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Traditionalist bishop for South Carolina still awaits consent

08 February 2007

by Pat Ashworth

FEW of the 110 dioceses in the Episcopal Church in the United States have so far made public their decision whether to consent to the consecration of the Very Revd Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina, which has been postponed from 24 February until after Easter.

South Carolina is one of seven dioceses that have requested the oversight of a Primate other than the Church’s Presiding Bishop, citing actions taken at the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006. Its former Bishop, the Rt Revd Ed Salmon, was one of the strongest opponents of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson.

After the election, fears that the Bishop-elect would lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church were voiced by Via Media USA, an alliance of lay and clergy associations, who argued that his episcopate would “represent a threat to the unity of our church and to the cohesion of the diocese”. The group wrote to all the diocesan standing committees, asking them to consider his past statements, including answers to questions put to nominees during the search process.

These included the response that the Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, would not be welcome to preside at his consecration. The Bishop-elect has continued to defend the diocese’s request for alternative Primatial oversight on the grounds that “Many within the Church needed both pastoral space and theological differentiation if we were to remain Anglicans as well as Episcopalians.” He has accused Via-Media USA of misrepresentation and “muddying the water”.

He told the Episcopalian weekly The Living Church: “The people of South Carolina followed the process, and I was overwhelmingly elected on the first ballot.

“Does anyone really think that by rejecting me as a bishop that they can force Episcopalians in the diocese of South Carolina to choose someone more to their liking? Is that going to help convince the people of South Carolina that they are still respected and their voice listened to by the majority?”

The election took place in September, and the canons require that a majority of the bishops, together with the diocesan standing committees, must consent to the ordination within 120 days of receiving notice of the election. The notice did not go out until 9 November 2006, in advance of the announced consecration date of 24 February 2007.

The recently retired Canon to the Ordinary of South Carolina, Canon Mike Malone, said that the delay had been due to the Presiding Bishop’s office “redundantly requesting another psychological examination”, which had taken some time to arrange and report.

The dioceses of Kansas and Bethlehem have publicly declared they will not consent to the election (News, 19 January). All standing committees must vote by 9 March.

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