The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to distance itself from the 77th General Convention’s approval of a provisional rite for same-sex unions.
In a press release Thursday, the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence said the actions of the convention “mark a departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.”
The diocese said five of South Carolina’s seven deputies did not return to the house floor on Wednesday, the morning after the vote. Lawrence also left the convention after addressing the House of Bishops in a private session Wednesday.
The convention was set to wrap up Thursday in Indianapolis.
“Due to the actions of General Convention, the South Carolina Deputation has concluded that we cannot continue with business as usual,” the full deputation said in a statement on Tuesday. “We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal.”
But Lawrence said the departure of the deputies should not be understood as a departure from the Episcopal Church. Two deputies “have agreed to remain at Convention to monitor further developments and by their presence demonstrate that our action is not to be construed as a departure from the Episcopal Church,” Tuesday’s statement said.
“Frankly, a deputation to General Convention has no authority to make such a decision,” Lawrence said.
Another deputation statement on Tuesday unanimously denounced the church’s actions, saying, in part, “The Bishop and our deputation, in both speaking and voting against its passage, remain united and unanimous in our support of the historic understanding of ‘the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.’
“We grieve that General Convention has further departed from these values and adopted a resolution to permit pastoral license to violate the existing canons on marriage. We believe this decision will seriously wound the Church.”
Local Episcopal clergy on Wednesday said they fully support the diocese’s position on the rite for same-sex unions.
The Rev. Michael Hub, rector of St. Matthew’s Parish Episcopal Church in Fort Motte, said his parish “continues to follow in the biblical tradition of worship and in our understanding of the guidance provided to us through the Scripture,” adding that “as a priest in the diocese of South Carolina, I will continue to follow my bishop, as is my calling to do.”
Hub said there is no question about Lawrence’s “strong conviction in his faith.”
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“I think that’s a consistent view of most in the diocese,” Hub said.
He continued, “We are not looking to leave the Episcopal Church, but to stay in the Episcopal Church ... and be a witness to what we believe is the Gospel as presented in Scripture. We try not to let the distractions of the world enter into our corporate life as brothers and sisters in Christ, where the body of Christ comes together.”
While Hub has yet to receive calls or emails about what transpired at the General Convention, he said that may change when his congregation gathers Sunday.
“We’re saddened by that, but not surprised. It’s sadly been the direction of the national church for some time,” he said.
Voorhees College’s chaplain, the Rev. Dr. James T. Yarsiah, said he, too, supports the South Carolina Diocese’s position.
According to an Associated Press report, supporters of the same-sex blessing say “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” is not a marriage ceremony. It includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings, and couples must complete counseling before their unions are blessed by the church.
Under the new policy, each Episcopal bishop will decide whether to allow the ceremonies in his or her local diocese. A conscience clause bars penalties for Episcopalians who oppose its use, AP reported.
In his private session with the House of Bishops on Wednesday, Lawrence expressed his “grievous concern” over changes to the canons dealing with transgender identity and expression, as well as the one authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions.
“I concur with the assessment of our canon theologian, the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, when he described the actions of this General Convention as ‘unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly,’” Lawrence said.
Lawrence said a statement, to be read in parishes on Sunday, will be sent to diocesan clergy.
“Our deputation and I appreciate the prayers of so many in the Diocese of South Carolina,” Lawrence said. “I know that some did not think we should attend the 77th General Convention, but I believe our presence and witness was important and even respected by many on both sides of the theological divide.
“As St. Paul states regarding his ministry (in 2 Corinthians 4:2), ‘... we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.’”
The Associated Press and T&D Features Editor Wendy Jeffcoat Crider contributed to this report.