November 16, 2012
Enthusiam for Renegade "Special Convention" Cools as Doubts Persist
Attacks on faithful Episcopalians, loss of support, & letter from the Presiding Bishop chip away at enthusiasm for Lawrence's renegade diocese
Expensive full-page newspaper ad rehashes old rhetoric, fails to answer key questions; Only 33 of 75 rectors sign on in support
CHARLESTON -- In a final countdown to the launch of their new renegade “diocese," Mark Lawrence and his allies spent this week navigating through one snafu after another as their planned mass exit from the Episcopal Church began to look more like mass chaos.
The former leaders of the Diocese have been working furiously on a “Special Convention” on Saturday in Charleston, at which they expect to dissolve whatever ties remain between them and the Episcopal Church. Lawrence has reportedly told parishes that there is no reason for them to attend if they are not joining him in whatever he has planned.
Anything the gathering does will not have any meaning since Lawrence has no authority to call for even a bathroom break as a result on a temporary "restriction" placed on his ministry by the Episcopal Church.
Team Lawrence's troubles began last weekend when the new transitional Steering Committee for the continuing Diocese of South Carolina (recognized by the Episcopal Church) issued an email invitation to loyal clergy for a "Clergy Day" with retired East Tennessee Bishop, Charles von Rosenberg, on the following Thursday.
The invitation infuriated Bishop Lawrence and his staff since they believe they are the sole official leaders of the Diocese of South Carolina, even though they claimed three weeks ago that they had left the Episcopal Church.
They were also outraged that von Rosenberg would do anything as a bishop in the Diocese without Lawrence's consent, claiming the canons (laws) of the Episcopal Church require any bishop within his jurisdiction to have his permission to conduct any aspect of ministry.
Yes, these are the same canons that Lawrence claims do not apply in the Diocese of South Carolina.
Meanwhile, while the Lawrence camp was stewing over Clergy Day, the Steering Committee blanketed the eastern part of the state with large half-page ads in Sunday newspapers, announcing plans to move forward with an reorganization of the Diocese that would culminate in the election of Lawrence's successor on March 8th.
Shortly thereafter, Lawrence’s top lieutenant, the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, sent out a blistering email that appeared to accuse the new Steering Committee of deceit, fraud, and even identity theft over itsuse of the official names of the Diocese and its official seal, despite its efforts being sanctioned by the Church.
"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," fumed Lewis.
He sent out a second, less accusatory version of his missive later in the afternoon, with technical instructions on how Lawrence supporters should avoid future electronic correspondence from the continuing Diocese by contacting internet service providers to block "deceptive communications.”
But the damage was done.
The pettiness and snarky tone of Lewis' email and his apparent distrust of his supporters' loyalty was a disappointment foreshadowing of things to come.
Incidentally, Lewis obviously read his email invitation from the continuing Diocese ... since he attended the Clergy Day.
Things actually got worse on Thursday morning, as Team Lawrence found itself stumbling through a expensive public relations disaster in the form of a full-page ad they'd taken out in Charleston's Post & Courier ... in response to the half-page ad by the continuing Diocese.
The purpose of the ad was to consolidate support behind Lawrence's apparent intention to leave the Episcopal Church (again) on Saturday, but it appeared to have had the very opposite effect by raising more questions about Lawrence's vision and depth of support for his new renegade "diocese".
The ad contained a lengthy and rambling missive from Lawrence largely rehashing minor grudges and old rhetoric, including a fantasy on why he thinks he is in the Anglican Communion, even though he says he has left the only province of the Communion in the United States.
He continued to point to various letters he claims to have received from rightwing Primates in the Communion, but at least two of them seem so similar in content and form that they appear to have been drafted by the same person, possibly a member of Lawrence's staff.
SC Episcopalians has attempted to contact the Primates whose name appear on the letters to verify their authorship and authenticity, but they have not been willing to comment.
The most significant problem with the text of the ad was that Lawrence made no attempt to explain where he was trying to take his followers once they left the Episcopal Church except some vague reference to "across the oceans and across the street."
It was completely devoid of vision for his supporters and compassion for those who have been harmed by his actions.
In the ad, Lawrence appeared to claim that he is still a bishop in the Diocese of South Carolina and in the Episcopal Church. "I am still the XIV Bishop (of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina) in succession," Lawrence declared.
The ad didn't mention his announcement on October 18th that he had actually left the Church.
Apparently Lawrence also couldn't resist joining Lewis in his mud-slinging over the Diocesan seal. In the ad, Lawrence dismissed the members of the continuing Diocese as "those who profess and call themselves Christians."
He added, "Not only is it morally reprehensible, it is something for which they can be held accountable." The seal may actually be the least of his concerns as critics have begun wondering where he is getting the funds to take out expensive full-page ads an dpay people who say they are no longer in the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence's screed was framed with the names of 33 rectors or priests-in-charge, who the ad claimed are backing Lawrence. None of the names were surprising as they are either long-time, public supporters of Lawrence or others whose parishes depend on the Diocese for financial support.
One of those whose name was listed once told SC Episcopalians, that Lawrence's one-sided "war" against the Episcopal Church was "for s**t", but his small parish could not risk alienating what many viewed as a vindictive spirit at the Diocesan House.
The biggest problem with the 33 names was the far more noticable absence of the names of 42 other rectors in the Diocese. It wouldn't have been such a big deal if Lawrence had not insisted publicly that the entire Diocese was united behind him.
Allies urge Diocese to "step back from the brink"
If that wasn't enough, Team Lawrence was thrown for a loop in the early afternoon when the Bishop of Springfield, one of their few remaining allies in the House of Bishops, eloquently urged them to “step back from the brink” and seek to resolve their differences with the Church without leaving.
Here is what Bishop Dan Martins wrote: "To my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina, as you meet in convention this Saturday: For the love of God, step back from the brink. Lay aside that which is your right, in honor of him who laid aside everything for us, not counting equality with God something to be grasped. The entire Episcopal Church needs you, but none more so than we who have stood with you in witness to the revealed word of God and the tradition of "mere Anglicanism." I am begging you: Do not abandon us. Let us together be Jeremiah at the bottom of the well, bearing costly witness to God's truth. Let us together be Hosea, faithfully loving those who do not love us back, for the sake of the wholeness of the people of God." [This is not the full text of Bishop Martins' much more extensive comments]
Only a week before, Bishop Waldo and the Standing Committee of the Upper Diocese had asked him to do the same thing.
"Please know that The Episcopal Church wants you to remain!"
However, toward the middle of Thursday afternoon, a stunning pastoral letter from the Presiding Bishop to the Diocese completely changed the political landscape in a way that made Lawrence's continuing intransigence appear to be illogical and self-defeating.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori implored Lawrence to challenge the findings of the Disciplinary Board that found him to have "abandoned communion."
According to the extraordinarily eloquent letter: "Bishop Lawrence has an extended 60 day period in which he can repudiate those charges, and I stand ready to respond positively to any sign that he has done so... Please know that the Episcopal Church wants you to remain!"
In an extraordinarily petty move, Lawrence's office has not even posted the letter so that his followers can read it for themselves.
Shepherd leads attacks on sheep.
The contrast in the tone of the Presiding Bishop's letter and the ad Lawrence had taken out underscored Lawrence's increasing bitterness toward those not supporting his "sovereign authority" in the Diocese.
Hostility toward faithful Episcopalians noticeably escalated after Lawrence announced at a clergy meeting on October 18th that neither he, nor his clergy, or their parishes were in the Episcopal Church any longer.
Energized young rectors returned to their parishes and on the following Sunday began to suggest to those who were not with Lawrence that they were not particularly welcome anymore.
Some were reportedly told they may not be called upon to be lay readers, while the teaching materials a lesson plans used by others who taught Sunday School would be more carefully scrutinized by pro-Lawrence clergy. Others were simply told that the Diocesan Standing Committee had voided their membership in the Episcopal Church.
About a week after his announcement that he'd left the Episcopal Church, Lawrence had lashed out at a woman who questioned his authority to conduct episcopal acts like confirmations, even though he is prohibited from doing them by the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence responded that he was acting by the authority of the "One, Holy, and Apostolic Church" and suggested that anyone challenging that view would be guilty of heresy.