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South Carolina election voided due to canonical deficiencies in responses

Lawrence invited to participate in second search process

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has declared "null and void" the election of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence to be the 14th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

The announcement was first made in a letter written by the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, and posted to the diocesan website late in the afternoon of March 15.

"Although more than a majority of dioceses had voted to consent to Fr. Mark's election, there were canonical deficiencies in the written responses sent to us," McCormick wrote. "Several dioceses, both on and off American soil, thought that electronic permission was sufficient as had been their past accepted practice. The canons which apply are III.11.4(b), pp. 101-102 in the newly published 2006 Constitutions and Canons that require the prescribed testimonial to the consent be signed by a majority of each standing committee."

"I spoke to Father McCormick today, informing him that consent to the election of the Rev. Mark Lawrence has not been achieved," wrote Jefferts Schori in an email from Camp Allen in Texas.

A formal letter to the diocese, she said, will go out March 16.

Canonically adequate ballots were received by South Carolina from 50 diocesan standing committees. Several other standing committees were reported to have consented, but no signatures were attached to their ballots, or the ballot itself was missing from South Carolina's records, Jefferts Schori reported. Any committee that did not respond is considered to have voted no.

 "In the past, when consents to episcopal elections have been so closely contested, the diocese has been diligent in seeking to have canonically adequate ballots submitted, asking Standing Committees to resubmit their ballots when necessary," she added. "It is certainly my hope that in future any diocese seeking consent to an election will use all possible effort to ensure that ballots are received in an appropriate form and in a timely manner."

The diocese must now hold another election. The 13th Bishop of South Carolina, Edward Salmon, turned 72 on January 30, 2006 and was required by the Episcopal Church's constitution Article II, Section 9 to resign.

McCormick's letter offered "deepest condolences" to Lawrence on what was termed a "tragic outcome," and invited the California priest to "continue to be a part of the Diocese of South Carolina's pursuit of securing our next Diocesan."

"Fr. Lawrence has modeled exemplary patience and calmness by enduring a level of scrutiny and persecution that is without precedent in The Episcopal Church (TEC)," McCormick added.

McCormick stated that within ten days the chancellor and acting chancellor of the diocese and the standing committee will meet to "plot a course of action for the near future." He said that Salmon, who has been acting bishop of the diocese, will attend the House of Bishops meeting in Camp Allen, Texas.

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 an election, saying whether or not they consent to a Bishop-elect's ordination. In this case, the requests were mailed November 9, making the 120 day period end on March 9. A three-day "grace period" was added to allow for postal delays, pushing the deadline forward to March 12.

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

In the weeks following Lawrence's election, questions arose about Lawrence's intentions concerning the diocese's continuing 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 web sites.

Some diocesan standing committees announced their intention not to consent, and some publicized their decisions, including Bethlehem, Eastern Michigan, and Kansas.

Lawrence's consecration date, previously scheduled for February 24, was postponed in January because of a delay in sending out the consent requests.

In early February a letter, signed by McCormick, addressed questions about Lawrence's and the diocese's intentions to remain part of the Episcopal Church, the participation of Jefferts Schori in the South Carolina consecration and concerns about the diocese's request for "alternative primatial oversight."

In December, Lawrence sent a letter to standing committees and bishops in responses to several inquiries about his stance on certain issues.

On March 8, Lawrence again clarified his position.

"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."

-- Jerry Hames is the editor of Episcopal Life. The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service, contributed to this story.

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