South Carolina re-elects Mark Lawrence as bishop
The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence was re-elected as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina August 4 at a special electing convention held at St. James Church on St. James Island, South Carolina. Lawrence was the only candidate in the election since no petitions to add other names to the slate were received by the July 11 deadline.
A majority of bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan Standing Committees must now consent to Lawrence’s ordination as bishop within 120 days of receiving notice of the election.
Lawrence, 56, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bakersfield, California, in the Diocese of San Joaquin, was first elected September 16, 2006 to be South Carolina’s 14th bishop.
On March 15, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori declared that election “null and void,” saying that a number of the consent responses did not adhere to canonical requirements since Lawrence’s election did not receive the consent of the majority of diocesan standing committees.
Episcopal Church canons, which govern the procedures for the election of bishops, call for consents to episcopal ordinations from standing committees to be “signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee. (III.11.4 (b))”
Further, the canon states (on pages 101-102) that standing committee members must sign in their own handwriting: “In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands this (blank) day of (blank) in the year of our Lord (blank).”
Where the signature requirement had not been met by standing committees, the consent forms for Lawrence’s election were rejected for not complying with that part of the canon.
Canonically adequate ballots were received by South Carolina from 50 diocesan standing committees of the 56 required. 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 in March. Any committee that did not respond to the diocese’s consent request is considered to have voted no.
Lawrence’s election did receive the canonically required consent of the majority of Episcopal bishops with jurisdiction.
On June 9, clergy and lay delegates to the reconvened 2006 annual convention in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina overwhelmingly approved two measures to permit the diocese to suspend normal bylaws and convene a special electing convention.
In a letter sent to the diocesan clergy earlier this year, South Carolina Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr. said that the electing convention would be convened “for the purpose of re-electing Lawrence.”
South Carolina has been without a diocesan bishop since Salmon reached the mandatory retirement age of 72 (Article II, Section 9 of the Episcopal Church’s Constitution) in January 2006. He has continued to serve as acting bishop at the invitation of the South Carolina Standing Committee.
Salmon said in the letter that the diocesan standing committee will “implement an intensive effort to receive the consents during the 120 day period.”
“Since a majority of Standing Committees intended to approve in the first election, the Standing Committee has a clear field in which to work,” he added. “This process will allow a consecration date to be set so that when consents are in, we may proceed to consecrate Fr. Mark Lawrence as the 14th Bishop of South Carolina.”
Salmon also reported that South Carolina’s standing committee had concluded that “the Holy Spirit had spoken in the election of Fr. Lawrence” and that “Bishops and [other] Standing Committees had intended to consent to the election even though technicalities had prevented it.”
In the weeks following Lawrence’s September election, questions arose about his 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.
In December, Lawrence sent a letter to standing committees and bishops in response to several inquiries about his stance on certain issues.
In early February a letter, signed by the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the South Carolina Standing Committee, 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.”
On March 8, Lawrence again wrote to the Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church to clarify his position about the diocese’s continuing membership in the Episcopal Church.
“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.”
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