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SOUTH CAROLINA: Diocese postpones Bishop-elect's consecration

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, Bishop-elect of the Diocese of South Carolina  

[Episcopal News Service]  The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has postponed its planned February 24 consecration of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as its 14th bishop.

Lawrence, 56, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish, in Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, was elected September 16.

"Due to the fact that the expiration date for the consent process is not until March 9, 2007, the tentative consecration date of February 24, 2007, for Bishop-elect Mark Lawrence has been postponed until after Easter," the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the South Carolina Standing Committee, said in a statement on the diocese's website. "This deferment is necessary because of unanticipated delays in the mailing of the Consent Requests to Diocesan Bishops and Standing Committees which did not occur until the second week of November 2006."

McCormick said that the diocese "look[s] forward to setting a date certain for Fr. Lawrence's consecration in the near future after consultation with the Presiding Bishop's Office of The Episcopal Church."

The canons of the Episcopal Church (III.11.4(a)) require that a majority of the bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan standing committees respond within 120 days of receiving notice of his or her election, saying whether or not they consent to the Bishop-elect's ordination.

Canon III.16.5 calls for the Presiding Bishop to "take order for the ordination of the Bishop-elect" after receiving the necessary consents and "assurance of the acceptance of the election by the Bishop-elect." The Presiding Bishop is assumed to be the chief consecrator, according to the canon, but in her stead the president of the House of Bishops of the Province in which the electing diocese is part and two other bishops, or any three bishops chosen by the Presiding Bishop can perform the ordination.

There has been speculation about whether Lawrence's election will or should get the necessary consents. Some diocesan standing committees have already announced that they will not give their consent, and some have publicized their decisions, including Bethlehem and Kansas.

Both South Carolina and San Joaquin are part of a group of seven dioceses, out of the church's 110 dioceses and one convocation of European congregations, which have requested a relationship with a primate of the Anglican Communion other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, citing 2003 and 2006 General Convention actions.

In the weeks following Lawrence's election, questions arose about Lawrence's intentions concerning the diocese's membership in the Episcopal Church. Two affiliated groups issued statements of advice to the bishops and standing committees, and other individuals expressed concern either privately to Lawrence and the diocese or through postings on Internet commentary sites.

The first group to question Lawrence's stance was Via Media-USA, which stated its concerns on October 19. It said that "Father Lawrence's episcopacy would represent a threat to the unity of our church and to the cohesion of the Diocese of South Carolina."

"The case against consenting to Father Lawrence's election is not based on his theology or personal beliefs, but on the way these are likely to affect the polity, and hence the unity and integrity, of this church," the group wrote in a letter sent to diocesan standing committees.

Later than month, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a Via Media-USA affiliated, stopped short of asking that bishops and standing committees not consent to Lawrence's ordination, but asked the two groups to seriously consider Lawrence's past statements, including answers to questions posed to nominees in the search process.

Lawrence's November reply was posted on the internet in early December.

Lawrence writes in the letter that "neither the Standing Committee of South Carolina nor I have made plans to leave the Episcopal Church."
"I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in the Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion."