NEWS BLOG - AROUND THE DIOCESE - Events, Resources, Services

posted Jun 15, 2016, 2:30 PM by CalvaryEpiscopal Church   [ updated Aug 21, 2018, 11:33 AM ]

Federal judge sets March 1 as target for trial


U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel has set March 1, 2019 as the target date for a trial in the federal false-advertising and trademark infringement lawsuit against a breakaway group that left The Episcopal Church.
In an Amended Scheduling Order issued Thursday, the judge set a timetable for filing motions, identifying witnesses, and other legal steps aiming toward the March 1 date for a trial in the case, known as vonRosenberg v. Lawrence.
Prior to the order, the case had been set for trial in September. The new schedule comes after Judge Gergel allowed the expansion of the lawsuit in April, adding as defendants to the case the diocesan organization and trustees who are operating under Bishop Mark Lawrence, and the 54 parishes that followed him after the 2012 split. Those groups have been operating under the name "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina," and the confusion created by that is one facet of the trademark and false-advertising claims. 
The lawsuit was filed in March 2013 by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, who at that time was the only bishop recognized by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. By continuing to represent himself as bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence is engaging in false advertising, the lawsuit says. Bishop vonRosenberg retired in 2016, and his successor, Bishop Gladstone B. Adams III, was added as a plaintiff in the case. The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), also joined the case as plaintiffs, alleging that the group affiliated with Bishop Lawrence is holding itself out in ways that cause similar confusion.
The federal case is key to resolving trademark issues raised by the split. In a separate case, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that property of the diocese and 29 parishes must be returned to The Episcopal Church and TECSC. That decision resulted from a state lawsuit filed by the breakaway group in 2013 against The Episcopal Church and TECSC.

Open Conversations a step forward in ‘holy work’ of reconciliation



PictureBishop Adams speaks in Bluffton.
Three “Open Conversations” in Conway, Charleston and Bluffton this week brought together hundreds of Episcopalians and Anglicans to join in the “holy work” of reconciliation in the diocese and the churches of eastern South Carolina.

The Rev. William Coyne, Missioner for Returning Congregations for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, reported on Thursday to the Diocesan Council about the three events, which drew 80 people in Conway on Monday, 211 in Charleston on Tuesday and 154 in Bluffton on Wednesday.

“As we await the court setting in motion the implementation plan and timeline for returning congregations, we began by listening, sharing information, and collecting contacts of those who wish to be partners in building the new future together,” Fr. Coyne told the Council.

The Conversations were an important step on the road toward reconciliation, according to Bishop Skip Adams. “We’ve said all along the way that we’ve wanted to have the opportunity to talk to people in the pews,” the Bishop told Diocesan Council members.

At each meeting, a majority of those who came are attending churches that are now part of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, but a significant number also identified themselves as members of  the 29 churches that will be returning to The Episcopal Church under the August 2017 decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court. In keeping with the Open Conversation theme, participants were not required to identify themselves or their churches, but many chose to do so.

Each evening opened with an introduction from Fr. Coyne, who talked about the work that already has begun toward an orderly return of the congregations to the Episcopal Church, and invited everyone to participate in it. “We have holy work to do,” he told the participants.

Bishop Adams began with Scripture (Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always…”) and with prayer, inviting people to join in one of his favorites from the Book of Common Prayer’s ordination and Good Friday liturgies:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry sent his greetings via a video, filmed during The Episcopal Church’s General Convention July 5-13 in Austin Texas, offering with his prayers and encouragement to all who are coming together to work toward reconciliation.

A video message from the Presiding Bishop, delivered at the three Open Conversations July 16-18.
PictureFr. Bill Coyne, center, listens during the Open Conversation in Charleston on July 17.

Bishop Adams closed his remarks with two quotations from the Rt. Rev. Gray Temple (1914-1999), who served from 1961-1982 as the 11th Bishop of our diocese:

“It is not we who can heal the wounds in his Body…It is only by coming closer to him that we can come nearer to one another. And we cannot by ourselves come closer to him.” And:

“Let individuals or groups within the body contend vehemently for the truth as they see it; that is their contribution to the life of the body; but let them not rend or break the body itself, and let the body rejoice in them all.”

Later, the program moved into four “table conversations” around the room, each staffed by clergy and lay leaders of TECSC. Topics for the tables were an introduction for returning congregations; worship and faith, practical matters, and communication. People circulated freely among the tables for about 75 minutes.

Table leaders were focused on listening and hearing concerns and questions, including points of difference and disagreement. While the conversations at times were difficult, “everyone remained respectful,” Bishop Adams told the Diocesan Council. People frequently were seen hugging or shaking hands as they wrapped up their conversations.

any who attended from TECSC congregations came to show support for people who are concerned about the future of their church homes. They also had questions, particularly about ways to connect with people in the disaffiliated churches who are seeking more information. Some participants from disaffiliated churches said their leaders had discouraged members from attending.

Copies of a newly updated FAQ document were available for everyone, with extra copies to take home. The FAQ, available here, offers answers to many of the questions that came up at the Open Conversations.

Not knowing how many people to expect, the diocese chose venues in community buildings that would accommodate 140-180 people, so the large turnout meant space was tight and, in Bluffton, overflowing. Once conversations began around the room, it was sometimes difficult to hear at the tables, participants said. Diocesan leaders are encouraging people who still have questions or concerns to contact Fr. Coyne directly: or (843) 614-0679.

“This was a beginning,” Bishop Adams told the Diocesan Council. “We wanted to try this and see, and we will be learning from them.”

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — The Chief Administrative Judge of the 1st Judicial Circuit, Judge Edgar W. Dickson, met today with attorneys to begin setting a timetable for resolving how to implement the transfer of diocesan and parish property back to The Episcopal Church under an August 2017 decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

After a 32-minute scheduling conference at the Orangeburg County Courthouse, the judge asked attorneys for each side to provide a list of the issues they believe he needs to decide in executing the decision the Supreme Court remitted to his court. Attorneys for both sides said they would provide the list in 1 week. No other dates were set.

Judge Dickson opened the conference by acknowledging the complexity of the case, which involves 29 plaintiff parishes and all property and assets of the Diocese of South Carolina. He stressed the need to move forward with resolving it.

“I don’t want this case to drag out,” he said. “I need to move this along, and you all need to get some resolution.”

Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale Jr., representing The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), suggested that the judge could give all parties a schedule for submitting briefs on outstanding issues, and then set aside one day for a hearing on all of them. “We are quite sensitive to your suggestion to terminate this whole thing as soon as possible,” he said.

Nineteen attorneys appeared representing the plaintiffs of the breakaway group on the left side of the courtroom, with four for TECSC and The Episcopal Church on the right. A handful of spectators included Mark Lawrence, bishop of the group that broke away from The Episcopal Church in 2012 and initiated the lawsuit in January 2013.

The Episcopal Church and TECSC have asked Judge Dickson to consider appointing a judge called a Special Master to oversee the complex process of returning property and assets. They also have petitioned for a full accounting of all assets held by the breakaway group.

Another issue for the court is a second lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs in November 2017 under a South Carolina law known as the “betterments statute,” seeking compensation for improvements to properties. The Episcopal Church and TECSC have filed a motion to dismiss that case. 

Another pending motion from the plaintiffs is to have the case designated as “complex.” Plaintiff’s attorney Alan Runyan told the judge the intent of seeking “complex” designation is to be sure the same judge handles both the Supreme Court decision and the betterments case.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to jump into this," Judge Dickson said, laughing, "but if somebody calls me, I’ll let you know."

TECSC seeks accounting of church assets



The Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC) have petitioned the 1st Circuit Court of Common Pleas to order a full accounting of all assets held by a group that broke away from the church in 2012.

The petition, filed July 10 with the Court of Common Pleas in the 1st Judicial Circuit, would affect the diocesan organizations and 29 parishes that the South Carolina Supreme Court decided in August 2017 must be returned to The Episcopal Church. All were plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2013 against The Episcopal Church and TECSC by the breakaway group led by Mark Lawrence.

The accounting would "allow this Court to equitably proceed in this matter" to restore property to The Episcopal Church and TECSC and compensate them for any loss in value of property since the split occurred in October 2012.

The case has been remitted to the 1st Circuit court so that the state Supreme Court's decision can be executed. In May, The Episcopal Church and TECSC petitioned the court to implement the decision and appoint a judge called a “special master” to oversee the complex process of returning the property and assets.

The Chief Administrative Judge of the circuit, Judge Edgar Dickson, has scheduled a status conference for July 26. Such conferences typically are held to set a schedule for disposing of the case.

The new Petition for an Accounting asks the court to order a report on the identity and value of all assets that must be turned over in accordance with the SC Supreme Court order. It also asks for an accounting of all assets that were held by the plaintiffs as of October 2008, and what has been their disposition since then.

The petition asks the court to appoint the Charleston accounting firm of Dixon, Hughes and Goodman LLP, to conduct the accounting.

Reports would be required from the Trustees of the Diocese of South Carolina, the corporation of "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,” Camp St. Christopher, and each of the 29 parishes that the SC Supreme Court declared are to be returned.

The petition seeks all audit reports, audited financial statements and managed investment accounts, bank statements, budgets, data on fund transfers, and information on legal fees and related expenses from January 1, 2008 onward. It also asks for all documents that establish restrictions on the use of funds.