Monday, September 23, 2019


This is a crucial "in between" period in the history of the schism, between Judge Richard Gergel's orders of last Thursday (19 September) and the start of mediation this Thursday (26 September). Now is an appropriate moment to explore this question, What is the status of the schism on the eve of the new mediation?

There is a great deal to cover here, so I want to make this as concise and precise as possible.


Judge Richard Gergel issued three Orders on 19 September in the case of vonRosenberg v. Lawrence. There was the main decision, at 76 pages. It declared the Church diocese to be the legal heir of the historic Diocese of South Carolina and banned the breakaway parties from using the names and symbols of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

(It is important to note that this lawsuit involved only trademarks. It did not concern property. Thus, Gergel's primary Order did not address the disposition  of the properties of the old diocese such as Diocesan house, bishop's residence, endowments, bank accounts, furnishings, and the like. Presumably this will be a topic in the upcoming mediation. If not, I suppose a new lawsuit to recover the assets would be in order. It seems to me the Church diocese is entitled to the diocesan assets as of the moment of the schism---noon on 15 October 2012. The income and debts the breakaways incurred after that should be their own business.)

A second order of Gergel concerned the local parishes that purported to disassociate from the Episcopal Church. He ruled that these may continue using their legal names but that the officers of these churches may not use the names and symbols of the Episcopal diocese. A third order concerned the expert witnesses put up by both sides. Gergel dismissed three of the breakaway side and one of the Church side. Gegrel's second and third orders of last Thursday were much less important than the first. 

It is hard to overestimate the significance of Gergel's decision. In fact, this is a crucial moment in American jurisprudence. It is the first time a United States (federal) court has ruled on the relationship of the Episcopal Church and its dioceses. The judge declared that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and protected by the First Amendment that prohibits the civil state from interfering in the internal matters of a religious institution. In other words, the Episcopal Church has the right to decide its own relationships with its dioceses. 

Since Gergel's is the first federal court judgment on this question, it is the law of the land. It is the standard for the future. If the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina appeals Gergel's decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond, that court is almost certainly going to validate Gergel, thereby putting an even greater stamp on its authority. At any rate, the American legal standard now is that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and has the right to govern itself. The importance of Gergel's work last week is enormous, not just for South Carolina, but for the Episcopal Church and the nation.

In fact, Gergel's "first" is really the second "first" in the litigation of the schism in SC. The first "first" was the South Carolina Supreme Court decision affirming the validity of the Dennis Canon. This was the first time any state supreme court in the U.S. had weighed in on this issue. So, two judicial standards have been set: the Dennis Canon is valid, and the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and protected by the First Amendment.

These standards demolish the breakaways' entire legal rationale for the schisms. Before the schisms, the schismatic leaders promised their followers the diocese was sovereign and independent and could withdraw from the Episcopal Church at will and govern itself independent of any power of the Episcopal Church. The SCSC and Judge Gergel have permanently destroyed these claims. The schism in SC was based on false assertions that have now been disproven in the law. The breakaway leaders misinformed and misled their followers. Under the law now, the Episcopal Church is a hierarchical institution, meaning that sovereignty rests in the Church as a whole and not in its separate local parts.

By federal court order, this official seal belongs to the Diocese of South Carolina, a diocese of the Episcopal Church. The court banned the breakaways from using this emblem.


My observation of the reaction is that people are feeling relief, satisfaction, gratitude, and happiness all tempered by a blanket of fatigue. I have received dozens of emails, and this is what people are telling me. However, there has been no gloating, or spiking the ball in the end zone and no demand for recrimination. If anything, there is still a sadness that this avoidable disaster happened at all.

At Grace Church Cathedral in Charleston yesterday, Bishop Adams spoke about the significance of the court decisions and assured them the diocese intended to press the gains on to the end. There is still a long way to go, but the big hurdles have been scaled. Find the diocese's news release about this here .


The schismatic diocesan office and some of their local churches made short announcements of Gergel's decision, but all of them tried to spin the news to their advantage. They still want their followers to believe the 29 local churches are not returning to the Episcopal Church and that the circuit court ruled in favor of ADSC on Betterments. 

On Friday, 20 September, the breakaway standing committee met and adopted the name Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. The diocesan office removed all of the Episcopal diocesan names and symbols from their website and Facebook page.

On the Internet, partisans of ADSC fell strangely silent. Only a few people ventured to post comments supporting the schismatics. The import of last week's decisions is obvious to the losing side too. Their disappointment must be profound.

One should bear in mind that the original impetus of the anti-Episcopal Church movement in the 1990's (Anglican Realignment) was political. It was to destroy or severely diminish the Episcopal Church so as to neutralize its liberal influence in American life. The early movement was to tear down, not to build up. It was years later (2008) that GAFCON formed. It was GAFCON that set up, with the American dissidents, the Anglican Church in North America as the homophobic and sexist replacement of TEC in the U.S. If the original goal of the schismatics was to do harm to the Episcopal Church we would have to admit they have accomplished a considerable amount toward that in South Carolina. The Episcopal Church in lower South Carolina is badly battered and bruised. So, in a sense, the breakaways lost the legal war but did much better in the culture war. 


The Episcopal Church diocese had two big goals in the litigation:  1-retain the identity and rights of the historic diocese, and 2-retain the local parishes under the Dennis Canon. EDSC gained all of the first and most of the second. This was a sweeping victory for the Episcopal Church and its diocese.

The schismatics' goals were to keep the entity of the old diocese and hold together the 50 local churches that went along with the schism. They failed completely on the first and lost most of the second.

The basic legal issues raised by the schism have been settled. What is left is the implementations of those decisions and the tying up of a lot of loose ends. The schism is entering its last phase. Last week profoundly changed the dynamic of the schism in SC.


Having lost the old diocese and 29 of the 36 local properties in question, the ADSC faces some huge challenges in the near future. At the moment, it has six local churches (those listed in the SCSC decision and validated by Judge Dickson) and several missions formed after the schism. Its problem is how to build a viable diocese from scratch. They have two big choices as I see it, reconstruct from the ground up, or melt into the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, led by Bp Steve Wood, rector of St. Andrew's in Mt. Pleasant. Reconstruction will be daunting to say the least.

As I have pointed out on this blog, ADSC has had and continues to have serious losses of communicant numbers. The trajectory is straight down. When Mark Lawrence became bishop in 2008, the diocese had 27,670 communicants. At the last counting, in 2016, the Lawrence diocese listed 14,694 communicants. Most of the big and famous parishes have also suffered severe losses of communicants:  St. Philip's of Charleston went from 2,677 communicants in 2011, to 1,069 in 2016, a drop of sixty percent. St. Michael's of Charleston fell from 1,847 to 919, a loss of fifty percent. St. Helena's of Beaufort dropped from 1,737 communicants to 880, minus forty-nine percent.

Budgets of ADSC have also struggled just to stay even. The budget today is one-third less than it was when Lawrence arrived. ADSC has just released its 2019 budget online. It shows huge legal expenses, about a million dollars last year and nearly the same this year. Interestingly enough some unidentified person(s) unexpectedly contributed $543,000 to the legal fund this year. Yet, as the budget struggles, Bishop Lawrence gets a nearly $4k raise this year. His package of compensation for 2019 will be $205,023. Counting the rental value of the bishop's residence that he uses free, his full package of compensation is worth around a third of a million dollars a year. Bear in mind Lawrence is 69 years old and eligible to receive generous retirement payments from the Episcopal Church [!] retirement program as well as Social Security.

Lawrence is not the only one getting more money in the budget. The ADSC is paying its parent, the Anglican Church in North America, a whopping $197,800 (up from $196,848 in 2018 and $185,640 in 2017). This four times as much as the old diocese ever paid the Episcopal Church.

The schism in South Carolina was crafted in secret by a relatively small group of people, no more than two dozen. They made the break, then informed the people of it while promising the people they were bound to win the legal war because it was God's will. They assured their followers the diocese was sovereign and self-governing. To prove this, they spent millions of dollars of the people's money. Remember that communicants had to contribute to two sets of lawyers, one for the diocese and one for the local parishes. We do not know how much the ADSC leaders spent on diocesan legal costs, but about a million dollars a year, as they are now claiming, seems about right. Nearly seven years would amount to nearly seven million dollars. One cannot know now what the local parishes have spent on legal costs separately. 

What did the communicants get for their money? Six parishes, a handful of missions, a homeless diocesan bureaucracy, and a needy mother church outside of the Anglican Communion. The faithful of ADSC have now lost the old diocese and the Anglican Communion. This is the result of many millions of dollars of the people's money their trusted leaders spent.

The communicants of the 29 parishes now have to choose which diocese they will follow. What's to decide? Plenty. The breakaways say follow us and we will condemn homosexuality and keep women in submission. The Episcopal Church says follow us and we will give equality and inclusion of gays and women in the life of the church. Human rights is what this whole schism boils down to.


The Betterments lawsuit is still alive. Judge Dickson denied the Church lawyers' motion to dismiss it. (ADSC news release promoted this as a "win" for their side. It was not. Dickson has made no ruling on the Betterments suit.) In this suit, the breakaways say if the Episcopal Church owns the property, TEC should pay the breakaways for "improvements" they made on the property. They mean for the whole value of the property. The Church sees this as a nuisance lawsuit. 

The catch here is that Dickson must implement the SCSC decision on the 29 parishes in order for the Betterments suit to proceed. Even if this suit proceeds, it is most unlikely to hold up mainly because the occupants must have believed they owned the property. The occupants in this case knew very well the Dennis Canon. They knew the Episcopal Church, as beneficiary of the Canon, would become the owner when they disassociated from the Episcopal Church. There is no credibility to the breakaways' assertion they believed they owned the property.


Certain issues have been settled in the courts and so should not be on the table: the Episcopal Church owns the 29 parishes, the Episcopal diocese owns the historic diocese, the Episcopal diocese owns Camp St. Christopher, and 7 parishes are independent. What does that leave on the table?

From the Church side, the main issues should be how to implement the court orders. Exactly how should the breakaways turn over the 29 parishes? The Church has asked for a Special Master and a full accounting by a professional accounting firm. The breakaways say the 29 have not been settled because Judge Dickson has not ordered an implementation of the SCSC decision. The ADSC lawyers have refused to accept the SCSC decision on the 29.

Thirty-six parishes were parties in the lawsuit against the Episcopal Church. Twenty-nine are to be returned to TEC while six are to be independent. That leaves fourteen local churches in "limbo". They are mostly small mission and historic churches. Only one large church is in this group, Holy Cross of Sullivans Island. The status of these is to be determined and could possibly be part of mediation.

Also to be worked out is the restoration of the historic diocese to the Episcopal diocese. The moment of the schism was noon on October 15, 2012. All of the assets, possessions, and rights of the diocese at that time should belong to the Episcopal diocese. Whatever assets and debts the breakaways independently accrued after that should be their own business. Surely an accounting firm will have to sort out this division, another matter for mediation.

Since the courts have ruled that the 29 parishes and the entity of the old diocese belong to the Episcopal Church side, what about the nearly seven years of occupation? Why cannot EDSC charge rent to the breakaways for use of the Diocesan house, on Coming Street, and the multi-million dollar bishop's residence, on Smith St.? I expect a real estate agent would list rent at $10k/mo. for each. Then there is the question of rent on the 29 parishes. I wonder what a real estate agent would say about St. Philip's and St. Michael's, probably the most valuable properties in old Charleston. $50k/mo. for each sounds reasonable. 

So, on the surface, there does not appear much to discuss, but digging down there really is a great deal to be settled. However, given the history of this schism, I have little to no hope mediation will succeed in resolving the remaining issues of the litigation. I expect this matter will return to Judge Dickson who at age 69 is nearing retirement. If he does issue a ruling, it will be appealed to the SC Court of Appeals.


In case you are wondering about the 14 local churches that followed the schism but did not participate in the lawsuit, they are included among the 17 local churches here. Three of these 17 were established (I am unsure of which ones) after the schism and presumably would remain with ADSC.

Barnwell---Holy Apostles

Berkeley County---Strawberry Chapel

Blackville---St. James

Charleston---St. Andrew's Mission

Charleston---St. John's Chapel

Dillon---St. Barnabas

Florence---Christ Church

Goose Creek---St. James

Grahamville---Holy Trinity



Myrtle Beach---Well by the Sea

North Charleston---Resurrection

North Myrtle Beach---Grace

Orangeburg---St. Paul's

Sullivans Island---Holy Cross


A note to readers. Thank you for the emails you sent recently. I try to answer every email asap but now have a backlog. Please keep writing. Your thoughts are important to me. And, if you have any information to contribute about activities of the ADSC and local churches, please send. 

As always, I welcome letters to this editor. This critical moment in the history of the schism is a good time to share your thoughts with all the readers about what is happening in the schism. If you would like to be posted, with or without name, send to the email address above. We want to hear from you.

We also want to hear from The Post and Courier. I have been informed that the P & C has not mentioned Gergel's landmark decision. I did a quick search of the online edition and found nothing about it. The question then is, why is the Charleston newspaper giving the silent treatment to a major federal court decision,  made in Charleston!