By Douglas LeBlanc
For nearly four decades the words continuing churches have referred to bodies that have broken away from the Episcopal Church out of concern to continue in traditional Anglican doctrine as they understand it. The Episcopal Church now uses continuing for groups that retain their allegiance to the Episcopal Church, and this coinage has appeared amid disputes within the Diocese of South Carolina.
The Episcopal Church made its first reference to groundwork for a “Continuing Diocese of South Carolina” in a 2,000-word statement published online Nov. 9.
The same statement says that, while Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has restricted the ministry of the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina since 2008, his being deposed requires the consent of the House of Bishops, which meets in March.
“Leading lay and clergy persons in the Diocese of South Carolina have begun to plan for the reorganization of the continuing Diocese,” the statement says. “A small group of persons representing the breadth of the Diocese has agreed to recruit persons to form a Steering Committee to undertake preparation for a meeting of the Diocesan Convention within the next few months. This follows the pattern set by other dioceses where the former bishop and lay and clergy leaders had left the church.”
The group in South Carolina joins four other continuing dioceses, as the church center calls them, in Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and San Joaquin.
The statement adds: “On Thursday, October 25, representatives of the Presiding Bishop met in Charleston with a small group of lay and clergy persons of the Diocese of South Carolina to outline steps that could be taken by such a Steering Committee. Such a group would, among other things, also be in close communication with the Presiding Bishop during the reorganization effort.”
“An Open Letter to Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina,” published online at a new domain, episcopaldioceseofsc.org, names a 14-member steering committee and identifies two advisers: the Rt. Rev. John C. Buchanan, provisional bishop of Quincy and a resident of Mt. Pleasant, and Charles vonRosenberg, retired bishop of East Tennessee and a resident of Daniel Island.
Bishop Lawrence and the majority of parishes in the diocese remain online at their longstanding domain, dioceseofsc.org.
Bishop Lawrence’s diocese announced Oct. 17 that it had called a special convention for Nov. 17. The Episcopal Church’s statement disputes that meeting’s legitimacy.
“The next annual meeting of the diocesan convention has previously been set for March 8, 2013,” the statement says. “Lawrence and diocesan leaders who have left the Episcopal Church have called a meeting for November 17 purportedly of the diocesan convention. This meeting is not a meeting of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of South Carolina.”
Bishop Lawrence’s canon, in turn, has protested the steering committee’s two invitations to a clergy-day gathering, neither of which included any names.
“While the steering committee and its associates are certainly free to meet, what they are attempting to perpetrate is identity theft,” wrote the Rev. Canon James Lewis. “They are not ‘the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,’ nor are they ‘the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina’ or ‘The Diocese of South Carolina.’ Those are legal names which belong to us. This group does not have any right to use these names or the Diocesan seal.”
On a related note, the primates council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans has expressed its support for Bishop Lawrence.
“During our meeting last week in Dar es Salaam we took time to pray for you and the clergy and people of the Diocese of South Carolina. We are encouraged by your faithfulness to the Bible and rejoice in your clear stand for the Gospel,” said an Oct. 31 letter from the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop of Kenya and chairman of the primates council, and the Most Rev. Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney and general secretary of the FCA.
“We are grieved, however, by the attitude and actions of the leadership of the Episcopal Church and their efforts to demand canonical obedience through unjust means to their ungodly agenda. As we have made clear in the Jerusalem Declaration we reject their authority and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.”
File photo: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishop John C. Buchanan at a meeting of the House of Bishops.