Saturday, March 7, 2020


The organization now calling itself the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina is having an identity crisis. They are preparing for their eighth annual meeting, at the Episcopal Church of the Cross, in Bluffton (March 13-14). So, the question of the day is: What is the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina? The corollary is: Where does it go from here?

Until last September, this group called itself the Diocese of South Carolina, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. They claimed to be the historic diocese and its bishop to be the XIV bishop of the diocese. In short, they claimed to be the Episcopal diocese, just outside of the Episcopal Church.

Last September, Judge Richard Gergel, a federal judge in Charleston ordered this group (the disassociated diocese) to cease and desist from claiming to be the historic diocese. He issued an injunction effectuating this. Apparently, the breakaway leaders did not take Gergel seriously and went right on publicly claiming to be the historic diocese. The Episcopal Church went back to court and got a second order from Gergel enforcing the injunction. Moreover, Judge Gergel refused to issue a stay while his decision is on appeal and the Appeals Court also refused to issue a stay pending the appeal. The injunction is very much in place. Judge Gergel has TWICE ordered the disassociated group to stop claiming to be in any way the historic diocese. Odds are strong that the Appeals Court will uphold Gergel's ruling, probably sometime in the next six months. That should end the federal case. The Episcopal Church won across the board.

Since the disassociated group is not the historic diocese of South Carolina, what is it? I have several observations on this:

---The disassociated group is still having an identity crisis. Just recently, I found three examples where they are still claiming to be the historic diocese: 1-Their website still has a document claiming to be the Episcopal diocese: "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina 2017-2018 Pledge Report." Find it here . 2-Feb. 24, 2020, Kendall Harmon's blog had this: "The brand new TEC Diocese in South Carolina Files a Petition for a Writ of Prohibition with the South Carolina Supreme Court in its Controversy with the Historic Anglican Diocese of South Carolina." 3-Feb. 25, 2020, Harmon's blog had this: "AS Haley---The Brand New TEC Diocese in South Carolina Attempts an End Run by filing a request with the SC Supreme Court in the lawsuit vs. the historic Anglican diocese of South Carolina." Harmon is an officer of the ADSC. [Memo to Harmon: The disassociated diocese sued the Episcopal Church in state court, not the other way around.]

---Right after Judge Gergel's ruling last September, the disassociated group adopted the name "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina." Interesting to note that, at the time, they did not resist and did not ask for a stay of the injunction. As the judge pointed out clearly, this group came into existence in October of 2012 at the moment of the schism.

Is the ADSC Anglican? In name only. The dictionary defines "Anglican" as one in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ADSC is not in communion with the ABC, never has been and almost certainly never will be. In 2015, the ADSC joined the Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA is not in communion with the ABC. The ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion and almost certainly never will be. It is supported by GAFCON which created it, with help of anti-TEC forces in America, in 2009, to be its proxy in the U.S. ACNA's aim is to keep open homosexuals from equality and inclusion in the church and to keep women from offices of leadership and authority in the church. Its goal is to replace TEC as the legitimate branch of the Anglican Communion in the U.S. This almost certainly will never happen. The ACNA is in fact an independent Christian denomination supported by the GAFCON group of Anglicans.

---Is the ADSC a diocese? It is a self-proclaimed diocese that was set up in 2012 when most of the leadership and laity of the Diocese of South Carolina left the Episcopal Church. The Anglican Communion does not recognize it as a diocese of the Anglican Communion. Likewise, the ABC does not recognize Mark Lawrence as a bishop of the Anglican Communion. Lawrence was not invited to the Lambeth Conference which will meet this summer. 

---Before the schism of 2012, many communicants of the diocese came to believe several assertions pressed by much of the diocesan leadership:

     1. The diocese was sovereign and could leave TEC at will. Not true.

     The federal court has recognized TEC as an hierarchical religious institution entitled to govern itself. Judge Gergel ruled that the historic diocese did not leave TEC. The breakaway group formed a new association when they left TEC.

     2. The diocese could leave TEC and take the rights, properties, and other assets with it. Not true.

     The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that 29 local parishes and the Camp remained property of the Episcopal Church and its diocese. The federal court ruled that the Episcopal diocese was entitled to the rights of the historic diocese.

     These are the 29 parishes that belong to the Episcopal Church:
     Beaufort---St. Helena's
     Bennettsville---St. Paul's
     Bluffton---Church of the Cross
     Charleston---St. Luke and St. Paul
     Charleston---Good Shepherd
     Charleston---Holy Trinity
     Charleston---Old St. Andrew's
     Charleston---St. James
     Charleston---St. John's
     Charleston---St. Michael's
     Charleston---St. Philip's
     Cheraw---St. David's
     Florence---All Saints
     Fort Motte---St. Matthew's
     Hartsville---St. Bartholomew's
     Hilton Head---St. Luke's
     Johns Island---Our Saviour
     Mount Pleasant---Christ Church
     Myrtle Beach---Trinity
     Stateburg---Holy Cross
     Summerville---St. Paul's
     Sumter---Holy Comforter
     Walterboro---St. Jude's
     Yonges Island---Christ/St. Paul's

     3. The diocese could leave TEC and continue to be Anglican. Highly dubious.

     "Anglican" in name only. The ADSC is not part of the Anglican Communion. Its parent, the ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion. Its only recognition of being "Anglican" comes from GAFCON which has no authority in the official structure of the Anglican Communion.

     4. The ACNA was "orthodox" and so would grow while TEC was "un-orthodox" and would continue to shrink in size because of this. Not true.

     In fact, ADSC has experienced serious, relentless decline in membership. Here are the official figures of communicants of ADSC:
ADSC has lost a third of its communicants since the schism.

As the ADSC prepares for its annual convention, it is appropriate to look at its future. 

We have freedom of religion in this country. It is a bedrock right championed by the founding fathers. The people of ADSC have every right to follow whatever religion they wish. They do not have the right, however, to take the legal rights, properties and other assets that do not belong to them. The courts have now affirmed this.

The courts have ruled that the Episcopal Church is entitled to the history, the rights, and most of local properties of the old diocese. The ADSC will be left with six local parishes. They will probably make new congregations from present parishioners in the 29 parishes who will choose to leave when the Episcopal bishop returns. We know some of these parishes have been looking at properties for relocation. How many people will leave and how many will stay in the 29 remains to be seen. Judge Dickson signaled in his last hearing that he may be moving to implement the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017. If so, the return of the 29 to the Episcopal diocese may not be far in the future.

Demographics show that the ADSC will probably continue to decline. Young people, even in relatively conservative South Carolina, overwhelmingly support equality for and inclusion of homosexuals, the transgendered, and women in social life. ADSC will have an increasingly difficult time attracting young people. And, as we have already seen, there is not much future in ACNA, or in GAFCON for that matter, at least in terms of being in the Anglican communion.

For the moment, we can count on ADSC remaining as a presence in lower South Carolina. And, I think the Episcopal Church should do its best to have as good relations as possible with their former co-religionists. At least at this point, we can conclude that ADSC's future is not bright and I think we will probably see its decline continue for the foreseeable future. It will have to scramble to flesh out a clear identity, reorganize its local churches, and build this new diocese into a viable and strong religious institution. The diocesan institutional structure will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. This will not be an easy task.

The clergy and laity of the ADSC will meet soon. They have much to consider about the present and the future. In looking over the program for the meeting, however, I see little regarding the big challenges of the day.