Saturday, May 29, 2021


The month of May is coming to an end. And, what a month it has been at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham AL. Fatigue might be the best word to describe the state of affairs there now. 

But then, fatigue might be the best word to describe all of our lives after more than a year of the worst pandemic in a century. We are all exhausted and ever so strongly yearning for a return to normality. First, we mourn the 600,000 Americans, and the millions beyond, who have perished in the plague and we weep with their heartbroken survivors. I think most of all we miss being with one another.

Humans are social animals, not meant to live in isolation. A few days ago, a much beloved family in my little town celebrated a high school graduation and invited everyone to their house. Well, just about everyone showed up. It was the first social occasion here in over a year. Once there, no one wanted to leave such was the joy of long-missed fellowship.

So, on top of the pandemic and its dreadful effects, the good people of the Advent have endured a hard month. A brief summary:

---1 May. News broke in public that Andrew Pearson, the dean and rector since 2014 had suddenly resigned. The two wardens sent a letter to the parish in late April announcing the resignation by mutual agreement of the dean and vestry. Pearson was not fired; he left of this own accord.

---16 May. In his last day the Advent, Pearson preached a sermon with a scarcely veiled, if slight, swipe at the bishop, Glenda Curry. Otherwise, Pearson left on pleasant terms.

---17 May. Pearson sent a letter to a select group of people at the Advent inviting them to follow him out to form a new church.

---17 May. Pearson asked Bishop Curry for a Release and Removal from Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.

---17 May. Pearson was received as a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, by the archbishop, Foley Beach.

---19 May. Bishop Curry granted the Release and Removal to Pearson.

---19 May. The Rev. Zac Hicks, canon for worship, distributed a 26-minute video he made to the vestry, clergy and a few others, arguing to keep Pearson's "Our Liturgy." He denounced Rite I in the Book of Common Prayer as anti-Christ. The video soon spread widely. I obtained a copy.

---23 May. Bishop Glenda Curry presided at the Advent for Confirmation. Her presence and sermon reminded the parish of its Episcopalian nature.

---28 May. Hicks deleted his video of 19 May from the Internet.

Meanwhile, two important movements continue in May. In one, the vestry is working with the bishop toward a covenant between parish and diocese that would restore good relations with the diocese while keeping an evangelical identity at the Advent. The covenant is still in the works but reportedly may contain a return to corporate worship in the Book of Common Prayer (rather than Pearson's Our Liturgy), and restoration of normal financial arrangements between parish and diocese.

The other movement is internal. Reportedly, the clergy, staff, and vestry are working to define an evangelical identity for the parish while restoring some common norms of Episcopalian worship.

So, to describe the state of the Advent his month, the word unsettled would too mild and chaos would be too strong. Things are in flux but the clerical and lay leadership in the parish is working hard to steer this big ship through the stormy and perilous seas toward home. Things are looking up.

Now, a couple of prayers for the Advent from the BCP.

For the Parish, paraphrased (p. 817):

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for the parish family of the Advent. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant them all things necessary for their common life, and bring them all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Unity of the Church (p. 818):

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My interest in the Advent stemmed from my study of the schism in South Carolina. In 2017, after four years' work, I published a long and detailed scholarly study of what happened in the Diocese of South Carolina. What led me to the Advent were the ties between each of the last three deans and the anti-Episcopal movement in the lowcountry. The last dean, Pearson, came straight from St. Helena's, of Beaufort, a hotbed of schism. In fact, a year after Pearson moved to Birmingham, St. Helena's helped lead the break from the Episcopal Church. My fear was that Pearson, and others, might foment a schismatic movement in the Advent that could potentially tear up the Diocese of Alabama. A repeat of what had happened in South Carolina would be the worst nightmare imaginable for the Diocese of Alabama. 

We now see that the anti-Episcopal Church movement over the years at the Advent failed to gain a strong enough momentum. It seems to me that after years of going along with radical changes at the Advent, the lay leadership finally decided these changes were too much and they agreed with the dean to part ways. Pearson's failure was the failure of the likelihood of schism in Alabama. Hicks's video was the parting shot in the retreat of the anti-Episcopal Church forces. 

Now, reports I am hearing say the vestry has rejected Hicks's video plea to keep Our Liturgy. The lay leadership is ready to re-embrace the church's Episcopalian nature while keeping an evangelical identity. In my view, this removes the possibility of a schism developing in Alabama. As far as I am concerned, this is an enormous relief. Schism would have decimated this diocese, the way it did South Carolina's.

It is a holiday weekend. I suggest we remember the people who gave their lives for their fellow human beings. You might want to revisit my blog piece of two years ago about Memorial Day. Find it here  . 

Finally, whatever is happening in our lives, we must go forward with confidence and optimism. I try. A few days ago, I had a new roof put on my house. In dealing with the roofer beforehand, I splurged and chose a roof guaranteed for 50 years. At the age of 77, I bought a roof to last 50 years. How is that for optimism?

As always, remember we are here for a purpose. It is to be God's people in the world whatever awful and unwelcomed events are happening around us. Peace.

Friday, May 28, 2021



In the recent 26-minute video that he distributed to the vestry of the Cathedral Church of the Advent, and to some dozen others, the Rev. Canon Zac Hicks makes the shocking claim that part of Rite I in The Book of Common Prayer is anti-Christ and against the Gospel. He argues that the parish should retain its in-house "Our Liturgy" instead of returning to the BCP Rite I. He claims that Our Liturgy corrects the errors of Rite I. It was introduced several years ago under Dean Andrew Pearson in a sweep to move the church far into the realm of evangelical religion. It has been the standard liturgy at the Advent for the past several years in place of the BCP.

The issue now in the Advent is whether to keep Our Liturgy or return entirely to the BCP.

Hicks offers his video in an effort to preserve Our Liturgy in the Advent. Specifically, he argues that Our Liturgy rightfully moves immediately from the institution of the communion to the reception of the bread and wine while Rite I makes an enormous gap and inserts man into the gap with "our prayers" and "our works." He says there should be no distance between institution and communion because our communion is by faith alone. [Actually, Hicks is not correct to say that Our Liturgy moves immediately from institution to reception; it has the Lord's Prayer and the Prayer of Humble Access between the two.]

So, I went back and examined the differences between Rite I and Our Liturgy (available on the Advent website) on the parallel parts between the institution and the distribution of the bread and wine. How wide is the gap that Hicks claims in Rite I? What are the words and prayers in the gap? Is the gap filled with man-centered thoughts? Finally, is the gap anti-Christ and anti-Gospel as Hicks said? This is serious stuff that calls for serious examination.

In Rite I, the institution starts on p. 334 with "For in the night in which he was betrayed, he took bread...Likewise after supper, he took the cup..." Our Liturgy has this, then jumps to the Lord's Prayer, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the distribution. So, what Hicks called the gap is the space between the institution and the Lord's Prayer. Here is what Rite I provides in the "gap" that Our Liturgy omits:

Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Savior Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before they divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial they Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.

And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to here us; and, of they almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood. [underlined part is transferred in Our Liturgy to immediately before the institution]

And we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of the Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion.

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of they Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounded duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord;

By whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. AMEN.

Rite I then follows with the Lord's Prayer, The Breaking of the Bread, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the distribution.

Our Liturgy jumps from institution, to Lord's Prayer, the Prayer of Humble Access, and the distribution. It leaves out all of the italicized text which I have given above. 

We may call the italicized text above "the gap" to use Hick's term. He claims that this gap is the part that is anti-Christ and anti the Gospel and therefore Our Liturgy was right to remove it in order to restore a Gospel-centered ceremony.

So, the question before us: Is Hicks right? Is the gap anti-Christ? Does it put man in the place of Christ? is it anathema to the Gospel?

Just speaking for myself, of course, I must confess I have no idea what Hicks is talking about. "The gap" is all about man receiving the Christ. There is nothing anti-Christ. There is nothing anti-Gospel here. He made these sweeping assertions without offering any specific evidence. He offers no evidence because there is no evidence. His claims have nothing to back them up. This is the way I see it. 

I ask you, dear reader, what do you think? Reading over "the gap" do you see anything to substantiate Hicks's assertions? Do you think Rite I is anti-Christ and anti-Gospel?

My conclusion is that Hicks's outrageous claim that Rite I is against the Gospel of Jesus Christ is false. The gap in no way puts man in the place of God. It does not separate us from the communion. 

In short, Hicks's claims in his video should be discarded as groundless nonsense. 

In fact, Rite I is the result of centuries of Anglican theology and scholarship. It comes with the collective wisdom and validity of history. It is the liturgy of the church. Any assertion that this liturgy is against the Gospel of Jesus Christ should be repelled forthwith. 



Thursday, May 27, 2021


The Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent is in something of a quandary right now. Should the parish keep former dean Andrew Pearson's "Our Liturgy" for Morning Prayer and Holy Communion or should it go back solely to The Book of Common Prayer? Pearson himself is gone, but the controversial changes he made linger on at the Advent and apparently are now being promoted chiefly by another clergyman on staff, the Rev. Canon Zac Hicks, Canon for Liturgy and Worship. He came from a Presbyterian background, and as far as I know does not hold Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. Putting a non-Episcopal clergyperson in charge of worship at an Episcopal cathedral church... well that is another issue.

A few days after Pearson's departure (May 16 was his last day), Hicks distributed a 26-minute video, via computer file, to the vestry, clergy, and a few others at the Advent. He must have sent it to a couple of dozen people altogether. It was directed at the vestry, and apparently meant for them alone. But, of course, being sent to so many people it has leaked to the public. I obtained a copy of it. I have watched the video. I must say that as a longtime student of the nightmarish schism in South Carolina nothing much about the church shocks me any more, but I have to confess, I am shocked.

What is shocking? Hicks says that Rite I in the BCP  is "anti-Christ," "anti-Gospel," and "opposite the Gospel." He asserts, "It's in the structure of the liturgy." The problem, for Hicks, is centered in the moment between the institution and the reception of the Communion. He holds that at this critical point, Rite I focuses in on human beings while the Gospel would focus on Christ.

In denouncing Rite I, by extension, he is denouncing the BCP, and by extension of this, the Episcopal Church. Every Episcopalians knows that "the prayer book" is the essential core of this denomination, only slightly below the Bible in importance. It defines every element of the faith and practice of the Episcopal Church. It is the collective wisdom of four and a half centuries of Anglican and Episcopal religion. For an Episcopal church to discard the BCP and substitute something it deems superior is not only arrogant, but anti-historical. In my opinion, it is intolerable.

As I see it, Hicks is criticizing the whole notion of sacramental worship. In his warm-up to his final denunciation of Rite I as anti-Christ, he charged that the pre-Our Liturgy communion at the Advent was "element centered" and made people "fixate on the elements" rather than on the Gospel. "Roman Catholic theology" he proclaimed is not Gospel centered theology. As a result, he asserted, the Advent had developed a "culture of anxiety" in which fear swept communicants. Returning to Rite I would return to this culture of fear, he assured the listener. (I suppose the Chancel lamp would never be relit.)

It seems to me, Hicks would have the Advent do away with sacraments altogether. If all we need is to "receive the Gospel" for salvation, who needs anything else? Why bother with all the rigamarole of liturgies? Just go straight to the Bible and have nothing else in church but Bible reading and Sin/Salvation sermons (and maybe hootenanny bands). Taking this logic farther, why have the prayer book? What good is it? According to him, even the most conservative and vertical part of the BCP, Rite I, is still too harmful to keep.

So, as I see it, the Advent leadership must decide whether it wants to be an Episcopal Church in the tradition and form of the historic expression of American Anglicanism, or to be an independent self-defined religion only nominally attached to the Episcopal Church. It seems to me that Hicks has thrown down the gauntlet. He has challenged the parish to accept or reject Rite I (and by extension the BCP). If it chooses the BCP, it moves back toward the mainstream of the Episcopal Church. If it opts to keep Our Liturgy, it continues on its path of differentiation from the mainstream of the Episcopal Church.

Hicks has made his case clear in his video. Agree with him or not, one must admire his frankness, stunning though it may be. He has given the Advent an offer it cannot ignore. I do not know how the vestry, and the other recipients, reacted to Hick's presentation. We will find out in due course.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021



This is a difficult moment in the life of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, Alabama. Times of change, times of transition, are always unsettling. This great parish, the largest and most important in the Diocese of Alabama, is now in the midst of rather sudden and unaccustomed turmoil. This is why I think 14,500 hits have been made on this blog in the past 30 days. Since May 1, most of my postings on this modest blog have been about the Advent. I also get emails almost every day from people connected to the parish asking questions and sharing information. Meanwhile, I have acquired several well-placed and well-informed sources of reliable information in the Advent. I have come to think of my blog as a sort of office water cooler. I welcome it. I am a good and caring listener. Listening is always the best starting place.

As for what has happened at the Advent, here is what I see putting bits and pieces together from my sources. Bear in mind that I speak only for myself. I am not connected to the Advent. I  must emphasize that I do not in any way speak for the officers of the Advent.

---for the past quarter-century, the three deans of the Advent (Zahl, Limehouse, Pearson) developed an every growing evangelical tendency in the parish. This pulled liturgy and corporate worship more to a "low church" or protestant direction while becoming increasingly critical of the national church for its social and theological trends.

---the Advent did not break away from the diocese because the schismatic movement failed to develop strongly enough in the parish and the bishops of Alabama remained solidly loyal to the national church and its laws (i.e. the Dennis Canon). The leaders of the Advent knew they could not leave the Episcopal Church and take the property with them.

---Andrew Pearson, dean from 2014 to 2021 greatly advanced the evangelical changes in the parish. A clergyman was hired from a Presbyterian denomination and put in charge of worship. In 2018, Pearson introduced an extremely low church "Our Liturgy" to replace the authorized liturgies of the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer. This, other changes in corporate worship, and perhaps other issues that remain unknown in the public, reached a point of critical mass between Pearson and the lay leadership early this year.

---Several issues (I am still trying to verify these), brought a crisis in March and April of this year between Pearson and the vestry. These issues could not be resolved. They resulted in a mutual agreement that Pearson would resign as dean.

---I have been informed there are rumors going around that Pearson was badly treated and fired. According to my sources, he was not fired. He left on agreement with the vestry. I do not know of any evidence he was mistreated. Everything visible on his last Sunday showed him leaving with good feelings. 

---Pearson's departure left in doubt the changes he had made, most importantly the continuation of Our Liturgy. The forces in the leadership who want Pearson's changes to continue are lobbying the vestry to keep them. According to reliable reports, they have presented a 30-minute video to the vestry arguing to keep Our Liturgy instead of returning to the Book of Common Prayer.

---The attitude among the clergy and lay leadership now seems to be to pull back from Pearson's changes and return more toward the mainstream of the Episcopal Church while keeping an evangelical identity. The Episcopal Church is, always has been, a big tent ranging from very evangelical (revival camp meeting) to profoundly Anglo-Catholic (smells and bells). These and all the expressions in between can be found in Birmingham, as is typical in most big cities.

---Moving to mainstream means removing or revising changes Pearson made in corporate worship, liturgy, and attitude to the Episcopal Church. This is the problem at hand among the leadership.

---Bishop Glenda Curry has encouraged a new feeling of cooperation between parish and diocese. There is a growing liaison between clerical and lay leadership and the bishop.

---The interim dean, Craig Smalley is well-regarded in the parish and apparently enthusiastic about restoring a more Episcopalian identity. A search committee is being set up to find a new permanent dean. One may expect this search to go on for some time. This is a very important and demanding post that calls for a person with long and appropriate experience at leading a large cathedral parish that has been somewhat in turmoil for awhile. Finding the best candidate will not be easy or quick.

---On the day after his last day as dean, Andrew Pearson sent a letter to some members of the Advent inviting them to follow him to form a new church. That day he applied for release and removal from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church and was received as a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, the anti-Episcopal Church. Some members of the Advent have said they will follow Pearson out, but that number now appears to be rather small. Only time will tell how many people will actually leave the Advent to join Pearson. There are already a half-dozen non-Episcopal "Anglican" congregations in the Birmingham area. At this point, it does not seem that there will be a stampede following Pearson out of the Advent.

---The overall challenge now at the Advent is to find its exact identity. We know it wants to be an evangelical church. What "evangelical" means, however, can be rather broad and varying. The mission, liturgy, corporate worship, and programs will have to be defined clearly. This is what the leadership is now struggling with. This will not be easy, following 25 years of increasing movement from the mainstream.

---All of my sources agree that the general feeling in the parish now is to remain an Episcopal church.

---The Advent has a large and active clerical and lay leadership. For whatever reasons, they agreed to turn away from a strong advocate of a departure from Episcopal norms. They are seeking their way back toward the mainstream.

---the vestry is working with the bishop to arrive at a mutual agreement defining the identity and posture of the parish vis à vis the diocese.

This is the way I see things now at the Advent. As I said, others may have different views, and I welcome them. I hope all of this helps people get a better understanding of what is happening in the Advent and be a bit more encouraged that matters there are getting better. 


Regardless of the problems going on all around us, and they seem to be more than usual these days, we need to keep our bearings. It is springtime, a most glorious season around us. I am reveling in the wonderful beauty of the day. The roses are blooming in my garden:

From the central lawn, looking at the larger part of my garden in today's early morning sun.

Red Knock Out Roses and white shrub rose "Magic Blanket."

Queen Anne's Lace, my favorite wildflower grows in abundance in the drainage ditch at the back of my garden. I always think of them as big snowflakes. Some people consider these as weeds. A weed is an unwanted plant. These are not weeds to me.

Two of my favorite public gardens are in the Birmingham area. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens has a big and beautiful rose garden. The Aldridge Garden in Hoover has a great collection of hydrangeas, now in bloom.

As always, this is the time that was given to us. We were not given a choice. It is our mission to be God's people in the world and we must keep that mission. Peace.


Monday, May 24, 2021



The Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, Alabama, is having an identity crisis. After a quarter of a century of increasing movement to the evangelical edge of Anglicanism (some might say beyond the edge), the trend reached its crescendo in 2018 when the dean, Andrew Pearson introduced "Our Liturgy," a substitute liturgy for Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. Find it on the Advent website . This was to take the place of The Book of Common Prayer for the corporate worship at the Advent. "Our Liturgy" is distinctly evangelical, drawing largely from the spirit of Calvinism. 

So, the basic question at the Advent now is whether to keep Pearson's highly evangelical "Our Liturgy" or return solely to the Episcopal Church's Book of Common Prayer. In other words, should the Advent define itself as a Calvinist church or as an Anglican one? Calvinism is more vertically oriented while Anglicanism is more horizontally oriented. Another way of looking at this is to ask whether the Advent should move to express itself now more as vertical or horizontal religion. The last three deans moved the Advent far into the vertical realm. Should it stay there or backtrack toward a more horizontal posture? This is the dilemma facing the good people of the Advent today.

Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in the heart of downtown Birmingham.

For the past seventy or so years, the Episcopal Church has worked hard to express itself as horizontal religion. Along the way, it made tremendous gains in the struggle for equality for and inclusion of social groups excluded or marginalized in the life of the church, particularly African Americans, women, and homosexuals. Episcopalian advocates of vertical religion objected to this, some even going so far as to break away from the Episcopal Church and form new "Anglican" churches. There are over sixty individual "Anglican" denominations now in the United States. In the southeastern U.S., most of the leadership and laity of the Diocese of South Carolina left the diocese and the Episcopal Church and formed their own "Anglican" diocese in protest of horizontal religion.

Yesterday, 23 May 2021, the bishop of Alabama, Glenda Curry, visited the Advent for Confirmation at both the 9:15 and 11:15 services. I watched both on YouTube where they are still available. The tenor of the two services was quite different. The 9:15 had a hootenanny band with "praise" music (fingernails on chalkboard to my ears). There was a large congregation but I did not hear much singing from the pews. There was a large Confirmation class of youngsters, and perhaps in the interest of time there was no Eucharist. The 11:15 service was Confirmation/reception (amazing number of receptions) and not so large congregation. It was the traditional organ/vested choir with hymns from the Hymnal.

Bishop Glenda Curry presiding over 11:15 Confirmation, 23 May.

I expect everyone was keen to hear what the bishop would have to say since this was the first Sunday after the former dean's controversial departure. What I heard was a typical Episcopalian and rather good homily of horizontal religion. Pentecost Sunday provided an opportune moment for this. Curry declared that at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the people so that God could work through His people: "He chooses to do his work through ordinary people." Moreover, Jesus expects his love to be "blazing in our hearts." Finally, she asked the congregation, "How will God come to you, so you will know Him?" She assured them, the Holy Spirit will always lead. For that moment anyway, the Advent was truly an Episcopal church.

Symbols matter, especially in religion. Of all the irregular things at the Advent these days, I think the one that bothers me the most is the darkness of the chancel lamp, visible hanging near the organ. It is supposed to be kept lit to symbolize the Real Presence of the consecrated Host housed in the Ambry (wall box). No light means no Presence. I am waiting for the day when the light burns again in the Advent. I have a hunch it is not far off. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021



After Andrew Pearson, the former dean, left the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, Alabama, this week, invited his "friends" of the Advent to follow him out, and joined the Anglican Church in North America, I became curious about the non-Episcopal Church so-called "Anglican" churches in Birmingham. Just how strong is the ACNA in the area?

The first problem is in definition. "Birmingham" can refer to two things, the City of Birmingham and the metro area. The City is the core of a large, 50-mile wide urban region in central Alabama. The city limits hold about 200,000 people but the metro area contains well over a million people. 

The core city is surrounded by inner suburbs and outer suburbs, and nowadays exurbs linked by numerous interstate highways. For this matter, I will consider the city and the inner and outer suburbs.

The other problem is in defining "Anglican." For simplicity sake, we will consider the churches that call themselves "Anglican" whatever one wants to thinks about their right to the title (we will return to this).

Searching on Google, I found eight "Anglican" churches in the metro area. None of them was in the City of Birmingham. Five of the eight appear to be functioning congregations, the other three appear dubious. The Five:

1-St. Peter's Anglican Church. See their website . 3207 Montevallo Road, Mountain Brook, AL (an inner suburb).

Diocese of the South, Anglican Church in North America, Bishop Foley Beach. 

From website, appears to be highly evangelical, claiming "Biblical Teaching and Preaching" and defining "Outreach" as witnessing. 

The clergy are called "pastors": Bryan White, "Senior Pastor." CJ Ausmus, "Assistant Pastor for Families and Youth." 

The property was assessed in 2019 at $3.5m. It is a prominent spot on Montevallo Rd. a main artery of upscale Mt. Brook. Former home of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I have passed by this place countless times going to and from the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. As I recall, the "Anglicans" moved in here after the Bishop Gene Robinson incident of 2003 (Episcopal Church affirmed a non-celibate gay man as a bishop).

Apparently, St. Peter's is the largest and most important of the "Anglican" congregations of the area. Their last Sunday service (23 May) is on YouTube. There appeared to be around 50 people in the congregation.

Perhaps readers who know more about this church could fill us in on its origins and membership. 

2-Christ the King Anglican Church. See their website .

2250 Blue Ridge Boulevard, Hoover, AL.

As St. Peter's, in the Diocese of the South, Anglican Church in North America, Bishop Foley Beach.

Appears to be a bit more "liturgical" than St. Peter's. Calls clergy "Father." Rector: Fr. Michael Novotny; Curate, Fr. Daniel Logan; Fr. Ben Williams, Minister of Parish Life and Youth. 

Glaring error on website: "Christ the King Anglican Church is part of the global Anglican Communion." (will return to this)

3-Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd See their website .

101 Tony Holmes Drive, Pelham AL.

Pelham is an outer suburb south of the city.

This church is sort of in ACNA. It lists itself as part of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy, in ACNA, but under Bishop Derek LS Jones (who is also a bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria).

The Rector is the Rev. Andrew Brasher.

Appears to be quite evangelical, proclaiming "Biblical Faith" and "Evangelical Preaching." 

4-St. Bede's Anglican Church. See their website .

2350 Grants Mill Road, Irondale AL.

Founded in 1977 as a "1928 Prayer Book" church, in the reaction against the "new liturgy" of the late 60's-early 70's (now the TEC Book of Common Prayer). Uses only the 1928 BCP and the 1940 Hymnal. 

Claims to be the oldest "Anglican" church in Alabama.

Part of the Diocese of the Holy Cross, an independent entity, not part of the ACNA.

Vicar: Kyle Clark. Bishop: Paul Hewett, at cathedral of the Epiphany, in Columbia SC.

5-St. John's Anglican Church. See their website .

221 Kings Home Drive, Chelsea AL.

Chelsea is an outer suburb.

Part of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Diocese of the Central States. The REC is part of the Anglican Church in North America. This is the only REC church in Alabama.

Rector: Fr. Jon S. Houser. Bishop: Peter Manto.

Uses only the 1928 BCP.

I found three more "Anglican" churches listed but could find no details about them leaving their existence questionable.

6-St. Joseph's Anglican Church

7310 Cavern Road, Trussville AL (a northern suburb)

Rector: Rev. Edward Robinson

The ACNA website lists this as a church of the Diocese of the Living Word, under Bishop Julian Dobbs. However, the diocesan website does not list this church.

7-St. Matthew's Anglican Church. See website .

2565 Rocky Ridge Road, Vestavia AL.

The website gives no information about this church except to list a clergyman, Roger Salter. Apparently shares space in Grace Covenant Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist Convention church.

8-Christ Anglican Church

1953 Old Montgomery Highway, Hoover AL

Meets in Riverchase United Methodist Church. Service, Sunday at 4 p.m. No other info available.

Lists its membership in the Anglican Church in America. According to the Wikipedia article, the ACA is an "anglo-catholic" group of 65 congregations, 5,200 members, founded in 1991. Not part of the ACNA.

In sum, there are perhaps eight "Anglican" churches in the Birmingham area with numerous identities. Of the eight, five are affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America which is actually a widely varying (quarrelsome) union of churches bonded by social conservatism. White patriarchy excludes non-celibate gays from equality and inclusion in the church and keeps women in places of inferiority. As far as one can tell, all eight congregations are solid patriarchies. I could fine no instance of a woman in leadership.

The five ACNA churches are actually four different parts of ACNA. The ACNA "Diocese of the South" lists St. Peter's and Christ the King. The diocese of the Armed Forces has Good Shepherd. The Diocese of the Living Word has St. Jospeh's. St. John's is in the Reformed Episcopal Church. This means there are four bishops with jurisdiction in the ACNA churches of the Birmingham area.

There are two, possibly three, "Anglican" churches that are not part of the ACNA. St. Bede's, the oldest, is in the Diocese of the Holy Cross. DHC is an independent entity, not in ACNA. Christ Anglican Church is in the Anglican Church in America, likewise not in ACNA. St. Matthew's affiliation is unknown. This means there is a possible total of seven "Anglican" bishops with jurisdiction in the Birmingham metro area. 

Now, back to the term "Anglican." This is a word that these churches have incorporated in their titles by self-designation. The dictionary definition of "Anglican" is one who is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. In fact, the only Anglican denomination in the United States is the Episcopal Church. It alone is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop has said repeatedly he is not in communion with the so-called Anglican Church in North America. He is certainly not in communion with the other splinter groups under various "Anglican" titles.

So, when Christ the King Anglican Church puts on its website it is part of the Anglican Communion they are wrong and they know it. This kind of dishonesty is unworthy of a Christian church. They could say something like "part of the worldwide family of churches in the Anglican tradition." This is closer to the truth. So, for instance, when Andrew Pearson left the Episcopal Church, he also left the Anglican Communion.

In his letter of last Monday, Andrew Pearson made it clear he intends to set up a new "Anglican" church in the Birmingham area. He invited some communicants of the Advent to join him. Since he joined the ACNA, we know it will be another ACNA congregation, presumably the third in the Diocese of the South. If so, this would make the ninth "Anglican" church in the metro area. Starting from scratch will be difficult. A new church would mean either land and new construction or moving into a vacated structure (as St. Peter's did). Either way, it will be expensive and challenging. 

One may disagree with Andrew Pearson and his views of religion, but I think we must wish him and his followers well on their journey of faith. We may choose different paths, but are not we all heading for the same destination? 

Friday, May 21, 2021




News broke today that the Rev. Caleb Lee will become the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, in Wilmington, North Carolina, as of August 1, 2021. Announcement was made on Facebook. Find it at Lee's Facebook page . See also the church's website .

Lee is presently a canon of the Grace Church Cathedral, in Charleston. He is also chair of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina and was prominent in the recent election convention of the diocese, on 1 May.

According to St. Paul's senior warden, their search committee recommended Lee on May 13 and he accepted then. 

Certainly, everyone at Grace, and in the diocese, will wish Lee well and offer their gratitude for service well done.

NOTES,  21 MAY 2021

Greetings, blog reader, on Friday, May 21, 2021. This is an opportune moment to make our periodic check on the crises and issues we have been following for a long time now.

PANDEMIC. According to our usual source, Worldometers, rates of COVID-19 are dropping in the world as a whole and in the United States although there are still countries where it is spreading as wildfire, as India and Brazil. The number of new cases in the world fell from 5,464,400 in the week of May3-10 to 4,754,120 in the week of May 10-17. The number of weekly deaths is falling as well, from 90,271 (May 3-10) to 86,540 (May 10-17). As of last Monday, 3,394,817 people in the world have died in the pandemic, all in the last year and a half. Pause and let that sink in.

Numbers are also improving in America. Figures for new cases are falling steadily. There were 296,340 in the week of May 3-10, then 240,170 May 10-17. The death rate is falling too, from 4,750 (May 3-10) to 4,335 (May 10-17). As of the 17th, 600,147 Americans have died of COVID-19. This puts the present pandemic on par with the great flu pandemic of 1918-19 although percentage wise it is still far less. 

South Carolina is also reporting steadily declining rates. New cases there dropped from 4,244 (May 3-10) to 4,076 (May 10-17). Still, more than 10% of the population of the Palmetto State has been infected by the coronavirus. Deaths fell from 72 (May 3-10) to 61 (May 10-17). As of last Monday, 9,653 South Carolinians have died of the virus. Charleston County, however, had an unsettling jump in new cases, 396 (May 10-17), up from the 270 of the previous week. Deaths remained at 3, the same as the earlier week.

Alabama also had an unnerving surge in new cases last week when it reported 9,095 (May 10-17), up from the 2,421 of May 3-10. The cause of this jump remains a mystery although it is known that AL is one of the most vaccine-hesitant states in the country with inoculation rates far below the national average. The state death rate remains nearly the same, 65 (May 3-10) and 60 (May 10-17). 

In the country as a whole, vaccination rates are soaring. As of 17 May, 37% of Americans were fully vaccinated. Signs indicate that the herd immunity rate of 70% is in sight. About 60% of the people have had at least one shot.

On the whole, there is every reason to believe the pandemic is on the down slope and life should be getting back to "normal" in most respects in the next few months.

LITIGATION. Still no word from the SC Supreme Court about the church case on the justices' desks. The last briefs were submitted two and a half months ago. Crickets. The longer this silence goes on, the more I think the justices will not hold a hearing and will render a written decision. If so, God only knows when that would be. We have learned not to hold our breaths with this court as they are not known for expediency. But, in this case we do not want speed over accuracy.

THE ADVENT. There has been a lot of news of late from the Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, and I have been trying to keep up with it as I can. The former dean has left and has joined the ACNA promising to start a new congregation of people in Bham ("friends") pulled from the Advent.

A word to the people of the Advent: we are with you. You are indeed in our thoughts and prayers. This is a hard time. There is a great deal of understandable anxiety among the clergy, staff, and laity of this great parish. This is a time of flux. Uncertainty is always unsettling. My advice to you is to take a deep breath and be patient. Things are looking up. They will improve in God's own time. Your have outstanding leadership in the interim dean, Craig Smalley, and in the bishop, Glenda Curry. Trust them. They will lead you home.

Meanwhile, my sense is that people are anxious about life getting back to "normal." The last year was hard, in so many ways. Yet, we are here. We survived. Now, as summer arrives, I suggest we all take breaks and reconnect with the wonders of the life all around us. Just recently, I treated myself to two things I love the most, a trip on the train, and a visit to a new garden. Afterwards, I felt greatly refreshed and rejuvenated. On the train, I took a day-long ride, to and from, to visit my family in Bay St. Louis MS (Anniston Al-Slidell LA on "the Crescent"). 

I left all my cares on the platform, got a private room, put up my feet, put pillows behind my head and watched God's verdant creation glide past my window. Along the way, I closed my eyes and relived all those wonderful trips on the train I made as a child to visit my revered grandmother in Molino FL. The fantastic steam engines I knew then are now gone from the rails, but not from my mind.

Then, last Saturday, I spent the afternoon visiting a garden new to me, the Huntsville Botanical Garden, in Huntsville AL.

This is a serenely beautiful place which I enjoyed exploring for several hours on a perfect spring day.

I think we all need a break to reconnect with what is really important to us in life. The past year has been hard. No sense in pretending otherwise. We are still plagued with one crisis after another. We are not out of the tunnel even though the light at the end is getting brighter. So, I say, as always, we are here for the living of this hour. It was given to us even though we did not ask for it. We must make the best of it. Peace.

Thursday, May 20, 2021




Andrew Pearson has been accepted as a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. This is according to Lauren Saddler Pearson, his wife. She posted this notice on her Facebook page this morning, 20 May:

"This week, Archbishop and Primate Foley Beach welcomed my husband into the priesthood of the Anglican Church in North America.

I love their core values: serving the marginalized, fostering diversity, partnering globally, planting churches, cultivating generosity and developing leaders.

Aslan is on the move! Luke 14:23"

OK, a couple points here. Is she talking about the Anglican Church in North America that we all know? "Serving the marginalized, fostering diversity"? 

Memo to Mrs. Pearson: The ACNA was set up in 2010 by homophobic bishops of equatorial Africa and fellow travelers in America in order to keep non-celibate homosexuals out of the church and to keep women in submission to men. This is the opposite of serving the marginalized and fostering diversity. So, perhaps she is talking about another group under the same name and led by the same "archbishop". 

Aslan, in the C.S. Lewis books, is a stand in for Jesus Christ. What does she mean by "Aslan is on the move"? Surely she is not referring to her husband as being Aslan.

So, on Monday, Pearson left as dean of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham. Same day he applied for a Release and Removal from Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church. On Wednesday, Bishop Glenda Curry officially granted the Release and Removal. Somewhere in these three days, Foley Beach, archbishop of the ACNA, granted Holy Orders to Andrew Pearson. So now Pearson is officially a priest in the ACNA. That was fast.

Interesting that Lauren, rather than Andrew, Pearson would announce this to the world. If one noticed, in Andrew Pearson's letter of 17 May to his "Friends" inviting them to follow him into a new church, the pronoun was almost always "We." Although Pearson himself signed the letter alone, the text was all about "we" and "us" and "our." Lauren was mentioned by name three times. When Pearson invited friends to meet weekly and one-on-one, it was with Andrew and Lauren together, as if this will be a mom-and-pop church. Lauren featured as prominently in the letter as Andrew. 

Not knowing the Pearsons, I did a little Googling and found that she is quite a successful businesswoman in Birmingham. She is a Certified Financial Planner and "Managing Director, Partner" of Somerset Advisory, a financial advisory service that apparently caters to moneyed clients. Find their website here . The Pearsons have a million dollar house in Mountain Brook, per capita the wealthiest municipality in Alabama.

Lauren Pearson. Photo from the Somerset Advisory website.

So, Andrew Pearson is now in the Anglican Church in North America, the reactionary faction set against rights for and inclusion of gays and women in the church. According to his letter of the 17th, he will set up a new church (presumably an ACNA one) in the Birmingham metro area (1.5m pop.). He and Lauren have appealed for their "friends" at the Advent to follow them. I suppose only time will tell us how many of them will.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021



As of today, 19 May 2021, Andrew Pearson is no longer an ordained clergyman of the Episcopal Church. 

The Diocese of Alabama announced this today. Find it here .

On Monday, 17 May, Pearson officially petitioned the bishop of Alabama, the Rt. Rev. Glenda Curry, for a certificate of Release and Removal from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. That evening, the bishop agreed to grant it.

The Rt. Rev. Glenda S. Curry, Bishop of Alabama


The official document of the Release and Removal is available in the announcement. It is dated today, May 19, 2021. This revokes Andrew Pearson's ordination in the Episcopal Church. He will no longer be able to function as an ordained clergyman in the Episcopal Church.

Pearson had been employed as a priest at the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, AL, for the past nine and a half years, the last seven as Dean of the Cathedral and Rector of the parish. 

In his letter to his "Friends" dated May 17, 2021, Pearson had hinted at such. He said he would temporarily be a part of St. Peter's Anglican Church, in Mountain Brook, a congregation of the Anglican Church in North America. After that, he said he would be forming a new church of his followers and encouraged his "Friends" to join him.

Andrew Pearson has now officially left the Episcopal Church. It is hard to imagine this would be a surprise to anyone.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021


Appeals to people of the Advent to follow him

Today (18 May), parishioners (unknown if some or all) of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent began receiving a letter sent yesterday from the former dean, Andrew Pearson. He appealed to the people of the Advent to follow him into a new church. We wondered what Pearson would do after he left the Advent. Now we know. Here is the letter (click on for enlargement):

Here are the salient points that I see:

---The letter is from Pearson and dated May 17, 2021, the day after his last day as dean at the Advent. He preached his last sermon there on May 16, 2021 (see on YouTube).

---It is addressed to "Friends." I am trying to find out if this letter went to all parishioners of the Advent or just certain ones.

---He is staying in the Birmingham area.

---He is leaving the Episcopal Church. Destination not identified but temporary residence in St Peter's, the ACNA church in Mountain Brook, an upscale suburb of Bham. St. Peter's occupies a prominent property on Montevallo Road vacated by the Mormons. A few blocks away in Mountain Brook stands St. Luke's Episcopal Church, one of the largest, wealthiest, and most important parishes of the diocese. 

---"our calling is to plant a church."

---This "church" is unidentified as is its affiliation.

---In the summer, Pearson and wife will gather weekly with followers. To his "friends" at the Advent: "consider joining us."

---Pearson and wife appeal to parishioners of the Advent for one-to-one meetings.

Thus, it is clear that Pearson's plan is to start a new church in Birmingham led by himself and peopled by "friends" from the Advent. He is reaching out to the parishioners of the Advent to follow him out. Yet, he gave no specifics of where he would lead them. The Advent has more than three thousand members.

I will provide more information on this as I receive it.

(Rev. Andrew Pearson)

It remains to be seen how this quasi-schism will play out. One interesting point is that Pearson cannot say he was driven out of the Advent by the Episcopal Church authorities. In fact, the past few Episcopal bishops of Alabama went out of their way to be lenient with him and the other clergy of the Advent. Some might say they went too far. Substituting one's own liturgy for the authorized services of the Book of Common Prayer is pretty serious. Bringing in clergy who did not have Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church is pushing the envelope a long way too. Nevertheless, the bishops next door in Carpenter House looked the other way on these and other eye-rollers in the Advent. 

What this means is that Pearson cannot now play the victim card the way Mark Lawrence and others who bolted the Episcopal Church did. In SC, Lawrence and his followers claimed he was mistreated by the national church, something that was untrue but still widely believed. The victimization theme in SC caused many parishioners of the diocese to rally around their supposedly beleaguered bishop. This was key in getting the majority of the people to go along with this illegal and illegitimate schism. Their testimonies in the 2014 trial spoke loudly to this. In the present case, Pearson does not claim, cannot claim, to be a victim of the Church. What effect the absence of victimization will have on the group dynamics around Pearson remains to be seen. It does seem that he is starting out with a rather weak claim for independence.  

Monday, May 17, 2021


Yesterday, May 16, 2021, was Andrew Pearson's last day as the dean of the Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, Alabama. He had been dean for the past seven years, following the terms of others from South Carolina, namely Paul Zahl and Frank Limehouse. 

The whole course at the Advent for the past quarter century has been to differentiate the parish from the Episcopal Church and define it as a semi-independent and highly evangelical church. So, as one will notice in yesterday's service, that is available on YouTube, the service was about as "low church" as one can get. Before the service, the congregation laughed and talked as if at a camp meeting. There was no solemn decorum. Neither was there a processional. The choir and clergy sat in the front. The altar was irrelevant as no one even recognized it let alone reverencing it. The ever-burning light, hanging near the organ, signaling the presence of the sacrament in the Ambry was extinguished, something that was strikingly ironic. I saw the sign of the cross one time, and that was from the lector layperson. The Confession of Sin was the very first item of the liturgy, but even then the clergyman offered a generic and passive absolution. The Gospel was read from the lectern. The congregational singing was a mixture of church hymns and apparent camp songs. The main feature of the service was the twenty-minute sermon. I do not know how much of this was covid related and how much long-term.

Pearson's sermon was based on the text of I John, supposedly in a series of sermons on this book. He spent most of his time railing about the difference between the divine Jesus ("God in the flesh") and the "false understandings" and "heresies" about Jesus. At one point he said that some people (unidentified) said the Advent was overemphasizing the importance of the Cross, something that he clearly believed would be impossible. Then came the highest eyebrow raise when he went on to talk about Satan tempting Jesus. He inserted this (at minute 48):

a recent conversation I had with a bishop, they asked me: Andrew isn't it better to believe a part of the Bible than none at all?

Then Pearson said he recalled James Chapter 2 as the demons shuttered when they denied Jesus.

Pearson did not name the "bishop" but I doubt it takes much imagination to figure it out. What I see in this is that Pearson implied that he himself believed all of the Bible while some church (Episcopal?) authorities did not. One can make whatever one wishes of this remark coming as it did couched in the context of his remarks about Satan's and the demons' knowledge of but ultimate denial of the true nature of Jesus. Perhaps we should give the benefit of the doubt that this was an unfortunate and inadvertent simile. 

It seems to me the take-away Pearson would have one make is that the Advent, and Pearson himself, follows the whole and true faith of the Bible while some other church people do not. At least, this is what I understood. 

What one sees at the Advent is vertical religion about as far as possible in the context of the Episcopal Church. Vertical is individualistic, one person and one God. God is an entity beyond in space, like us, only greater. He is all perfect and all powerful. The human being is by nature the opposite. He cannot save himself. He must be "saved" by this all powerful God. If one surrenders self to this far-off being, one gains the external positive to overcome the internal negative. Taken to extreme this becomes idolatry, one implores this all powerful force to save oneself from the doom that follows from human nature.

The opposite interpretation is horizontal religion. Horizontal is communal rather than individualistic. It sees God not as a remote anthropomorfic idol, but as the transcendent force of life in the universe. People were made in the image of God to be God's representatives in the world. Moreover, God gave humans Free Will and the knowledge of good and evil. It is the mission of human beings to enact good in the world. It was ironic that Pearson quoted James Chapter 2, of all Bible texts the strongest in favor of horizontal religion (faith without works is dead). 

A more familiar term for horizontal religion is the Social Gospel. The Episcopal Church has been thoroughly committed to the Social Gospel since the 1950's. This is what has caused the proponents of vertical religion in the Episcopal Church to have so much discomfort with the Church. They tend to believe the Church has gone too far away from what they see as the true nature and purpose of religion, the saving of lost souls. Whether the Episcopal Church became too extreme in its horizontal religion is a matter of debate. I for one do not think so. Obviously the schismatics and their fellow travelers think so. 

Where Andrew Pearson goes from here is to be seen. Rumor has it he might start his own church, or perhaps join one already established, in the Birmingham area. Starting a new church in Birmingham is highly problematical. Real estate in the city can be very expensive. Places in the far suburbs, and they stretch for many miles around the city, may be cheaper but less convenient. There are of course some vertical megachurches in the metro area. 

Most importantly, this is an inflection point for the Advent. After decades of evangelical clergy from the lowcountry pushing vertical religion in the parish, here is an opportunity to reflect on the nature and mission of this great parish, the largest in the diocese. The most hopeful sign is that the vestry has set up a committee to talk with Bishop Glenda Curry about ways to improve relations with the diocese and the broader church. Of course the people of the Advent have every right to follow an evangelical bent of religion but they do not have the right to make this parish into something beyond the recognizable limit of Episcopal and traditional Anglican religion. Anglicanism, broad that is is, does eventually have a bound beyond which one cannot go. This is the task of the Advent now: finding its identity. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021



The crisis of the hour is in the hands of the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court. What they decide will seal the fate of the schism in South Carolina. After eight and a half years of bruising legal warfare, the judicial settlement is approaching. Which side will finally take possession of the 29 parishes and the Camp? While we wait, we have a good opportunity to review the state of the litigation between the old Church diocese (EDSC) and the new breakaway diocese (ADSC).

The South Carolina Supreme Court, Columbia.

First, the salient facts on how we reached this point:

---2017, Aug. 2.  The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision on the Church diocese's appeal of Judge Diane Goodstein's Order of Feb. 3, 2017. The SCSC ruling listed three majority decisions: 1) 8 (7) parishes own their own property, 2) the Episcopal Church owns 28 (29) of the 36 parishes in question, and 3)the Episcopal diocese owns Camp St. Christopher.

The SCSC majority decisions are enumerated 1, 2, 3. Click on for enlargement.

---Nov. 17.  SCSC denied ADSC's request for a rehearing (on vote of 2-2).

---Nov. 17.  SCSC issued a Remittitur to the Circuit Court for the implementation of its Aug. 2 decision.

---2018, June 11.  The U.S. Supreme Court denied ADSC's petition for review of the SCSC Aug. 2 2017 decision (denial of cert).

---2019, Sept. 19.  U.S. District Court judge in Charleston, Richard Gergel, issued an Order recognizing the Episcopal Church as an hierarchical institution and the Church diocese as the only legal heir of the old diocese. He also issued an injunction banning the breakaway faction from claiming in any way to be the historic diocese. This was the first federal court decision on the question of the hierarchical nature of the Episcopal Church. 

On Dec. 18, 2019, Gergel denied ADSC's request for a stay of his Order. On Jan. 14, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied ADSC's request for a stay of the Order. Thus, Gergel's Order remains in effect.

---2020, June 19.  Circuit Court Edgar Dickson issued an Order reversing the SCSC decision on the 29 parishes and the Camp. He declared the Episcopal Church had no interest in the parishes on the grounds they had not acceded to the Dennis Canon. The majority of justices of SCSC had ruled that the 29 had in fact acceded to the Dennis Canon.

---Aug. 8.  The SCSC agreed to take EDSC's appeal of Dickson's Order. 

---Oct. 29.  The U.S. Court of Appeals agreed to stay ADSC's appeal of Gergel's decision pending a ruling from the SCSC.

---Nov. 12, 2020 to Mar. 4, 2021, the EDSC and ADSC filed briefs with the SCSC. EDSC argued to overturn Dickson in favor of the SCSC decision. ADSC argued to sustain Dickson's Order.

The basic question is, Which side is entitled to the ownership of the 29 parishes and the Camp? The opposing views are the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017 favoring the TEC side, and the Circuit Court Order of June 19, 2020 favoring the breakaway faction.

The SC Supreme Court of today taking up this matter is not the same as the court that handed down the decision of 2017. Two justices who participated in 2017 have retired (Toal and Pleicones). Another justice from 2017 has recused herself from the case (Hearn). This leaves four active justices today. It is possible the court could bring in an "Acting Justice" to fill out the five seats, but there has been no word about this.

The two justices who sat on the 2017 bench still there are Chief Justice Donald Beatty and Justice John Kittredge. 

Chief Justice Donald Beatty.

Beatty voted for the Church side while Kittredge voted against the Church. Both men agreed that the parishes had acceded to the Dennis Canon (four of the five justices agreed) but while Beatty said the parishes could not revoke their accessions, Kittredge held they could, and did, repeal their accessions to the Canon. Thus, while Beatty concluded that the Episcopal Church owned the 29 parishes and the Camp, Kittredge maintained the Church did not own them. Beatty joined with Pleicones and Hearn to form the majority on the court to rule in favor of the Episcopal Church. Kittredge and Toal formed the minority and issued dissenting opinions.

The two new justices who replaced Toal and Pleicones on the court are George C. James, Jr. and John Cannon Few. 

Justice George C. James, Jr.

James lives in Sumter where he is a lay leader in the Trinity United Methodist Church and active in numerous other local organizations. Find the SCSC blurb about him here .

Justice John Cannon Few.

Find the SCSC bio on Few here . One interesting point about Few is that he married Stephanie Yarborough in St. Philip's Church, in Charleston, in 2019. Since this was a remarriage on both parts, they had to go through a process to get permission of Bishop Lawrence for the marriage to take place in the church.

How these two new justices will interface with the whole matter before them now is something that cannot be known, at least not to a layperson as myself. I suppose it would take an expert in the state courts of SC to tell us how their past opinions might foreshadow their leanings on the question of the ownership of the church properties.

A highly important factor that must be considered here is the voting. Unless the court brings in a temporary "Acting Justice," to raise the number to five, there will be four justices to decide this appeal. A two-to-two tie would leave Dickson's Order in place (a majority has to vote to overturn). Since the matter before the SCSC is the appeal of Dickson's ruling, the vote will be whether to sustain his Order or to overturn it. To sustain it, the court must vote two or more of the four. To overturn it, the court must vote three or more of the four. Thus, the Church side has the harder challenge here. If we assume Beatty will vote for the Church and Kittredge will vote for the breakaways (as they did in 2017), the whole matter is in the hands of the two new, and unknown, justices. Everything rests on their opinions. The Church needs both of them. The breakaways need only one of them.

In my opinion, there are two ways of approaching the matter at hand, as a cultural issue and as a judicial issue. I think the settlement will depend on where the justices place the fundamental importance of this case. 

As everyone knows (at least those who have read my history), the direct cause of the schism was the blessing of same-sex unions. When the Episcopal Church moved to this in 2012, the clerical leadership of the old diocese took the opportunity to lead the majority of the laity out of the diocese and the Episcopal Church. In short, the Episcopal Church championed equality for and inclusion of homosexuals persons in the life of the church. The reactionaries in the diocese of South Carolina opposed any acceptance of homosexuality and created the schism to prevent these reforms from applying to the majority of the old diocese. This was a part of a culture war that has been waging in America for the past seventy or so years. To be simplistic, the basic cultural issue is stark: for or against inclusion of non-celibate homosexuals in the life of the church. Since the issue of homosexuality sparked the schism with its ensuing litigation, the justices may choose to see the whole litigation as fundamental to the culture war. If so, their attitudes toward homosexuality will skew their opinions. 

On the other hand, there is a very great issue here of jurisprudence. Under the long-established order of the court system, there is a hierarchy in the state courts topped by the supreme court. A ruling by the state supreme court is just that, supreme in the state. The 2017 opinion of the SCSC became the law of the land when the court denied a rehearing and the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert thus ending any possible appeal. Since it is the law of the land, it cannot be changed or re-litigated. 

In my view the circuit court made two violations of the state judicial system. In one, it refused the Remittitur from the SCSC. I do not see how a lower court has the right to refuse an order from a higher court. In another, the circuit judge re-litigated the case and substituted his own finding that the 29 parishes had not acceded to the Dennis Canon in place of the state supreme court's finding that the 29 had acceded to the Dennis Canon. He directly contradicted the majority of the SCSC on the question of accession to the Dennis Canon. What right does a circuit judge have to replace a judgment of a higher court?

Thus, if the SCSC now upholds the Dickson Order, it will establish two landmark and severely dangerous precedents, that a lower court can refuse to accept a remit order from a higher court, and a lower judge can reject and replace a majority decision of a higher court.

If the SCSC allows Dickson's Order to stand, this will upend the entire state court system in South Carolina. Higher courts will no longer have superiority over the lower courts. No order of the state supreme court would have to be accepted and implemented. There would be never ending litigation thus destroying the entire concept of jurisprudence in the state. In short, no decision of a state court would ever be final. If so, what would be the purpose of having courts at all? No law could ever really be enforced.

Before they vote on the Dickson Order, the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court ought to consider long and hard what the effects of their decision will be. In my view, upholding Dickson will be catastrophic to jurisprudence. It would establish an unbelievably dangerous precedent that could not be erased. 

Let us bear in mind too that the United States was the first country in the world established on the principle that the civic state must be entirely separate from religious institutions. This concept of the separation of church and state was enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution. Over the years, it has served us Americans phenomenally well. Now, it is part and parcel of our American character. 

No court has the right to interfere in the affairs of a religious institution. Moreover, the federal court has declared the Episcopal Church to be hierarchical. A court in South Carolina should not decide what the Episcopal Church can and cannot do in terms of its own internal structure. The Church has the right to decide its own rules. As an hierarchical body, the Episcopal Church has the right to enforce its own law, as the Dennis Canon. The civic state must respect this if it is to abide by the First Amendment. 

The fundamental judicial issue here is freedom of religion. Every religious institution in America ought to be concerned about the possible infringement of the state on their rights. The Episcopal Church certainly is. The Diocese of South Carolina certainly is. Finally, the justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court ought to be equally concerned. We must maintain the separation of church and state. It is crucial to the future of freedom in America. This is the real crisis looming in the South Carolina Supreme Court.


My usual disclaimer. I am neither a lawyer nor a legal expert. What I offer here is only opinion.