Lowcountry bishop wins skirmish over Episcopal diocese name

02/01/2013 12:00 AM

02/01/2013 6:34 PM

The Episcopal bishop who led a majority of Lowcountry congregations and clergy out of the national Episcopal church last year won a skirmish Thursday in the battle over who can lay claim to the name of the historic diocese.

The Right Rev. Mark Lawrence will continue to operate under the name, seal and mark of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, after Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein issued a temporary injunction against the use of the name by those who remain with The Episcopal Church (TEC).

Goodstein, who had first issued a temporary restraining order last week, had set a hearing Friday to begin to try to resolve the issue. Thursday, the TEC consented to the injunction.

Looming larger than the name dispute is a pending lawsuit filed by Lawrence and his group to keep the diocese’s lucrative church properties, some dating to the 1700s, spread out over the South Carolina coast. Neither the national church’s presiding Bishop, the Very Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, nor the Right Rev. Charles Glenn vonRosenberg, the newly installed provisional bishop of what is now referred to as “the Episcopal Church in South Carolina” have issued public statements on the lawsuit.

But Jefferts Schori, who came to Charleston this past weekend to install vonRosenberg and shore up those who remain with TEC, noted that properties are “legacies” of the church.

Lawrence spokeswoman Jan Pringle said in a statement that the injunction will remain in effect until the court rules on the property dispute “to protect the Diocese’s real, personal and intellectual property and that of its parishes from a TEC takeover.”

While Lawrence's group viewed the decision as a validation, the TEC congregations noted, "This was done with the consent of all parties, and either side has the right to have a hearing on the matter with 14 days' notice.”

"This is not an unusual development, and it signifies only that these issues remain to be decided at a future time," said Holly Behre, communications director for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Currently, 45 congregations, composed of 22,530 members in 34 parishes and 11 missions have remained with Lawrence. About 19 parishes and missions have chosen to remain with TEC. Some congregations remain split or undecided.

VonRosenberg said Saturday he was working with Lawrence to try to broker some compromise on use of the church sanctuaries for worship in cases where congregations are split.

Lawrence, a theological conservative, has been at odds with the Episcopal Church over its growing liberalism on social and cultural issues for a number of years. He opposed the 2003 consecration of the church’s first openly gay bishop, the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, and has spoken out against the church’s effort to bless same sex marriage.

The national Episcopal Church found him to be in abandonment of the communion of the church last year as he began instituting resolutions that would grant sovereignity to the diocese over TEC.

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