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Episcopal Church takes 28 hours to comply with South Carolina court order

Episcopal Church takes 28 hours to comply with South Carolina court order
Rump group scrubs website of diocesan name and crest

By Mary Ann Mueller
Special Correspondent
www.virtueonline.org
Jan. 25, 2013

The court order came near the close of day Wednesday. It read, "No individual, organization, association or entity, whether incorporated or not, may use, assume, or adopt in any way, directly or indirectly, the registered names and the seal or mark of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina."

Following an emergency ex parte hearing, South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein made and published her seven-page ruling - then darkness fell.

Judge Goodstein issued her order at 5:11 p.m. EST, on Wed., Jan. 23, 2013. The restraining order also states that the three corporate names registered by The Diocese of South Carolina cannot be used by any other entity, association, organization or individuals. The legally protected names are: "The Diocese of South Carolina;" "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina," and "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

For the next 10 days, until Feb. 1, when another hearing is scheduled to determine if the current court order should be extended or a temporary injection be issued, only 24 persons are legally permitted to use the name and seal of The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. They include: Bishop Mark Lawrence, chief operating officer; James Lewis, registered agent; John Wallace, treasurer; Nancy Armstrong, assistant treasurer; Joy Hunter, director of communications. Also standing committee members - which the court calls directors: the Rev. Paul Fuener, president; Ann Willis, secretary; the V. Rev. John Barr III, Reid Boylston III, the Rev. Julian Jeffords III, the Rev. William Lyles III, Ed Mitman, the Rev. Andrew O'Dell, Elizabeth Pennewill, Suzanne Schwank, the Rev. Gregory Snyder, and Kenneth Weldon. The trustees included are: Bishop Mark Lawrence, president; Craig Borrett, secretary; Jeffrey Miller, Robert Horn, Robert Kilgo, Robert Knues, Glynn Watson, and Ivan Anderson.

She also insisted that The Diocese of South Carolina, headed by Bishop Mark Lawrence and which asked for the emergency ruling in light of the upcoming Special Meeting of Convention, put up a $50,000 bond should The Episcopal Church claim it has received injury due to the circuit court's ruling. The security bond is permitted under South Carolina Rule of Civil Procedure 65(c).

Thursday dawned. The news of Judge Goodstein's restraining order, albeit temporary in nature at least until Feb. 1, started making headlines. Even The Episcopal Church, after it had been duly notified of the judge's ruling, picked up on the story. Early Thursday afternoon TEC released its own story via the Episcopal News Service.

The ENS story indicates they expect the judge's order to be reversed in February following Saturday's meeting at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Special Meeting of Convention is a forum in which the Episcopal Church will try to develop another remnant diocese loyal to The Episcopal Church in the Palmetto State, as has been their practice in the former Episcopal dioceses of Quincy, San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh.

"It is anticipated that the group meeting that day may choose a temporary name under which to conduct its business and operate at least during the time until the Feb. 1 hearing," states the ENS story penned by Mary Frances Schjonberg.

Time ticked on. The story gathered steam yet the remaining rump group kept its website up and operational titling it "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina." The newly restricted title was flanked on either side by the South Carolina diocesan crest and The Episcopal Church shield on the other.

Twenty-four hours passed. There was still no change in the faux diocesan website.

On Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 at 5:12 p.m. EST, the name "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" was still on the TEC South Carolina website at: http://www.episcopaldioceseofsc.org/index.html. The Episcopal Church was apparently slow in acknowledging South Carolina's court order - an order that was meant to be obeyed immediately by those who were misusing the name and seal of the Diocese of South Carolina without legal status.

"Welcome." The Episcopal Church's website stated until around 9 p.m. EST, Thursday evening -- 28 hours after the court issued a restraining order against using the legally registered name. "The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is continuing. Our Diocese is reorganizing with renewed dedication to carry forward the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as prior generations have done since 1789 ..."

The website was devoid of any mention of Judge Goodstein's restraining order calling for the immediate removal of the protected name and seal save for the story picked up under the Episcopal News Service's live feed hidden under the News button.

The TEC website did continue to actively announce that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori would be in South Carolina Friday for a Meet & Greet with an accompanying Reception as a prelude to the Special Meeting of Convention on Saturday. There the Presiding Bishop will purportedly declare that the Diocese South Carolina is without a bishop nor any qualified members of the diocesan standing committee thereby kicking into action the provisions of Title I, Canon 4(a)(3) calling for the Presiding Bishop to consult with the ecclesiastical authority of a diocese in the event of an episcopal vacancy within the diocese, to ensure that adequate interim episcopal ministry is provided; and Title III, Canon III,13(1) which calls for the act of a diocesan convention to rectify those leadership voids and placing the rump diocese under provisional charge.

The Presiding Bishop has determined that "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" is without a bishop so therefore a Special Meeting of Convention must be called to ratify that problem which includes creating a new diocesan standing committee and putting a provisional bishop in place that will be under to her authority.

This meeting is slated to take place on Saturday at which time the reorganizing TEC diocese could attempt to usurp the various registered names of The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and claim them as its own. The judge's order is in place to help prevent such an action.

More than 24 hours after the judge issued her order, the unchanged TEC website continued in operation and continued to explain about the seal of the Diocese of South Carolina and the shield of The Episcopal Church. The explanation under the "About Us: The Seal and Shield" button came with a large full color version of the Diocese of South Carolina shield, again apparently in violation of the South Carolina court's restraining order not to display the diocesan shield.

Even more than 24 hours later the protected name "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" was liberally sprinkled throughout the entire TEC website as seen in the question and answer section where TEC begs: "Q: How many parishes and missions are remaining active in The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina? Some parishes have made it clear they want to maintain their ties to the Church..." and "Q: What about the special convention that has been announced for November 17? A meeting of parishes has been requested for November 17. This is not a gathering of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and no parish is required to attend, participate or vote. On the other hand, if your parish is sending representatives to the meeting, it doesn't mean your parish has 'disavowed or realigned.' The Episcopal Church still considers all the parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina to be part of The Episcopal Church."

The TEC website also continued to parrot the oft-stated party line: " ...Parishes and Dioceses cannot actually leave The Episcopal Church; only individual people can. The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has existed since 1789 and continues to exist today as part of The Episcopal Church ..."

For more than a business day, under the Stewardship button, the now legally protected name of The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina was still flanked by the diocesan crest on one side and the Episcopal shield on the other.

The pitch started out: "Welcome to the stewardship website, for the continuing Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. The goal is to educate, discern and explore, with open minds and expectant spirits, all opportunities for each person regardless of race, gender or age, how they are stewards of all that God has given them. By accepting stewardship as a way of life each person seeks, serves, and shares Christ with all creation they encounter. Through this broad ministry, partnered with God's help, all needs of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina will be embraced and the spiritual health of the Church will grow."

When VOL online contacted Canon to the Ordinary Jim Lewis with The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, he stated that when the judge signed the order it was meant to be carried out immediately.

The Canon also noted that The Episcopal Church was formally advised of the court's order and that the powers that be made due note of that by filing a story with the Episcopal News Service midday Thursday.

When asked what Judge Goodstein would do should The Episcopal Church fail to follow her cease-and-desist restraining order, Canon Lewis responded, "That's left up to the discretion of the judge. I suppose how the judge would view that depends upon how she'd view the character of the violation of her directive ends up being. How the judge will deal with this, I do not know."

Canon Lewis felt that 24 hours was a reasonable time frame for The Episcopal Church to comply with the judge's directive and make changes on its South Carolina website and that if the website was still unchanged when the sun went down on Wednesday, that rump group could be in violation of the judge's ruling.

He was quick to point out that The Diocese of South Carolina was in immediate and complete compliance with the judge's order to pony up the requested $50,000 security bond.

VirtueOnline also contacted Judge Goodstein's office. A subordinate stated, "We can't speak about that matter. I'm so sorry, but judicial ethics do not allow judges to comment on cases that are currently in litigation." All day Thursday the TEC's South Carolina website contact information showed e-mail and snail mail addresses both containing the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

Up until 9 pm EST Thursday evening the non compliant TEC website continued to display: Copyright 2013 Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, P.O. Box 20485, Charleston, SC 29413 - 843.259.2016 - episcopaldioceseofsc@gmail.com

After 9 p.m. several subtle changes were noted on the TEC South Carolina website. The footer now simply read: P.O. Box 20485, Charleston, SC 29413 - 843.259.2016 - episcopal.sc@gmail.com with no reference to a 2013 copyright.

Other changes that are immediately noticeable are the website's home address. It is now http://www.episcopalofsc.org/index.html; and the word "diocese" has been scrubbed in most references to TEC's "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina." It has been replaced by the word "church", so that the masthead now reads: "Information about The Episcopal Church in South Carolina." The former website address automatically defers to the revamped website.

In addition various website pages have totally disappeared including the "Open Letter to Episcopalians," "Register for Special Convention," and the entire "Questions and Answers" section. All missing webpages were liberally laced with references to the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" meaning a direct connection to The Episcopal Church. Also the December 2012 "Letter of Support from the Episcopal Diocese Virginia" addressed to the "Dear Episcopalians in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" has been edited to read "Dear Episcopalians..." Other missing sections include the "Shield and Seal" under the "About Us" button. Both the "Stewardship" and the "Calendar" buttons are no longer on the redesigned TEC South Carolina website. Before 9 pm Thursday evening the TEC South Carolina website said: "Welcome. The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is continuing. Our Diocese is reorganizing with renewed dedication to carry forward the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as prior generations have done since 1789 ..." Now it states: "Welcome. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is continuing. We are reorganizing with renewed dedication to carry forward the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as prior generations have done since 1789 ..."

Under the "Continuing in The Episcopal Church" segment has also been altered. It originally read: "Details on how you can continue to worship together as a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina can be found on the 'Information for Parishes' page." Now it reads: "Details on how you can continue to worship together as an Episcopal parish in South Carolina can be found on the 'Information for Parishes' page.

Two Episcopal Diocese South Carolina references have not been removed. Those remaining are mentioned in a pastoral letter of support from the Presiding Bishop and written before the judge's ruling late Wednesday afternoon. The letter is found under the FAQ and Resources button.

In part the Nov. 15, 2012 letter still reads: "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed..." and "...Clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina should be advised that they remain members of this Church until they renounce their orders or are otherwise removed by Title IV processes ..."

One lone episcopaldioceseofsc@gmail.com e-mail address also seems to have slipped through. It is located at the "How do we continue to worship together?" subsection under the Information for Parishes section.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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