October 16, 2010


The Diocese of South Carolina continues to traipse lightly down the garden path of surmised diocesan sovereignty — a notion that could not be further from catholic tradition if it tried, and plainly at odds both with history and canon. In addition to all of the things for which a diocese, its bishop and clergy, are answerable under the canons (gainsay them how they will), if we are to define a diocese as the “bishop, clergy and people in a given place,” then at this most fundamental level every diocese is beholden to the rest of the church in order to obtain a crucial element in that triumvirate: the bishop. (To say nothing of the need for the trio to be in union with some larger general church in order truly to be catholic — otherwise many a storefront church could claim to be a “diocese.” As I have observed in the past, the diocese is the “basic unit of the church” only in the sense that a brick is a unit in a building.)

But to return to my primary observation: no diocese can consecrate a bishop without the consent of a majority of all of the other dioceses (either meeting at General Convention or in the more diffuse times between its sessions; diocesan bishops functioning in both cases, but the deputies and standing committees taking the role in alternate performances.) And no new bishop can be confected by a single predecessor — the priest can only be rendered a bishop by the concerted action of at least three bishops. A diocese in isolation is thus not the church in its fullness; and if it remains alone, it is as fruitless as that unplanted grain of wheat, as it cannot pass on the apostolic succession apart from the collegial nature of the apostolic ministry. The diocese must die to itself, and be buried in the life-giving soil of the church, if it is to bear fruit in time to come. Those who seek to assert their sovereignty will lose it, but those who die to it will gain immeasurably.

Compare this to the actual sovereign status of the various states in choosing their leaders. Can you imagine the outcry were it to be suggested that every state’s governor, in order to be installed as such, required the consent of the majority of all the other governors, and a majority of the legislatures of all of the other states, or of congress? For those who, bemused by superficial resemblances, think the polity of the Episcopal Church is based on or mimics that of the Federal government, compare and contrast!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

ps, blogging may be light, and comment approval slow as I will be away for the next week.



Penelopepiscopal said...

When Bishop Katharine spoke at our Diocesan Council in Atlanta last fall, rather than presenting a speech, she solicited written questions from the gathered delegates early in the day and then spoke to a number of them in her time at the microphone. Among the many and varied questions she was asked were these two: "What interesting books have you read lately?" and "What do you think about what's going on with Mark Lawrence in South Carolina?"

The book she had to recommend was Edward Ball's "Slaves in the Family." When she got to the Mark Lawrence question, she said that reading Ball's book actually helped her understand what was going on in the Diocese of South Carolina. The book is saturated with history in/of South Carolina and she noted that Bishop Lawrence seems to be connecting his work with the historic South Carolina modus operandi. It asserts its own sovereignty. It prefers to keep its own laws that allow its leaders to remain unaccountable for their actions to preserve the status quo (that others may find unsavory) by appealing to the grand romantic history of the place (including the perceived threat of outside agitators and destruction of Our Way of Life). And then it secedes.

Basically, she intimated, his rhetoric strikes a resonant chord in that part of the country: You're not the boss of me.

Penny Nash

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Penny. It does seem part of a rhetorical / political world. Next steps will be watched with increasing concern and care...

Ann said...

We changed the canons last GC - no more consents at GC - all done in secret meetings of Standing Committees.

Unknown said...

Gee and I thought Lawrence had taken an oath to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church. I guess he had his fingers crossed.

June Butler said...

Safe travels, Tobias.

As for South Carolina and its bishop, the less said by me, the better.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Ann, I recall that being discussed, but the canon concerning elections within 120 days of GC doing consents thereat (III.11.3.) is still in the current edition.

ruidh, and so he did; and may have had.

GM, thanks, as I write from the overheated waiting area at JFK. And yes, discretion is the better part, etc.

JimB said...

As one who tried to make the case for consent (both times) I am speechless in Chicago. I may manage to blog something later.


Ann said...

I re-read the 2009 canons and see you are correct - I was sure we voted on it and I spoke against the change and I lost. Thanks for the correction. Ah well -one of my last speeches on the floor of GC. Did not run this time.

Michael said...


I think you are referring to B029 which did get concurrence in the ledger of General Convention. However, it has the notation (first reading) I assume that means it needs to pass in two successive General Conventions.


Anonymous said...

"A diocese in isolation is thus not the church in its fullness; and if it remains alone, it is as fruitless as that unplanted grain of wheat, as it cannot pass on the apostolic succession apart from the collegial nature of the apostolic ministry. The diocese must die to itself, and be buried in the life-giving soil of the church, if it is to bear fruit in time to come. Those who seek to assert their sovereignty will lose it, but those who die to it will gain immeasurably."

So well expressed. Truly. And yet, and yet. I would align myself with that strand, a dynamic strand or strand of a dynamism in Anglicanism (see Ramsey, White, et. al.,) that would substitute the word "gospel" where you, TH, have "church." Thus

"The diocese must die to itself, and be buried in the life-giving soil of the gospel" and so, too, must the church do that to remain the church IMHO.

Contestes as the content of the gospel has been through church history, at least framing it this way, may add clarity for some, even if it only deepends the division. I happened to reread Bonhoeffer this weekend and came across something of his that is very underplayed in discussions of him, namely, his willingness to pursue the 'dissolving of community' when necessary for the sake of the gospel. As one who laments the current leadership, but has committed to staying in ECUSA, it is leading me to think about these contentious issues more rather than less. JOHN 2007
JOHN 2007

Ann said...

Michael - so I am not losing my mind LOL - we did pass the resolution but it is a change in the Constitution therefore takes 2 GCs.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

B029 will have to be adopted at its final reading, and the relevant Canon changed at GC2012. So there is still a chance this will be undone.

John 2007, good points. The issue of a church being one in which "the gospel is rightly preached" is important. Of course, one person's preaching is another's heresy... so it is a paradoxical and symbiotic relationship.

Anonymous said...

I had a typo, which was to be "contested" along your line about 'one person's preaching' etc., for the heart of the faith has been a contested matter. But I believe that the gospel (as comprehensive term of what God has done in Christ) precedes, creates, stands over, beckons forward, judges, inspires, (and more) the church. I know this might lead to a more Protestant understanding of the church. But I mean much more than just 'the gospel being preached.' I need to go back and rethink this all but I think, in general, we need a little more Christology, Pneumatolgy, and less ecclesiology.

And a question, since I am sure you know more about this than me. It is true, through church history, and maybe sociall history, too, that in time of conflicts power concentrates itself? And that, on hindsight, such concentrations often prove harmful to all? I got that from somewhere in my studies. And, if this is true, what does it say about the power plays in ECUSA (primarily) now?
JOHN 2007

Anonymous said...

Since I haven't read anything from Bishop Lawrence other than that he has no intention of seceding from TEC, not sure what all the consternation is about.

Theologically, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about either. TEC is a Protestant body (along with its claims to be in Catholic continuity as well). The Diocese of South Carolina hasn't declared that it is going to secede, but even if it does it isn't going to be a solitary brick standing alone to use your metaphor. I imagine it would associate itself with the Southern Cone or ACNA or some other larger ecclesiastical body as the four former TEC dioceses have done. Why is that such an affront to the Church Universal? Surely TEC doesn't consider itself to be the only authentic church around-- leave that to us Romans :)


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

John2007, I read your note with that correction in mind. Of course "the gospel being preached" is not the only mark of the church, according to the Articles; the Sacraments are also important, and vital. As to power, I do not see the surmised concentration some do. The fact that there have been more instances of exercising the power is a result of the increase in disobedience, and efforts to do what the diocese of SC is doing: declaring open disregard for church law, and asserting something very like "nullification" -- the ability to ignore any law it doesn't like. They haven't actually done that, yet. But by establishing this as a principle they are clearly threatening it.

I hope that partly answers your question Fr M. As to the larger issue, SC may well "hook up" with another diocese (again contrary to canon and tradition). And it may well then be an "authentic church" but it won't be an authentic Anglican church. And while I don't believe Anglicanism is the only true church, I do think it is what it is -- a communion of national or provincial churches in union with Canterbury.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Tobias--

I see your point vis-a-vis DSC being an Anglican church with these moves.

Have a blessed weekend.


JCF said...

Both John 2007 and Fr Michael seem more irenic than I recall recently.

I like it!

musculars said...

I appreciate your correction to those who marvel at the Episcopal Church's supposed mimicry of the Constitution. Jefferson, in response to the federalists' assaults in the Alien and Sedition Act, argued that the states have the right to not enforce any federal statue that they found unconstitutional. His premise though was that the states had gathered and created the federal government.