In the course of the back and forth over the "failure" (technically at least, but there’s dispute over that) of Mark Lawrence to obtain the necessary consents for his election as Bishop of South Carolina, I brought up SC’s last legal miscalculation: attempting to block All Saints Pawley’s Island’s departure, which I originally commented on in When "Doing Right" Isn’t. A response came that pointed out that the parish was the first to sue.
To buttress this claim, a letter from Bishop Salmon to the parishioners was produced. I will reproduce this in its entirety with some comments:
January 16, 2004
My piece was written a year and a half later. Quite a lot transpired in that time; obviously that wasn’t covered in the letter below. I did my best to keep up with this, but it wasn’t the easiest thing to follow.
TO: The Members of All Saints’ Parish, Waccamaw
FROM: Bishop Salmon
Dear Friends in Christ,
The opening chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the greeting to you for this letter. “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ” (I Cor.4). in the same chapter St. Paul appeals to the Corinthians “for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ to make up the differences between you” (I Cor. 1:10). In that spirit I write you all this letter.
In all the recent events around All Saints Parish and the Diocese of South Carolina, a number of Public statements have been made about our relationship. It is my intention in this letter to present the position that I have taken and offer documentation to support that position. Having heard both sides, you may then draw conclusions, as you are so led, which conclusions will I pray move us closer together rather than apart.
When Bishop Murphy was consecrated in Singapore in an irregular consecration in 2000, I was not in favor of the consecration because I believed that it would be divisive to orthodox unity. I believe it has. I could not change the fact that it had taken place. Since Bishop Murphy was no longer under our Canons, I had no control over the exercise of his ministry. The hope and expectation was that All Saints Parish would remain a faithful part of the Diocese of South Carolina.
When the Vestry in Moorhead City, N.C. voted to leave the Diocese of East Carolina they first transferred title to the church property to another group, and then informed the bishop that they were leaving the Diocese of East Carolina. Because of this the Chancellor advised me to record in the Georgetown County Courthouse, the Canons of the Diocese reflecting the requirement regarding property under which all congregations operate. In the North Carolina suit AmiA claimed that because the Diocese of East Carolina had not done so, the Diocese had no claim on the property. In the suit filed against the Diocese, the claim has been made that because the Diocese of South Carolina recorded the applicable canon, we had placed a cloud on the title. Bishop Murphy has stated that it was similar to building a swimming pool over a property line. It must be removed by legal action.
The facts are the opposite. If permission of the Bishop and Standing Committee are not given the title is clouded. Ross M. Lindsey, Parish Chancellor, admitted in his deposition, that in a transaction in 1986 the bank itself asked that such permission be sought. I am enclosing a letter written by Bishop Murphy, when he was a member of the Standing Committee, asking permission for All Saints to borrow money from the bank in 1988. The canons require such permission and not to seek permission clouds the transaction. I am also enclosing a sample page from the Standing Committee records showing similar permission requested by St. Peter’s by-the-Sea and the Church of the Holy Communion in 1965 as standard operating procedure for the Standing Committee. This has been a part of our common life for well over a hundred years.
If I were the bank, I would expect this permission also even if its necessity were in doubt. Bankers are generally very conservative about these things. The fact that the bank required this may only reflect the bank’s desire to "cover its bases" completely.
When All Saints Waccamaw sued the Diocese ( we are the defendants) over the recording of the applicable property canon, they claimed, in a deposition, that they were not under the canons, and kept them as a matter of courtesy. The Chancellor ruled that a church could not be not under the canons and in union with the Diocese at the same time. The convention, hoping for some reconciliation, voted to give All Saints Parish seat, voice, not a vote.
The fact that the Diocese is the defendant may not be a significant as it looks. As was the case with SC itself 20 Dec 1860, All Saints’ objective was to secede from the TEC. The only way to accomplish this was to secede from the Diocese as well. When the Diocese decided to perfect its interest in the property, All Saints was faced with one of those "fish or cut bait" moments, so they had to sue to prevent this.
In the meantime, Bishop Murphy has continued to live in the rectory, meet with the Vestry when he is in town, appoint a vicar to represent him, and generally to be in charge. Tim Surratt who, until now, has been the only clergyman canonically resident in the diocese, has been the supposed interim rector. He has, as of January 12, asked to be transferred to Rwanda. I plan to do so.
Because of the legal action, I have not met with the Vestry or made a visitation. Bishop Skilton has been to All Saints, for a visitation once.
I discovered, by happenstance, that the All Saints vestry had voted to amend the 1902 Charter which the then serving Chancellor had assisted the parish in securing. By way of background, the granting of the 1902 Charter by the Secretary of State was followed by the Trustees of the Diocese’s conveying the title to the church property to All Saints Church Parish by quit claim deed dated 1903. Because of the actions of the vestry, I immediately informed the Chancellor and notified the then Wardens and Vestry that they had in fact voted to leave the Church and could not longer be considered the vestry because by leaving they were no longer communicants in good standing, and thereby did not qualify to be vestry members. I did not excommunicate them as has been said. They are free to receive communion whenever and wherever they choose. They cannot vote to leave the church and at the same time be the vestry. I am enclosing copies of the letter and documents sent to them.
I called a meeting of the Standing Committee and informed them of my actions. After considerable discussion, the members of the Standing Committee decided to talk directly with the vestry. I gave my full support to such discussions. I am enclosing the report of their meeting written by the president of the Standing Committee. I told the Standing Committee that I was more than willing to consider and implement their suggestions, but that I was not willing to drop the appeal because (1) it had already been heard (September 10) and we were simply waiting for a ruling. I reminded them that (2) because of the original ruling no one now owned the property and this issued needed to be settled.
The basic issues on the table are those of lawlessness and the stability of the Diocese itself. We have no theological issues with All Saints. If any parish in the Diocese can unilaterally decide to not be under the Canons, appoint vicars, do what they want to when they want to, our strength as a Diocese is soon destroyed. There is no authority, only individual choice. That is exactly why the Episcopal Church is in the mess it is in. Bishops have individually acted without accountability, believe or not believe as they choose. That is lawlessness. It is my duty to oppose it.
This paragraph comes as close as anything I have seen to elaborating Salmon’s rationale for spending the Diocese’s money on this. His position is a straightforward, American conservative "rule of law" type of stance. Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder to mechanistically apply this in the situation we’re in these days.
To start with, we need to make a clear distinction between civil law and God’s law. The central problem with TEC stems from the fact that large numbers of clergy and laity alike have opted to dispense with God’s Word as the basis of their life’s convictions. People like Henry Louttit tried to stop this, but the church at large didn’t have the stomach to carry through.
Churches operate in a framework of civil law because they have to. In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church tried with varying degrees of success to remove themselves from the jurisdiction of kings and nobles. No church today has that option. In SC, for example, an unincorporated religious body can be sued, and it is done by suing the membership! But the bottom line is that going to law needs to be a last resort, and that going to law needs to be done in the context of preserving the doctrinal integrity of the church, not just the institutional integrity of the Diocese.
This is where I part company with the Diocese on the issue of All Saints.
I have met with members of All Saints who are loyal to the Diocese. It was my decision to treat the loyal membership as a parish rather than a mission. We have organized and elected wardens. We plan to meet again as All Saints Parish Waccamaw under the Canons of the Diocese. We have notified the Secretary of State that there is a new vestry representing All Saints Parish, and Articles of Correction will be filed with the Secretary of State giving notice that the original charter of All Saints, Waccamaw remains unchanged.
It is my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will give us all a way to Godly solution to this situation, which is painful for all concerned. You are in my prayers. I cherish yours.
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (II Cor. 13:13)
Yours Faithfully in Christ,
Edward L. Salmon, Jr.
Bishop of South Carolina, XIII
Salmon reminds me of Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Nicholson insists on building a top-flight bridge, irrespective of the fact that it is for the enemy, and resists its destruction. Nicholson does this because it is the "proper" thing to do, and shows that he and his men are superior to their captors. But the end result is that the enemy has a bridge. With Mark Lawrence’s difficulties it seems that they have found how to run their train over it.