Note: throughout my article, the acronym TEC stands for The Episcopal Church, meaning the one which now claims it is multinational, but has executive offices at 815 2nd Avenue, in New York City.
With Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori now in possession of almost unchecked power in TEC, and with her judgment clouded by her animus toward Bishop Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina, it appears that even sober advice from those around her and the Executive Council will not stop her from drawing first blood.
The Curmudgeon suggests that the likely course of action for her to take will be Title IV.16 which allows her to slap a restriction on Bishop Lawrence. From there, he has sixty days to retract or deny his acts "of abandonment," and if Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori decides they aren't adequate or in "good faith," then she formally presents Bishop Mark to the TEC House of Bishops for deposition and disposal. No appeal under this section is allowed.
If this unfolds, Jefferts Schori will be busy, for as soon as she places +Mark Lawrence on restriction, she will also file similar action against the South Carolina Standing Committee, and because she can, she will determine that both bishop and standing committee constitute an immediate threat of harm to the church and to the fiduciary interests of the ecclesial body, and so will replace them with loyal stand-ins.
She will appoint a retired bishop who would be best received by at least some of the South Carolinians as the acting bishop, and draw upon some of the TEC loyalists to constitute a new Standing Committee. Immediately, they will authorize a few loyalist individuals to take signature cards to all of the banks that hold diocesan assets, and present the new cards as replacement cards for the "former" signatories. This is called an ecclesiastical coup d'état.
If the bank protests, the new officials will advise the bank that they could be held liable for any losses caused by their failure to recognize the lawful signatories, and especially if they permit the former signatories to have access to any of the funds or assets held by that bank. Even bank presidents strongly supporting Bishop Lawrence may blanch at the thought of being sued themselves, and their bank sued, and all of the bad publicity, and perhaps even being demoted over a mistake, so they would do the prudent thing that Jefferts Schori is counting on - they freeze the assets.
Her immediate intention would be not to take possession of the funds, though she would be happy to do so. Her intention would be to freeze the assets pending a court determination of which party is the lawful representative, and thus to deny financial resources to the actual Bishop and Standing Committee. The immediate effect is that the diocese won't have money to make the next payroll, or pay the attorneys representing them. This tactic has sometimes been referred to as "standing on their air hose," and it has immediate and harmful consequences.
Unfortunately for the lawful Diocese of South Carolina, the Supreme Court of South Carolina's ruling that the so-called Dennis Canon is null and void won't help them with this question, as it brings up the "True Church" issue - the courts will be asked to determine which entity, the TEC Jefferts Schori-appointed bishop and Standing Committee or Bishop Lawrence and his diocesan Standing Committee are the true Diocese. This will commence a costly legal battle for both sides with the outcome uncertain even in South Carolina. The TEC side has money for litigation from their reconfiguring of the TEC trust fund names and purposes, but Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese have their assets frozen. Not a pretty picture.
Meanwhile, the churches of the Diocese of South Carolina will start to decide where they want to be and how much stomach they have for bitter, protracted litigation. They will be pressured by the TEC Bishop appointee to fall in line, pay their assessments, and stop supporting Mark Lawrence. Some will fall in line, others will continue to support Bishop Lawrence and others will increasingly look to their own situation and the SC Supreme Court ruling on the Dennis Canon, and decide now is the time to move over to the emerging ACNA Diocese in Formation in the Carolinas, which is centered for the time being in Mount Pleasant with the Rev. Steve Wood as Vicar General.
One thing that all parishes and clergy who are standing with Bishop Lawrence and any that are even remotely thinking of moving to the ACNA should do is to pull your legal papers together. Determine whose name is on your title and deeds. Whose 501(c)(3) non-profit number are you using? Which insurance company provides your health coverage? Which insurance company provides your Officers' and Directors' Commissions and Omissions coverage? Who provides your general liability coverage?
If you wind up in protracted litigation and estrangement with TEC, it might be uncertain to depend on their insurance coverage to represent you against them. I have found that the best time to negotiate insurance coverage is pre-need, and if there are any title issues, for them to be dealt with before its a life and death situation. And yes, it is terribly sad that this is what life in the Episcopal Church has come to, but what is, is. As Jesus advises us, be wise as serpents and yet gentle as doves.
Our prayers continue to go out to Bishop Mark Lawrence, the Standing Committee of South Carolina, and her lovely and faithful people. The battle you are fighting is not for today, it is for the ages, and you do not fight it alone. May God's blessing be upon you.
Blessings and peace in Christ Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. David C. Anderson, Sr. President and CEO, American Anglican Council