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SOUTH CAROLINA: Bishop-elect again clarifies his stance on Episcopal Church membership

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  With the consents of 10 standing committees still needed for his consecration, the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop-elect of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, has again written to the Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church to clarify his position about the diocese's continuing membership in the Episcopal Church.

"I have been told that some diocesan Standing Committees have graciously offered to reconsider their denial of consent to my election as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, if they only have assurance of my intention to remain in The Episcopal Church," he wrote. "Although I previously provided assurance of my intention, this has not been sufficient for some Standing Committees, which are earnestly seeking to make a godly discernment."

"As I stated at the walkabout in Charleston on September 9, 2006, and again in a statement written on 6 November 2006, I will make the vows of conformity as written in the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution & Canons, (III.11.8). I will heartily make the vows conforming ‘…to the doctrine, discipline, and worship’ of the Episcopal Church, as well as the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures. So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church."

The complete text of the letter is here.

Meanwhile, the Standing Committee of South Carolina announced that a majority of the bishops with jurisdiction (diocesan bishops) have given their consents and that 46 of the needed 56 Standing Committees have done likewise.

The Standing Committee reported that some of its counterparts in other dioceses who voted against consent have since reconsidered and changed their votes. "We are encouraged that some Standing Committees have decided to meet and reconsider their vote, and are praying that others will consider similar action," the Standing Committee wrote in a statement posted on the diocese’s website.

"We also stand ready to answer any and all questions posted to us in as direct and clear a manner as possible," the statement said.

The consenting dioceses, according to the Standing Committee are Western Massachusetts in Province I; Albany, American Churches in Europe, Haiti, New Jersey in Province II; Northwestern Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh in Province III; Alabama, Atlanta, Central Florida, Central Gulf Coast, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Southeast Florida, Southwest Florida, Tennessee, Upper South Carolina, West Tennessee in Province IV; Fond Du Lac, Northern Indiana, Quincy, Southern Ohio, Springfield, Missouri in Province V; Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota in Province VI; Dallas, Fort Worth, Oklahoma, Rio Grande, Texas, West Texas, Western Louisiana in Province VII; Alaska, Hawaii, San Diego, San Joaquin in Province VIII ; and Dominican Republic, Litoral (Ecuador), Puerto Rico in Province IX.

The letter from the Standing Committee also says that it is "grateful to Presiding Bishop [Katharine] Jefferts Schori and her fellow Primates for establishing the concept of the office of Primatial Vicar with its attendant oversight by the Primate’s Pastoral Council and that of the Presiding Bishop."

"We see this proposal as a way forward to give us all space as our Communion pursues the development of the Anglican Covenant," concludes the letter signed by the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the Standing Committee.

The latest letter is part of an effort on the diocese’s part to secure the necessary consents to Lawrence’s ordination. Earlier the Standing Committee sent a letter to other diocesan standing committees asking them to reconsider their decision to withhold their consents.
A similar but not identical letter was also sent to Standing Committees that have not yet responded to the request for consent, according to a posting on the diocese’s website.
"This is an official request to those who have withheld consent to reconsider their initial action," the letter on the diocesan website says. "We intend this letter to correct some of the misinformation surrounding our Bishop Elect."

Lawrence, 56, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish, in Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, was elected September 16, 2006.

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, consenting to the bishop-elect's ordination. In this case, the requests were mailed November 9, making the 120-day period end on March 9. Consents will be accepted until March 12 to take into account the movement of mail.

Lawrence's scheduled February 24 consecration was postponed in January until after Easter because of the delay in sending out the consent requests.

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.

This is the second time that Lawrence or the diocese has contacted standing committees about his election. In December, Lawrence sent a letter to standing committees and bishops in responses to several inquiries about his stance on certain issues.