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South Carolina mulls secession: The Church of England Newspaper, August 12, 2012 p 5. August 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in 77th General Convention, Church of England Newspaper, South Carolina.
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The Diocese of South Carolina is on the brink of secession from the Episcopal Church, following the 77th General Convention’s vote to permit a local option on same-sex blessings.

At a 25 July meeting of the South Carolina clergy, Bishop Mark Lawrence said he no longer sees a place for the diocese in the General Convention and announced he would spend the next 25 days praying as to what his, and the diocese’s, next steps might be.

At last month’s General Convention in Indianapolis, the Episcopal Church voted to endorse provisional local rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. Some dioceses have interpreted the vote as permission to authorise their clergy to perform gay marriages in states that recognise such unions. Bishop Lawrence and six of the eight members of the South Carolina deputation to the Convention withdrew from its proceedings after the gay blessings vote, perturbed by what they saw as abandonment by the Episcopal Church of the universal witness of the Church on the purpose and meaning of Christian marriage.

In a letter prepared on 30 July by the canon to the ordinary of South Carolina, the Rev Jim Lewis, a summary of the clergy meeting was shared with those unable to be present.

Bishop Lawrence summarised the remarks he gave to the House of Bishops in private session when he announced his withdrawal. By voting for the “adoption of authorised provisional rites to bless same gender relationships, the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church have been profoundly changed,” the Bishop said.

“He told the Bishops that the magnitude of these changes was such that he could no longer in good conscience continue in the business of the Convention. In fact, he was left with the grave question of whether he could continue as a bishop of an institution that had adopted such changes,” the letter said.

Canon Lewis wrote that “since that time, and in the gathering of the Diocesan Clergy, the Bishop stated that he believes the Episcopal Church has crossed a line he cannot personally cross. He also expressed to the clergy that though he might act one way if he were a priest in a diocese, as a Bishop he feels deeply his vow before God to faithfully lead and shepherd the Diocese of South Carolina. Both dimensions of this dilemma weigh upon him at this time.”

Bishop Lawrence urged the clergy not to take any precipitous actions in the coming weeks and asked “for a period of grace as he prayerfully seeks the face of the Lord, and asks for God’s direction,” the letter said.

“Upon his return at the end of August he will meet with the Standing Committee and the clergy of the Diocese to share that discernment and his sense of the path forward.”

Should Bishop Lawrence recommend the Diocese withdraw or distance itself from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church it is likely that a large majority will follow him. However a small number of congregations and clergy are self-identified supporters of the national Church and will likely instigate civil and canonical legal proceedings against the bishop and departing clergy should they secede.

Should Bishop Lawrence recommend staying, it is likely that a number of the Diocese’s parishes will unilaterally withdraw.

In the neighbouring Diocese of Georgia, one parish has already announced its decision to quit the Episcopal Church. Last week the rector and vestry of St John’s Episcopal Church in Moultrie announced they were resigning their offices and would form St Mark’s Anglican Church under the oversight of the Anglican Church of North America.

The Rev William McQueen, the former rector of St John’s, told The Church of England Newspaper that the vestry had turned over the keys of the church to the bishop and would meet for the time being in a chapel provided by a local Baptist church. He expected all of the congregation would leave St John’s.

“We have disagreed with The Episcopal Church for a long time, most notably over the issues of women’s ordination, the national Church’s stance on abortion, certainly the events of 2003 and beyond, but most importantly the erosion of the historic catholic faith surrounding who Jesus Christ is, and the authority and interpretation of Holy Scripture,” Fr McQueen said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.