TO THE COMMUNICANTS OF
ST. PAUL'S, of BENNETTSVILLE
ST. DAVID'S, of CHERAW
ALL SAINTS, of FLORENCE
ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S, of HARTSVILLE
CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS, of STATEBURG
CHURCH OF THE HOLY COMFORTER, of SUMTER
This is to remind you of an important gathering you should attend on tomorrow, Sunday, March 17. Your future as church families is at stake here. In the near future, your parishes will be returning to the authority of the Episcopal Church bishop. Here is your opportunity to find out all you want to know about how this process will work and what this will mean to the life of your local church. The meeting is open to everyone including the Episcopalians in Cheraw, Florence, and Sumter, and any interested parties in the 29 parishes and the Episcopal congregations beyond. The format is informal, featuring individual and group "conversations." No one is going to be forced to commit to anything.
The meeting will be at the Cross and Crown Lutheran Church, 3123 W. Palmetto St. (U.S. 76) in Florence, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m. A good way to get there is to take I-95 to Exit 157. Turn eastward on Palmetto (U.S. 76). In a mile or so you will pass a Burger King on the right. The church is just beyond, on the left.
Under the law as made by a ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court, the parishes listed above, and 23 others, are property of the Episcopal Church. This is because these 29 parishes acceded to the Dennis Canon of the Episcopal Church. This Canon holds that the local parish may own the property but holds it in trust for two beneficiaries, the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church diocese. The parish may own the property on the condition it remains part of the Episcopal Church. If the parish breaks its loyalty to the Episcopal Church (i.e., refuses the authority of the Episcopal Church bishop), the ownership of the property moves to the Episcopal Church and its local diocese as beneficiaries of the trust. Thus, when the 29 parishes declared they left the Episcopal Church in October of 2012, the legal ownership of the local property moved to the Episcopal Church because they had acceded to the Dennis Canon. The clergy who remained in the 29 parishes left the Episcopal Church and are not now Episcopal Church clergy. The clergy and vestries operating in these 29 parishes today are not legitimate under the law because they are not loyal to the Episcopal Church, the legal owner of the property.
It is just a matter of time before the six parishes listed above, and the 23 others, return to the control of the Episcopal Church. This is in the works in both state and federal court in South Carolina. In the state court, Judge Edgar Dickson, of the circuit court, is underway toward a resolution of the implementation of the state supreme court decision, of 2017. He held a hearing last November and, presumably, has been communicating by email with the lawyers on both sides about how to carry out the SCSC decision.
The federal court case concerns the ownership of the entity of the old diocese. The breakaway diocese claims it is the legal and legitimate continuation of the old diocese. Mark Lawrence claims to be the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina even though he very publicly left the Episcopal Church in October of 2012. The Episcopal Church bishop, now Skip Adams, is claiming that Lawrence is in violation of the federal law protecting federally registered trademarks. In essence, this suit is asking the federal court to decide which of the two dioceses has the right to be the heir of the pre-schism diocese with all the names, rights, and assets this entails.
Thus, there are two issues at stake now in the courts, the ownership of the local parish/mission properties, and the ownership of the old diocese. The first issue has been settled by the South Carolina Supreme Court. On August 3, 2017, it ruled that 29 of the 36 parishes involved in the lawsuit remain property of the Episcopal Church. The court sent its decision back down to the circuit court for implementation. Judge Dickson is now working on this. We may expect his decision on how to carry out the SCSC decision any day now. Dickson has no choice but to implement the majority decisions of the state high court. Under the judicial system, he cannot alter or ignore the SCSC ruling.
A federal court decision is also imminent. Judge Richard Gergel, of the U.S. District Court, in Charleston, has set a trial date at May 1 or after. I have a hunch, and it is nothing more than that, that there is a good chance Judge Gergel will hand down a decision on his own in the near future. In fact, both sides have asked the judge to make a ruling, that is, on his own without a trial. This judge is well-known to be expeditious and efficient. Odds are very strong that Gergel will rule in favor of the Episcopal Church. It flies in the face of simple common sense that a bishop can leave the Episcopal Church and still be the Episcopal bishop, of the Episcopal diocese.
To be sure, the separatist Diocese of South Carolina refuses to accept the actuality of its situation today and is trying to convince its people that reality is not reality. After all that has happened, it should be abundantly clear to all communicants today that the DSC has little to no credibility. Why should anyone believe what they DSC authorities are saying? Look at their record of misleading statements. The basic premises underlying the legitimacy of the schism turned out to be false, according to the state high court: the Dennis Canon is optional, the local parishes own and control their properties outright, and the diocese is an independent and sovereign entity that may leave the Episcopal Church unilaterally and at will. All of these were tragically wrong and were revealed as such after many millions of dollars of the communicants' money were thrown away in a futile effort to make the judges believe their erroneous assertions. The people of DSC would be wise to regard with healthy skepticism anything their leaders are telling them.
For instance, DSC has on its website a list of "Frequently Asked Questions." Find it here . This is meant to convince the DSC faithful that their church properties will not be returning to the Episcopal Church. In one part, it says: "what the ruling [SCSC decision] actually says is that no congregation should lose their property." In spite of the conditional "should," what this is clearly meant to convey is that the 29 parishes in question will not return to the Episcopal Church. This is patently, even ridiculously, false. It is also cruel to the people in the 29 parishes to misinform them. The SCSC decision was very clear on its last page that three decisions were resolved by majority vote of the justices: 29 parishes remain under TEC, 7 parishes are independent of TEC, and Camp St. Christopher is property of TEC. In fact, the SCSC sent its decision down to the circuit court for implementation in November of 2017. The refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case sealed it. It is just a matter of time until implementation happens, no matter what other, misleading claims the DSC authorities make.
As for the federal case, the DSC FAQs say it is "laughable." I doubt Judge Gergel finds it funny. I doubt DSC will be laughing when Gegrel hands down his ruling. It is all but certain he will come down on the side of TEC. It is ridiculous to claim that a diocese of the Episcopal Church can leave the Episcopal Church and still call itself "the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina." This is just Alice-in-Wonderland nonsense. We will see what is "laughable" in the near future, perhaps within the next six weeks.
The DSC FAQs also assert: "none of these matters are [sic] close to immediate resolution." DSC authorities are trying to convince their followers that the litigation will go on indefinitely; and, therefore, they do not have to worry about TEC regaining possession of the properties. If people think it is over, they will stop donating money to the DSC lawyers. In fact, "these matters" are certainly close to resolution in both state and federal courts. The end is clearly in sight, even in spite of the obfuscation of the desperate and failed leaders of DSC.
To me, the most absurd assertion the DSC FAQs make is that the schism had nothing to do with sexuality. Talk about "laughable." Give us a break. Even Mark Lawrence admitted only last year that he left the Episcopal Church because of the church's acceptance of the transgendered. I spent 300,000 documented words in my history of the schism showing that homosexuality/transgender was the direct cause of the schism. No one has challenged my thesis. Advice to DSC authorities: do not insult people's intelligence.
The Episcopal Church diocese also has a Frequently Asked Questions on its website. This one is in the realm of non-fiction. Find it here . I highly recommend that every communicant in the 29 returning parishes read and think about the questions and answers presented here. Your church future depends on it.
I do not mean to make light or be flippant about the current situation in the old diocese of South Carolina. On the contrary, this is a terrible tragedy on many levels. It is anything but "laughable." Church families have been torn apart. Indeed, families have been torn apart. Friends have stopped speaking to each other. Anger, suspicion, incrimination, even demonization of the other side have crept in to corrupt Christian hearts. This is heartbreaking in more ways than one. And, all of this destruction was because some people did not want others to have the choice to accept the inclusion of openly homosexual persons and the transgendered, and did not want women to have equality in the church. The choice is between inclusion and exclusion. The once unified part of the body of Christ in this little part of the world now lies broken, wounded and bleeding. How could this be the right thing to do? How could this be God's will?
The people of Bennettsville, Cheraw, Florence, Hartsville, Stateburg, and Sumter, and their environs, have a good opportunity tomorrow to learn the truth of what is about to happen to your local churches. Your religion will go on. Your parish will go on. Your life will go on. The services will continue unbroken as the lofty words of the venerable old Book of Common Prayer are entoned again and again as they have been for generations, even centuries, in South Carolina.
At the gathering tomorrow you can ask all the questions you like and bring up all the issues of your concern one-to-one with Bishop Skip Adams, Archdeacon Callie Walople, and the Rev. Bill Coyne. They will be overseeing the restoration of the parishes. They are your friends, not your enemies. They will be your guides tomorrow and in the months to come. I will not be there in person, but my prayers and best wishes will be with you. Have courage. Your faith will see your through.