CHARLESTON, SC — Some Lowcountry Episcopal congregations are still unsure if they will remain with the national Episcopal church or join former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence in the development of a re-formed, separate Diocese of South Carolina that would be staunchly Anglican but theologically more conservative than the national church.
Meanwhile, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, said she will come to Charleston on Jan. 25-26 to preside over a convention to elect a provisional bishop to replace Lawrence, who pulled out of the national church last month, taking a majority of the congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with him. Lawrence has been outspoken in his opposition to same sex blessings and contends the national church has lost its theological way.
About a dozen congregations of the 70 in the diocese have indicated they will remain with the national Episcopal church but a number of others remain in dialogue about the next step, said Holly Behre, a spokeswoman for what is now referred to as the continuing Episcopal diocese, to distinguish itself from Lawrences breakaway diocese.
Every parish is different. They are working through this, having conversations with their boards and their vestries, she said Monday. I think in some parishes people are very divided about this and people are having very painful conversations about what they want to do and where they want to go.
The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian with Lawrences diocese, said it is too early to ascertain hard numbers of congregations that reside on either side of the theological divide.
The claims about numbers are very difficult to discern, Harmon said. We have some where clergy are in one place and members are in another.
There were 42 parishes and 14 missions represented at the Nov. 17 convention to dissolve the union with the national Episcopal Church. But Harmon said at least four parishes abstained from voting, citing the need for more discussion.
Every parish is handling it the way they see fit, he said, noting that Lawrence is willing for each parish to take as much time as it needs. I think pressing in this kind of environment is a terrible thing. It is not an easy time for anybody.
It may seem unbelievable that some church members have not tuned in to Lawrences very public theological dispute with the national church over such issues as the blessing of same sex unions and other gender issues.
But Behre said many church members focus not so much on the political aspects of the church, but rather the mission and outreach of their individual congregations.
Currently, two bishop advisers from the national church are in Charleston the Very Revs. John Clark Buchanan, who is also provisional bishop of Quincy, Ill., and Charles vonRosenberg, retired bishop of East Tennessee to address pastoral concerns related to the split.
The controversy has even spawned a tussle over which side can claim the title of Diocese of South Carolina. Lawrence has said Jefferts Schori is free to meet but they are not free to assume our identity.
Bishop W. Andrew Waldo, the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, which represents Episcopalians in the Midlands and upper South Carolina, also has weighed in with an Advent pastoral letter to his congregation lamenting the schism.
He urged congregants to look for ways to love and serve each other in the midst of the theological dispute.
This Advent finds South Carolina Episcopalians with an open wound, our armor pierced by our inability across diocesan boundaries to navigate the challenge of living and staying together in disagreement, Waldo wrote. The disassociation of the Diocese of South Carolina from The Episcopal Church has formalized a long-developing schism over matters of both theology and governance. The questions about whether they can legally do what they have done are not ours to answer. The questions of who is the more to blame are not ours to answer.
The questions we are called to answer address whether we will choose a better way, a way that is neither dismissive of our own theological diversity nor of the challenge Jesus has laid literally at the feet of his disciples as he washed them: to love and serve him in one another together.
Waldo, who remains friends with Lawrence, also acknowledged the paradoxical sense of relief that has emerged with Lawrences action, suggesting something new will emerge out of the dispute.
Last week, Jefferts Schori, the TECs presiding bishop, officially removed Lawrence as a bishop in the church in a process known as renunciation. The renunciation took effect Dec. 5.
Lawrence rejected that characterization, issuing a statement that said, Quite simply, I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ.
As I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church. We took this action long before todays attempt to claim a renunciation of my orders, thereby making it superfluous.
In September, the churchs 18-member Disciplinary Board found Lawrence had abandoned the communion of the church, not for his stance on homosexuality but for his endorsement of actions that gave the diocese authority to challenge the national church on issues of discipline and property.
On Oct. 15, Jefferts Schori notified Lawrence of the Disciplinary Boards decision and his restriction as a bishop. The diocese held a convention Nov. 17 that officially dissolved the relationship between the national church and Lawrence and his supporting congregations.
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