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Mississippi Diocese resolution calling Presiding Bishop into accountability dies

Diocese of Mississippi resolution calling Presiding Bishop into accountability dies
Resolution 2013-1 dealt deathblow by Standing Committee

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
April 15, 2014

Twin communiqués in the January 2014 edition of The Mississippi Episcopalian tell the story of what happened to Resolution 2013-1. One missive was from the diocesan Standing Committee, the other from Bishop Duncan Gray III (IX Mississippi). The year-old resolution, calling for the rescinding of Katharine Jefferts Schori's deposition of Bishop Mark Lawrence (XIV South Carolina), was permanently tabled. It will not be discussed during the Diocese of Mississippi's 187th Annual Council. The Resolution was dead on arrival at the 2014 diocesan meeting which was held Jan. 31-Feb. 2 in Natchez.

The original Resolution "Rescinding Deposition of Bishop Mark Lawrence" was presented to the 186th Annual Council by Yazoo City's Trinity Episcopal Church rector Fr. George F. Woodliff III. It was co-sponsored by fellow Mississippi Episcopalian Gloria Walker.

Resolution 2013-1 was referred to the Resolution Committee, which recommended to the Annual Council that the Resolution go to the Standing Committee for further discussion and eventual determination of its status.

Members of the 2013 diocesan Standing Committee were: Sheri Cox; the Rev. Ann Benton Fraser; the Very Rev. Bruce McMillan; Danny Ray Meadors; the Rev. David Knight, Dr. Ed Sisson; David Sparks; and the Rev. Robert Wetherington who were joined by Diocesan Chancellor Granville Tate, Bishop Gray and Fr. Woodliff in discussing the Resolution.

The January statement published by the Standing Committee in The Mississippi Episcopalian states: "After much listening and prayerful discernment, it is the decision of the Standing Committee that we will not issue a formal statement concerning the actions of the Episcopal Church against the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence.

"We, the members of the Standing Committee, do find ourselves uncomfortable with the irregular nature of the process used in dealing with Bishop Lawrence," the published statement continues. "At the same time, we also believe that the action was taken in good faith to address a situation that was also highly irregular. With this tension in mind, we believe issuing a statement in opposition to the actions of the Presiding Bishop and of The Episcopal Church, USA would not serve cogently to clarify this situation in a very public way. This would be unproductive for the parties directly involved and for the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi."

Bishop Gray also added his thoughts: "The Standing Committee has issued its statement. While I agree in large part with its conclusions, I have chosen to briefly share my own thinking on this matter. Our canons in no way anticipated the nature of the conflict between several dioceses and The Episcopal Church. We are, thus, left with trying to address issues of church polity with disciplinary canons. This struggle has been a challenge to those who seek to act in good faith.

"I have found myself uncomfortable with the irregular process undertaken to resolve the issues of polity and authority in the Diocese of South Carolina," the Bishop explained. "I do not question the motives of those who initiated such action, but believe a more traditional use of the Title IV disciplinary canons would have been more appropriate. The road would have been more confusing and messy, but may have been more useful in the long term ..."

Fr. Woodliff, an attorney in his own right, was dismayed to see the way Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori ran roughshod over Bishop Lawrence in her use, misuse and abuse of Canon III.12.7 in order to remove Bishop Lawrence from Holy Orders and declare that he had "renounced" his ministry in The Episcopal Church.

"I felt that someone had to make an attempt to bring to light something that I felt was wrong. There was no way that I can see that the Canon that was used applies to the facts in that situation," Fr. Woodliff told VOL, explaining his reasoning behind for drafting Resolution 2013-1. "This was the last opportunity for an official body of the church to protest that."

The Yazoo City priest took issue with the Presiding Bishop's flagrant use of increasingly centralized power to browbeat clergy -- traditional bishops in particular -- while purposefully ignoring the precepts of written Episcopal canons.

"The purported acceptance of the renunciation of holy orders by Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina was not in compliance with the canon cited," Resolution 2013-1 reads. Canon III.12.7 provides: “If any Bishop of this Church shall declare, in writing, to the Presiding Bishop a renunciation of ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed there from, it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to record the declaration and request so made."

The Presiding Bishop prefaced her action upon a Special Convention address Bishop Lawrence gave on Nov. 17, 2012, at which time the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina formally disassociated from The Episcopal Church in order to authentically live the Gospel and remain true to the apostolic Faith once delivered unto the Saints. By then a "convergence of theology, morality, and church polity had led to a collision with the leadership of TEC."

At that time, Bishop Lawrence explained to his Diocese that, while remaining solidly Anglican, it was time to move on. It was prayerfully hoped that this separation from The Episcopal Church could be done equitably and without ill will.

At no time did Bishop Lawrence say he was renouncing his orders or abandoning Anglicanism, which is a part of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. In fact, he emphatically stated otherwise in a follow up statement.

"Quite simply I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ," Bishop Lawrence said in a letter posted on the Diocese of South Carolina website. "But as I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church."

Fr. Woodliff's Resolution specifically points out four areas in which Canon III.12.7 was blatantly not followed by the Presiding Bishop in her pronouncements against Bishop Lawrence.

The "declaration" Bishop Lawrence made was that by the Standing Committee's Resolution of Disassociation, the Diocese of South Carolina had in fact "disassociated" from The Episcopal Church.

"We have moved on," Bishop Lawrence told the Special Convention. "With the Standing Committee’s Resolution of Disassociation the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically."

Nor were Bishop Lawrence's comments addressed to Katharine Jefferts Schori, but rather to the delegates attending the Diocese of South Carolina's Nov. 17, 2012 Special Convention that dealt with the Diocese's disassociaton with The Episcopal Church.

In that Special Convention address, Bishop Lawrence never uttered the words "I renounce" or indicated any "desire" to be removed from ordained ministry.

Yet on Dec. 5, 2012, the Episcopal News Service (ENS) announced that "... the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has accepted the renunciation of the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church of Mark Lawrence as made in his public address on November 17 and she has released him from his orders in this Church. The Presiding Bishop informed Lawrence by phone, email and mail on December 5."

ENS also reported that the House of Bishops was notified and that her actions were in keeping with Title III, Canon 12, Section 7 of the Constitutions and Canons of The Episcopal Church and that her deed followed a thorough discussion with the Council of Advice. It was with their advice and consent that she acted to release Bishop Lawrence from Holy Orders.

The final line of Fr. Woodliff's Resolution poses a question: "Putting aside the appalling lack of Christian charity evinced by such actions, they do raise the very legitimate question: What is the point of even having canons if they are going to be so flagrantly disregarded?"

The Diocese of Mississippi declares itself to be "One Church in Mission: Inviting ... Transforming ... Reconciling", yet it seems that Fr. Woodliff's question has fallen on deaf ears as the Diocese of Mississippi's Standing Committee has chosen to remain mute. Resolution 2013-1 is dead.

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

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