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South Carolina to 'go it alone'

23 November 2012

By a staff reporter

THE diocese of South Carolina has disaffiliated itself from the Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC), and will "go it alone", its bishop has confirmed.

At a special convention held last Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina, the Rt Revd Mark Lawrence said that "for now and the foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC, we remain an extra-provincial diocese within the larger Anglican Communion."

But in a statement on its website, TEC said: "Dioceses cannot leave the Episcopal Church. While some clergy and individuals may choose to leave, congregations and property remain in the diocese to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church".

There have been long-running difficulties in relations between Bishop Lawrence and his diocese, and the leadership of TEC, over issues such as gay clergy, and same-sex unions. The Presiding Bishop, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, last month "restricted" Bishop Lawrence's ministry after the Disciplinary Board confirmed that he had abandoned the Church "by an open renunciation of the discipline of the Church".

South Carolina immediately announced its disaffiliation, in response to what it called "a deplorable assault upon the Bishop".

The break from TEC was confirmed by the majority of delegates to the special convention organised by the diocese at the weekend, although in a resolution to remove all reference to TEC from the diocesan canons, several delegates abstained. Bishop Lawrence described the meeting as the "Valley of Decision", and said that it was time "to turn the page".

He has had letters of support from Anglican Primates, including the President-Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis; and the Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, the Most Revd Ian Ernest, who said that they were proud that "he was willing to suffer for the faith". Bishop Lawrence confirmed that the diocese was not about to align with another province.

In a pastoral letter issued to all Episcopalians in South Carolina, Dr Jefferts Schori said: "I want to urge every parishioner and cleric in South Carolina to recognise that, as long as you wish to remain in the Episcopal Church, no leader, current or former, can exile you, remove you, or separate you from it without your consent.

"The Episcopal diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of the Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed. If it becomes fully evident that those former leaders have, indeed, fully severed their ties with the Episcopal Church, new leaders will be elected and installed by action of a Diocesan Convention recognised by the wider Episcopal Church, in accordance with our constitution and canons."

The departure of a diocese from TEC requires the consent of the General Convention, which has not been consulted, she said.

The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina also said in a statement that the "diocese of South Carolina continues in full communion with the Episcopal Church". A steering committee has been set up to restructure the diocese.

The continuing diocese has created a website, which includes a listing of 12 parishes and congregations in which a majority of the members have said that they are remaining in the Episcopal Church.

Asked at the General Synod on Monday about whether the Church of England is in full and unimpaired communion with Bishop Lawrence and the diocese of South Carolina, the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, chairman of the Council for Christian Unity, said: "The withdrawal from the Episcopal Church of most of the clergy and people of several dioceses, led by their bishops, after dio- cesan convention decisions, is a development novel in kind as well as in scale. . .

"We should try to remain on good terms with both parties, and avoid inflaming matters. Our response should be deliberate, not hasty. Ecclesiologically speaking, dioceses are in communion with other dioceses through their bishops. But, legally, the C of E is in communion with Churches. So, legally, the question of communion with the diocese of South Carolina depends on the Church to which it belongs, and whether we are in communion with that Church."


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