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foreseeable future, having withdrawn from our association with TEC,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
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
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
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."