ON CHOOSING A NEW BISHOP
FOR THE DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
The choosing of a bishop-elect for the Diocese of South Carolina is scheduled for Saturday, 1 May 2021. A "virtual" (online) meeting of the diocesan convention will name a bishop-elect. The last bishop's election in DSC was fourteen years ago. If the bishop-elect chosen on 1 May is confirmed by the national church, he or she will become the XV bishop of the diocese. South Carolina was one of the nine state associations that founded the Episcopal Church, in the United States, in 1789. It is represented by one of the nine crosses on the blue field of the church flag.
Since Bishop Mark Lawrence quit the Episcopal Church in 2012, there have been two provisional, or temporary, bishops of the Diocese of South Carolina, Charles vonRosenberg and "Skip" Adams, each of whom served for a few years. Both were retired diocesan bishops, one from Tennessee and one New York. Recently, another retired bishop, Henry Parsley, has been serving as a "visiting bishop" in DSC.
Choosing a new diocesan bishop is not a simple, quick, and easy process in the Episcopal Church and it is not meant to be so. Quite the opposite. It is a complicated, detailed, time-consuming exercise that typically takes one and a half to two years time. The present effort in South Carolina is no exception.
The rules and procedures for choosing a bishop are spelled out in detail in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of South Carolina. Both are freely available on the Internet. The national church sets the rules that all dioceses must honor. The local diocese explains the specific steps to be followed internally. Since the Episcopal Church is hierarchical, each diocese must conform to the constitution and laws of the national church. A diocese is not free to choose a bishop outside of established rules of the Episcopal Church.
A certain amount of the early work in choosing a new bishop in DSC has already been done, and done, as far as one can tell, as per the prescribed rules. Bishop "Skip" Adams, the second provisional, departed the diocese at the end of 2019. This left the Standing Committee as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, which it remains. On January 23, 2020, the Rev. Caleb Lee, chair of the Standing Committee, announced the beginning of a search process for the XV bishop of the diocese and the first since the schism of 2012. The Standing Committee set up a 16-member Search Committee, chaired by the Rev. Philip Linder. Owing to the covid pandemic, the search was suspended from April to August of 2020.
Upon recommendation of the Search Committee, the Standing Committee announced a slate of five nominees, the Revs.:
---Geoffrey M. St. John Hoare
---Kevin Allen Johnson
---Terence Alexander Lee
---Ruth M. Woodliff-Stanley
The Walkabouts/Candidate Conversations are to occur next, on April 12, 13, and 14. The morning session, from 9 a.m. to noon, will be on Zoom and Youtube. This will be the formal question and answer part. The deadline for submitting questions has passed. In the evenings, there will be smaller discussions not covered on Youtube. Find more about the walk-abouts here .
Then, on May 1, 2021, the election convention will meet via Zoom and Youtube. A bishop's election convention must adhere to the particular and detailed rules laid out in the Diocese of South Carolina's Constitution and Canons. Find it here . Among the most important rules are the following:
The election convention will meet and vote in two Orders, Clergy and Laity. There must be a majority vote at the same time in both houses.
In the election of a Bishop, Bishop Coadjutor or Bishop Suffragan, the vote shall be by written or electronic ballot, and by Orders. A concurrent majority of both Orders is necessary to elect a Bishop. (VI. 7.2, p. 6)
The Standing Committee will place the names of the candidates formally into nomination. There can be no nomination from the floor.
The Standing Committee will place in nomination the names of all persons whose names were submitted to it by the Search Committee and those who have fulfilled the petition requirements. Seconding speeches will be governed by the rules of order. No nominations from the floor will be permitted. (Canon I.9, p. 34).
In the Order of the Clergy, the vote is by individual clergyperson, one person one vote.
In the Order of the Laity, the vote is by local church, not by person. The local churches of the convention are the parishes and the missions in union with the diocese. A parish may have as many as four delegates while a mission may have as many as two delegates to the election convention. Each parish is given one vote and each mission is given 1/2 vote.
The following provisions shall govern voting in Convention.
On all questions before the Convention...If a separate vote by Orders is requested, the clergy shall vote individually and the lay delegates by churches (a majority from each parish having one vote and each mission having one-half vote). (IV.7.1, p. 5).
In each parish and mission, the delegation decides collectively how their local church will cast its vote. By my unofficial estimation, there are 13 parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina, 17 missions and 1 worshiping community. If so, according to the rules, this would mean a total of 21 1/2 votes in the Order of the Laity, 13 from parishes and 8 1/2 from missions. A majority of the 21 and 1/2 possible votes would be 11. This could come from any number of combinations, for instance: 11 parishes; 9 parishes and 4 missions; 3 parishes and 16 missions.
Sometimes elections in the Diocese of South Carolina have been decided on the first ballot, and sometimes only after many ballots. In the bishop's election convention of September 27, 1960, fourteen names were placed into nomination. Four ballots passed with no one gaining a majority. On the fifth ballot, the Rev. Gray Temple secured more than half of the vote in both Orders and became the bishop-elect.
The next bishop's election, on May 17, 1980, found seventeen candidates on the ballot. This time, six ballots passed with no one gaining a majority of both Orders. Finally, on the Seventh Ballot, the Rev. Christopher FitzSimons Allison won the majority in both Orders. In that case, the hold-back was the Order of the Clergy which eventually, if somewhat reluctantly, gave 37 of its 71 votes to Allison while the parishes and mission gave 37 of their 51 and 1/2 votes to Allison.
However, the next bishop's election, on September 9, 1989, was an open and shut case. The Rev. Edward Lloyd Salmon, Jr. swept the field right away. He was elected on the First Ballot with 61 clergy (48 needed) and 30 and 1/2 of the parishes and missions (29 and 1/2 needed).
Mark Lawrence's first election on September 16, 2006, was similar.
Present were 106 clergy and 223 lay delegates representing 71 local churches...Of the 106 clergy, 54 were necessary. Parishes were given one vote each and missions one-half vote each. For the local churches, 28 votes were necessary for a majority. When the results were announced, 72 clergy and 42 1/2 churches voted for Lawrence, a landslide on the first ballot. (Caldwell, History Schism SC, p. 169).
Up to the moment a bishop-elect is chosen by the convention, the diocesan rules and procedures dominate the matter. After that, the national church constitution and canons largely govern the process.
If there is a question about the adherence of the election to the constitution and canons of the diocese, the TEC C and C provides a process for challenging the election. If ten percent of the delegates to the election convention file a formal complaint of irregularities with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church within ten days of the convention, the PB will direct the matter to a Church Court of Review for a report which will be sent to the officials of the diocese. This is found in the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons, III, 11, 8 (p. 167-168). Find it here .
So, for instance, if there are 100 official delegates to the election convention on 1 May, 10 of them could file a complaint leading to an investigation and report on the election by a panel of the national church. Even if the report should find no irregularity, the probe itself would leave a cloud of suspicion over the election and the legitimacy of the bishop-elect. If the report should find the bishop-elect had been chosen by unconstitutional means, this would throw the whole process into chaos and could very well lead to the failure of the bishop-elect to gain consents in the next step of the process.
The election of a person in the convention is the selection of a candidate for bishop, not of a bishop per se. The candidate named by the diocesan election convention cannot become a bishop until he or she has been approved both by a majority of the bishops with jurisdiction, of the Episcopal Church, and by a majority of the Standing Committees of the dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Moreover, this must be done within 120 days after the notification of the diocesan election convention's selection.
The TEC C and C requires that the chair of the diocesan Standing Committee, or some other officer, immediately send notification of the selection of the bishop-elect to the Presiding Bishop and to all of the Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church. The PB will then notify the bishops of the Church. The diocesan Standing Committee will notify the other Standing Committees of the Church. If a majority of the Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church formally consent to the election, the evidence is sent to the Presiding Bishop. If a majority of bishops and Standing Committees consent to the diocese's selection, the PB will notify the diocesan Standing Committee that the process is concluded and the bishop-elect may proceed to ordination and consecration.
If a majority of the Standing Committees of all the Dioceses consents to the ordination of the Bishop-elect, the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop is elected shall then forward the evidence of the consent...to the Presiding Bishop. If the Presiding Bishop receives sufficient statements to indicate a majority of those Bishops consent to the ordination, the Presiding Bishop shall, without delay, notify the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop is elected and the Bishop-Elect of the consent. (TEC C and C, III.11.3, p. 164-65).
What happens if the majority of bishops and/or Standing Committees deny approval or fail to give consent within the 120 day window? The PB will declare the bishop's election to be null and void and call for another election.
In case a majority of all the Standing Committees of the Dioceses do not consent to the ordination of the Bishop-elect within one hundred and twenty days from the date of the notification of the election by the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected, or in case a majority of all the Bishops exercising jurisdiction do not consent within one hundred and twenty days from the date of notification to them by the Presiding Bishop of the election, the Presiding Bishop shall declare the election null and void and shall give notice to the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected and to the Bishop-elect. The Convention of the Diocese may then proceed to a new election. (TEC C and C, III. 11.8, p. 166-67).
This scenario actually happened in the Diocese of South Carolina in 2007. A majority of the bishops gave consent to the election of Mark Lawrence but the diocesan Standing Committees were slow to respond. In fact, many Committees issued denials of consent on suspicion of Lawrence's loyalty to the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop added three days to the 120 required making the deadline of consents as March 12, 2007. By that time, 56 Standing Committee consents had arrived, a bare majority. However, several dioceses had not followed the requirement that actual signatures be made on the official consent forms. Instead, they filed electronic forms which could not be considered official. On March 15, the PB notified the head of the DSC Standing Committee that the election was null and void. With this, the DSC held a second election after which Lawrence received a majority of the Standing Committee and bishops' consents allowing him to be ordained and consecrated bishop of the diocese in 2008.
By my count, there are 111 dioceses of the Episcopal Church today. This means that within 120 days of the election, the Standing Committees of at least 56 dioceses must submit the official forms of consent for the person chosen on May 1 to advance to the office of bishop, that is, assuming the majority of the bishops agree.
Once the consent process is completed, the diocese may proceed with the service of the ordination and consecration of the bishop-elect. The Presiding Bishop is to preside at this service unless he or she names another to lead. Mark Lawrence and his partisans pointedly objected to the presence of the Presiding Bishop at his service in 2008 which, instead, by her permission, was led by the bishop who was head of Province IV. One may safely assume the present Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, will be welcomed with open arms as the chief consecrator of DSC XV. Curry is a long and devoted pastor of the diocese.
In sum, the process of choosing a new bishop is laid out in detail in the published constitution and laws of both the national church and the local diocese. In order for the end product to be achieved satisfactorily, the established process must be followed faithfully by the specifics in which it is laid out. Enthroning a new diocesan bishop is not easy and it is not quick, but in the end the process serves the best interests of the diocese, the Episcopal Church, and the new bishop.
The office of bishop is not just another rung on a clergyperson's ladder to retirement. No, it is a special position of sacred trust going back in unbroken succession nearly 2,000 years to Jesus Christ. In South Carolina, the new bishop will be the fifteenth in a line stretching back more than 200 years. This is why the process of choosing a new bishop now must be treated with the utmost measure of regulation, propriety, decorum and respect. When the process is over and the new bishop is finally seated, there must be not even a hint of a doubt about his or her legitimacy and authority.
The next bishop of South Carolina will inherit the most difficult job in all of the Episcopal Church. One of the great and founding dioceses of the Episcopal Church lies seriously wounded and bleeding, and still fighting for its life in the courts of the land. It has suffered a grievous attack by insurgents from within who refused to accept the Church's championship of human rights. On their way out, they tried to take the diocese, its assets, and the local properties with them, and, to that end, they declared legal war on the Episcopal Church. The intrepid Christians in eastern South Carolina who remained with the Episcopal Church have paid a price for doing the right thing, for defending the rights and inclusion of all of God's children in the church. The next bishop will face enormous challenges in binding the deep wounds and healing the brokenness of the past. Whoever becomes the XV bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina must have the full confidence and support of the whole church in order to succeed in this daunting mission. The Episcopal Church expects it. The diocese requires it. The new bishop deserves it.