Monday, March 10, 2014

South Carolina rogue "diocese" from alternate universe holds mock convention

For some reason, I was under the distinct impression that the 223rd Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina was being held this weekend in Mt. Pleasant. However, according to some "independent" outfit operating under the title "South Carolina Episcopalians," the big shindig already took place in Hilton Head last month. Based on this account of events, however, it is well within the realm of possibilities that the actual location for this gathering was an alternate universe somewhere southwest of the Twilight Zone.
HILTON HEAD ISLAND – In less than a minute this morning, delegates to the 223rd Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina officially reversed five years of rebellion and anger as they unanimously rejected all changes to the Constitution of the Diocese during the disastrous episcopate of former Bishop Mark Lawrence. Lawrence “abandoned” his ministry in the Episcopal Church nearly 17 months ago, and has sued the Episcopal Church for possession of its property and Diocesan assets valued in the millions of dollars.

However, constitutional changes were only a small part of the convention that celebrated the rebirth of the Diocese with the arrival of five new missions, new postulants for the priesthood, and a bare bones Diocesan budget completely funded by its own parishes and missions. While Lawrence's legal team has learned from the mistakes of their comrades in other breakaway dioceses, leaders of the continuing Diocese have learned how to rebuild.

An electrifying address by North Carolina Bishop Michael Curry Friday evening, along with a number of official visitors from other dioceses, reminded conventioneers of the extraordinary support they've received from fellow Episcopalians after Lawrence’s “abandonment” of his ministry.

Enthusiasm for rejoining the mainstream of the Church was evident throughout the convention. Easily the most crowded field of candidates was among those seeking seats on the Diocese’s delegation to the 2015 General Convention, a role that was consistently denied traditional Episcopalians by right-wingers even before the arrival of Lawrence. It was the first convention in years that elected delegates who did not complain about how much of a burden it would be to them to have to attend.

After 14 months as Lawrence's successor, Charles vonRosenberg was clearly in control of a diocese that bears the imprimatur of his leadership.

In his convention address, vonRosenberg told the crowd of nearly 300 that “the Spirit of God moves through history in the direction of unity. To be sailing within the stream of the Spirit necessarily involves us in efforts toward church unity. In faithfulness to our Lord, therefore, we work and pray and live in anticipation that one day we all may be one, in Christ’s name.”

VonRosenberg made frequent references to a report on the potential for closer ties with the Methodist Church along the lines of those currently shared by Episcopalians and Lutherans. However, there was never any doubt that for him the study was a metaphor for his hopes for eventual reconciliation with those who left the Episcopal Church with Lawrence.

Standing Committee Chairman Wilmot Merchant of North Myrtle Beach reminded the delegates that, when pro-Lawrence clergy left the Church, vonRosenberg chose not to depose them, but rather released them from their ministry in the Episcopal Church – an option that leaves open the possibility for reconciliation.

Longtime participants in Diocesan convention noted that delegates left the convention with enthusiasm and good spirits, in contrast to the anger and bitterness they took away from the conventions under Lawrence. Next year's convention will be held at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston. Many of those at today's convention said they plan to attend the Episcopal Forum's upcoming event on May 3rd with the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Gay Jennings Clark in Pawleys Island.
If you can stomach it, there is plenty more of this kind of delusional hilarity on the "South Carolina Episcopalians" website. However, I wouldn't recommend reading too much of it if you have a history of high blood pressure.