Reactions to Lawrence announcement note 'sorrow'

Episcopal News Service. March 16, 2007 [031607-01]

Nan Cobbey, Neva Rae Fox, Jerry Hames, Jan Nunley, Sharon Sheridan

News that the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence's election as bishop of South Carolina was voided brought reactions ranging from "sorrow" with the process to disappointment with the result.

On March 15, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori declared "null and void" Lawrence's election as fourteenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, citing a lack of adherence to canonical requirements in a number of the responses [ENS article]

Lawrence, 56, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, was elected September 16. The diocese must now hold another election.

Episcopal Church canons govern the process, requirements, and consent procedures for the election of bishops.

Ministry Canon III.11.4 (b) calls for consent from standing committees "signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee."

Further, it states, standing committee members must sign in their own handwriting: "In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands this (blank) day of (blank) in the year of our Lord (blank)." [pages 101-102]

Where the signature requirement has not been met by standing committees, the forms have been rejected, according to canon.


The Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, stated on the diocesan website, "I hope that this tragic outcome will be a wake up call to both clergy and lay through out TEC as to the conditions in our church."

Retired South Carolina Bishop Suffragan William J. Skilton, speaking on his cell phone from the House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen, near Houston, repeatedly said, "I'm extremely sad. I'm saddened that the consents weren't given. He's a good man."

"I was very disappointed to learn the news," said the Very Rev. George Werner, former president of the House of Deputies. "I have known Mark for many years. In this current struggle we are in, I think it would have been good to have him in South Carolina. I know him well, as opposed to those many people who have vilified him."

In a statement released by the conservative American Anglican Council (AAC), the Rev. Canon David Anderson said, "This is outrageous that a duly-elected priest, who clearly meets the Scriptural standards for church leadership, not to mention has gone out of his way to assure the rest of TEC that he will keep his vows and will not take the diocese out of the church, has been blocked from serving for no other reason than his orthodox views."

AAC president Anderson continued, "This demonstrates that, more than ever, many in TEC are not only unfriendly toward the faithful, but outright hostile, and desire to punish the orthodox in any way possible in order to push and keep them out of the church." [Full statement here]

Some questioned the decision of the presiding bishop, saying she could have found ways to get diocesan consents completed in their proper form in order to comply with the canons.

But former Executive Council member Diane Pollard of New York disagreed. "If you are on a Standing Committee, you know what you have to do," she said. "You have to sign a document."

Pollard was chair of the committee that presented nominations for presiding bishop to General Convention last summer and has served on her diocese's Standing Committee.

"We can't selectively adhere to rules," Pollard added. "We have to follow the canons of our church. When we don't like them, we still have to follow them."

"As I read Bishop Katharine's communique, she could not legally approve e-mails without signatures; the several dioceses had 120 days to get their forms to her office and South Carolina did not man the phones to reach the recalcitrant dioceses," said Marge Christie, a former member of the Diocese of Newark's Standing Committee.

The Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, executive director of the Dallas-based conservative group Anglicans United and Latimer Press, noted in a statement his "deep sorrow" on the decision, which "though technically correct, based on canonical changes recently published, lacks both the grace and magnanimity so many of us had hoped [Jefferts Schori] would display.

"Why she chose not to grant a simple extension of time to permit electronic consents to be converted to written consents conveyed by overnight mail is a mystery. A majority of consents was secured prior to the deadline, in spirit, albeit not in fact."

In fact, however, the canonically established deadline was extended from March 9 to March 12 to allow for postal delays, and others noted that the relevant canons have not been changed recently.

"The canonical requirement for a testimonial document signed by a majority of the members of the several Standing Committees was not new in 2003," said the Rev. Tobias Haller, BSG, of New York. "It goes back to 1799, when the first provision for Standing Committees to act in this capacity between sessions of General Convention was enacted [Edwin Augustine White and Jackson A. Dykman, Annotated Constitutions and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as The Episcopal Church, (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1997) p. 700.]. There have been many other changes in this canon—including in 2003—but not the part requiring signatures to a document with a set form of words."

"Grief to be shared"

The Very Rev. William McKeachie, dean of South Carolina and rector of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina, described the decision "as the latest outrage from the national church."

He said he hopes Lawrence will not withdraw his name from a second search. "Although it would be entirely understandable if Mark Lawrence and his blessed wife, Allison, felt reluctant to stay the course with us, my own hope and prayer is that God will lead them to do so.

"In four decades and as many dioceses, I have never been more profoundly blessed in my own ministry by any other priest's ‘call' to episcopacy than has already been the case with Mark, whose consecration as bishop has so far not been able to take place liturgically but has, whatever the ecclesiastical outcome, surely taken place in the mind and heart of God," McKeachie concluded.

"Despite my personal and theological differences with the man and the diocese, there is no doubt that this is a tragedy for Mark Lawrence, his wife and family, for the diocese of South Carolina, and for the church," said the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark, which voted not to confirm, and of the Episcopal Women's Caucus. "I pray that we can all move forward in a positive direction to the next steps we must take toward an examination of any problems in the process, making any necessary corrections and changes to ensure that the consent process is executed at the diocesan level with the same generosity, graciousness and competence as we have come to expect from the national level of our church."

The national organization Episcopal Majority noted, "There is much grief to be shared on all sides about the process under which the election of Father Lawrence has been conducted and the way the consent process has been handled and now concluded. In what must be an extremely difficult time for him, his family, and the Diocese of South Carolina, The Episcopal Majority expresses our prayers of support."

Episcopal Majority describes itself as a "grassroots organization committed to the values and vitality of The Episcopal Church and working to neutralize the negative influence of the American Anglican Council (AAC), the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), and related groups."

The group's statement also noted, "There should be no ‘litmus tests' for theology – no ‘litmus tests' at all, beyond those already established in our canons and Book of Common Prayer. We need voices from left, right, and center to keep the Episcopal Church healthy and whole as the Anglican witness in this country. With the simple assurance that the bishop-elect of South Carolina will remain within this church, there will be no need for the kind of last-minute scurrying that seems to have scuttled Father Lawrence's consents."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson was traveling and unable to be reached for comment.