guaranteed employment and virtually free use of the bishop's residence on Smith Street until 2020 or the Church diocese reclaims it, whichever occurs first.

The status conference in the circuit court last Thursday made it very clear, as if anyone needed such, that the Episcopal Church has been legally recognized as the controller of the 29 parishes and Camp St. Christopher. Judge Edgar Dickson made it plain that he expects to wrap up the enactment of the state supreme court decision at the earliest convenience. It is just a matter of time before TECSC repossesses the properties.

So, if Lawrence has lost the 29 parishes, what is the point of his grand tour?he blurb from DSC says it is all about "refocusing on mission." Mission would presumably be reaching out to new people to join the group. Reaching out to new people now would be like the Titanic taking on more passengers after it struck the iceberg. I doubt seriously that anyone would believe it is about mission. Then what is it about? Why the mad dash?

I expect there is a simple explanation, to sway as many people as possible to leave their church buildings and form congregations in exile. These would be DSC local churches. At the moment, DSC legally holds six parishes, none in Charleston. Old Saint Andrew's of West Ashley claims to be one of the DSC parishes but it is not according to the SC supreme court decision. It is included in the 29 under TEC control.

What will Lawrence say in his performances? I think we can get a hint in the blurb. At the end, DSC lists "Helpful Resources" presumably to help people get ready for the "gatherings" with Lawrence. Four items are listed. One is the recorded program "Why the Battle?" that the Revs. Kendall Harmon and Al Zadig conducted at St. Michael's last spring. They demonized TEC about as thoroughly as they could. Another is "Litigation Facts," a highly imaginative and self-serving accounting of the years of litigation between the two dioceses. Then there is the Kennedy video smear of Bishop Skip Adams's disposition of the property of a defunct parish in Binghamton, NY. Plus there is a handy transcript of the video. Every bit of this material trashes the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church bishop, Adams. This should give us a good idea of what is going to happen in Lawrence's five appearances. They should be very interesting at the very least. If nothing else, Lawrence is a fighter and we can expect him to go to "the mat" a last time in which may well be the last great match of his life, his attempt to save what he can of the DSC. 

No one should underestimate Mark Lawrence. In doing research for my history of the schism I came to admire many of his personal qualities. In a way, his whole life has been a struggle against the odds, the tiny baby who barely survived birth, the undersized boy who had to work hard to keep up, the scrappy high school and college wrestler who did not like to lose and rarely did, the intrepid if uneven student who spent eight years working his way through college, the late convert who felt called to devote his whole life to what he saw as a mission from God. Who could not admire all of that? His unusual stamina, energy, strength, and resolve were evident. He proved to be an outstanding parish priest and much beloved by admiring parishioners. And, in a way, all of this earlier promise and accomplishment makes this slightly pathetic, desperate-appearing display all the more poignant.

Lawrence did not seek the office of bishop. The search committee started seriously looking at candidates, some 50 in all, in 2006. Lawrence was not a candidate then. In May of 2007, the committee decided it really did not like any of the finalists. It asked Bishop Hathaway, Lawrence's old boss in the diocese of Pittsburgh, to contact Lawrence, then in Bakersfield CA, and ask if he would submit his name. Hathaway did and Lawrence did. Long story short, a few weeks later, the search and standing committees recommended Lawrence as a finalist and the convention elected him even though he was virtually unknown in South Carolina. In other words, Lawrence was virtually drafted by the search committee. We do not know the full story of this as the search committee minutes have not appeared. I am not sure they still exist.

In the background of the circuit court trial, of 2014, TECSC lawyers charged in court that Lawrence had been part of a conspiracy, a quid pro quo, to make Lawrence bishop in return for his leading DSC out of TEC, property in hand. This may be. There was some evidence of it but perhaps not enough to prove the charge conclusively. Lawrence certainly was well rewarded after he became bishop with a generous salary, virtually free housing at diocesan expense, guaranteed lifetime employment even if he were removed as bishop, and a great deal of authority. Since he failed to lead DSC out of TEC with property in hand, one could argue that he got by far the better end of the deal, if there were a deal.

Lawrence has invited people to attend his "gatherings." I encourage people to go and ask questions. I will not be in SC at the time, but I have written down a few questions off the top of my head I would ask of Lawrence:

1--- You assured people in TEC before the second try at consents for bishop, in 2007, that you "intended" to stay in TEC. At what point did your intent change and why?

2--- When you were rector of St. Paul's in Bakersfield, that diocese voted twice to support diocesan secession (2006, 2007). St. Paul's voted yes. The second time you were absent, but how did you vote the first time? This was before your statement of "intent." How did that vote square with you later expressed "intent" to remain in TEC?

3--- In 2012, the TEC General Convention voted to approve same-sex blessings. This included the local option for a bishop and diocese to opt out yet you rejected this. What was wrong with accepting the local option and staying in TEC?

4--- On August 21, 2012, there was an ultra secret meeting of the diocesan leadership which apparently planned to take DSC out of TEC. The meeting remains secret to this day. What happened in that meeting?

5--- On Oct. 2, 2012, the standing committee secretly passed a resolution to withdraw DSC from TEC if TEC took any action of any kind against the bishop. You met Bishop Waldo and the Presiding Bishop the next day. Why did not you tell them about the resolution? Why did you keep it secret for 15 days? Does not the resolution prove a premeditated plan of schism?

6--- After the Oct. 3 meeting with the PB, she tried several times to meet with you. Why did you refuse to meet her again? On one occasion she was in Atlanta. You had nothing on your schedule yet you refused to see her. Why?

7--- After the PB placed a restriction on you, on Oct. 15, 2012, you had two ways to remove it and restore yourself. One was a letter to the bishop explaining yourself, the other an appearance before the House of Bishops with an explanation. You refused both of these. Did not this contradict your earlier declaration that it was your intent to remain in TEC?

8--- You, and your lawyers, entered a lawsuit against TEC even though TEC had shown no sign of taking legal action. Is not it hypocritical to file a lawsuit after criticizing the other side for doing the same thing?

9--- In your ten years as bishop, DSC communicant number have fallen by nearly half and the budget by a third, by DSC's own records. How do you account for this?

10--- You have had several chances to settle your differences with TEC by compromise and mediation yet you refused all. Why? Do you regret rejecting the June 2015 offer?

11--- You have indicated repeatedly that the schism was about religion and not homosexuality, yet DSC went to great lengths to adopt a diocesan-wide ban of same-sex marriage in 2015-16. Does not this prove the schism was about homosexuality?

12--- Records show that you started issuing the quit claim deeds early on. You must have known this was in opposition to TEC's Dennis Canon. Why did you issue the deeds? Were you provoking a move against you from TEC?

13--- TECSC's lawyer charged in court that you were in a conspiracy to make you bishop in return for taking DSC out of TEC. Was there a quid pro quo conspiracy?

14--- Why does DSC keep telling people the property issue is "unsettled" when the state supreme court has ruled and the circuit court judge has indicated he will enforce the ruling on returning the 29 parishes? 

15--- Why does DSC keep telling people the DSC is part of the Anglican Communion when it is not. The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Anglican Church in North America is not part of the Anglican Communion.

16--- How much money has DSC spent on legal fees?

17--- Where are all the bank accounts of DSC and how much money is in them?

I am sure everyone can think of other questions. Send them to me, or, better yet, ask Lawrence in person. You get five chances starting today.

It is increasingly clear that DSC's experiment in secession has failed. The schism was a bad idea; and the fruits of it have become painfully evident. It may well be that Lawrence's tour next week is his last hurrah, his last effort to salvage what he can from the ruins of a great diocese he inherited a decade ago. Legally, all of the parishes where he will be speaking are under control of the Episcopal Church bishop. That is what the state supreme court said. I wonder if Lawrence has asked Bp Adams's permission to speak in these places? Somehow I doubt it.