Breakaway group rejects offer to settle South Carolina property lawsuit

[Episcopal News Service] An offer by South Carolina Episcopalians to settle a church-property lawsuit in eastern South Carolina was rejected by a breakaway group on June 15, the same day the offer was made public.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina offered to let 35 parishes keep their church properties, whether or not they choose to remain part of The Episcopal Church.

In exchange, the proposal required the breakaway group to return the diocesan property, assets and identity of “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” to the diocese that is still affiliated with The Episcopal Church.

Hours after the offer was made public, the breakaway group led by Mark Lawrence, who was bishop in 2012 when he announced the diocese was leaving The Episcopal Church, announced that the parishes of the group unanimously rejected the offer.

“This is not a legitimate offer of good faith negotiation and never was intended to be,” the Rev. Canon Jim Lewis, Lawrence’s assistant, said in the press release, a longer version of which was e-mailed to Episcopal News Service. He called the offer an effort to disrupt the on-going legal process rather an effort to settle it.

Episcopal Church in South Carolina Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg did not comment on the rejection.

A spokesperson for his office said the offer remains on the table despite the breakaway group’s claim in its release that it came with a June 15 deadline. The breakaway group faced a brief-filing deadline in the lawsuit on June 15 in the state Supreme Court and the spokesperson said the Episcopal Church in South Carolina had simply said that it reserved the right to withdraw the offer after that day.

In announcing the offer earlier in the day, vonRosenberg had said it stemmed from the hope for reconciliation that Episcopalians in South Carolina have held from the beginning of the dispute. “We see this offer as the strongest possible way we can demonstrate that,” he said.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori consented to the offer and it was presented to attorneys June 2, according to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina’s announcement.

Discussions about releasing the parish properties have been going on since early 2013, a few months after the split occurred, the release said.

“In a situation like this, where there has been so much grief and misunderstanding caused by the actions of a few, we pray that a gracious response to those who are now separated from us will hasten the day when we can be together as one unified diocese again,” vonRosenberg said.

If the offer had been accepted, it would have ended the legal dispute that began in January 2013 when the breakaway group sued The Episcopal Church, and later its local diocese, seeking to control both diocesan and parish property and the identity of the diocese, according to the Episcopal Church of South Carolina release. It also would resolve a federal lawsuit currently before the U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina reorganized the diocese in early 2013 and operates with a part-time staff and a sharply reduced budget funded primarily by contributions from the 30 remaining Episcopal congregations. Meanwhile, the diocesan assets have been in the control of the breakaway group led by Lawrence.

The congregations led by Lawrence operate separately without any formal affiliation with a larger religious body. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina remains part of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

In February, a state court judge awarded the properties and identity of the diocese to the breakaway group. Episcopalians have appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court; oral arguments are set for September 23.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina said that diocesan leaders worked closely with Episcopalians who had been members of breakaway parishes and were left without church buildings in which to worship when the split occurred. “Most have moved ahead and created new Episcopal congregations, and gave their blessing for the settlement offer to be made,” the June 15 release said.

“Buildings are important, but what is most important is the people who are in them,”  vonRosenberg said. “It is the people that we long to welcome back into The Episcopal Church once again.”

Churches included in the settlement proposal
(All these parishes are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina)
All Saints, Florence
Christ Church, Mount Pleasant
Christ the King, Waccamaw
Christ-St. Paul’s, Yonges Island
Church of the Cross, Bluffton
Epiphany, Eutawville
Good Shepherd, Charleston
Holy Comforter, Sumter
Holy Cross, Stateburg
Holy Trinity, Charleston
Old St. Andrew’s, Charleston
Church of Our Saviour, John’s Island
Prince George Winyah, Georgetown
Redeemer, Orangeburg
Resurrection, Surfside
St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville
St. David’s, Cheraw
St. Helena’s, Beaufort
St. James, James Island
St. John’s, Florence
St. John’s, John’s Island
St. Jude’s, Walterboro
St. Luke’s, Hilton Head
St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston
St. Matthew’s, Darlington
St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte
St. Matthias, Summerton
St. Michael’s, Charleston
St. Paul’s, Bennettsville
St. Paul’s, Conway
St. Paul’s, Summerville
St. Philip’s, Charleston
Trinity, Edisto Island
Trinity, Pinopolis
Trinity, Myrtle Beach

Comments

  1. Richard Warren says:

    See what being nice to one of Bob Duncan’s acolytes got the church. Mark Lawrence’s election should have never been consented to. Live and learn and maybe the SC Supreme Court will do the right thing in the end but if it doesn’t no one should be surprised.

  2. Charles Jett says:

    It is interesting that the spokeperson for the Lawrence group complained the offer was not legitimate because the PB of TEC did not sign off on it. This is the group that claims dioceses are independent groups not beholden to any National Church. Sounds like they want it both ways when it suits there objective!

    • Chris Harwood says:

      Since the PB testified in court that TEC had the right to reject the Virginia settlement plans prepared by Bishop Lee, I think they had a point. TEC has been using lawsuits with the diocese and 815 separately against the breakaways, so a settlement with the diocese wouldn’t stop the lawsuits by 815, unless 815 agreed to it.

  3. Dr heather dawson says:

    We are not to use secular courts to settle church matters no one comes to Jesus by compulsion it is a matter of the heart . Jesus prayed father I pray that they be one as we are one only in Christ can we be at peace and one the problem is that if we don’t agree that Jesus is the way the truth and the light and no one comes to the father except by him then we part company It’s not about who is welcome in each other’s church it’s about who we proclaim as the word and the creator of the universe the source is not up for negotiation Rather than being concerned about surfing for church buildings know the God before whom you stand the God if Abraham Isaac and jacob it Is Jesus you are persecuting only believers confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and came in the flesh
    As long as Christ is proclaimed then quit accusing the brethren that’s Satans job and sadly he has infected a lot of people Christianity is very spiritual the mire intently you behold Jesus learn of him and he will be the author and finisher of our faith secular retorec has no place here the true wosippers worship in spirit and in truth sadly a great falling away gas happened and the comments above are a testament to that

    no place

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