South Carolina Anglicans

South Carolina Anglicans Welcome Court Order in Episcopal Property Dispute

on June 19, 2020

Parishes in the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina received welcome news today in their ongoing court battle with the Episcopal Church.

Circuit Court Judge Edgar W. Dickson entered an order this morning finding that no parish acceded to the church’s Dennis Canon – a denominational rule dating from 1979 that all property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church. If the judge’s order is ultimately upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court, it would mean that trustees from 29 local parishes – not the national church – hold title to the disputed properties.

In response to the ruling, the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina expressed his gratitude in a diocesan press release. “We give thanks for this ruling. It is a day to rejoice. It is a day to move forward in Christ’s mission to the world. Thanks be to God.”

“This is the ruling for which we have been praying,” wrote Chancellor Ben A. Hagood, Jr. and Chancellor Emeritus W. Foster Gaillard of St. Philip’s Church in Charleston, one of the churches involved in the litigation. “For today’s ruling, we give thanks to God.”

Representatives of the Episcopal Church described themselves as “understandably disappointed,” and expressed hope that the “South Carolina Supreme Court will hear the matter promptly and correct any errors that exist in today’s order.”

“This is not a final decision; it is yet another step on a long journey to full reconciliation within our Diocese,” wrote Episcopal Diocesan Chancellor Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr.

A majority of members in 49 churches in total voted to sever ties to the Episcopal Church and remain affiliated with the departing Anglican diocese following disputes over the redefinition and reinterpretation of Scripture. Then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori removed Lawrence from Episcopal office, based upon an Episcopal Church House of Bishops Disciplinary Board signing a “Certificate of Abandonment of the Episcopal Church”.

The Disciplinary Board stated that Lawrence had failed to “safeguard the property and funds of the Church” by signing quitclaim deeds to every parish “disclaiming any interest in the real estate”.

Litigation between the diocese and the Episcopal Church centered on who held title to parish properties and the deed to Camp St. Christopher, and controlled diocesan marks and intellectual property. Judge Dickson ordered that the deed of Camp St. Christopher – which is titled to the Trustee Corporation, not the denomination – is controlling.

The Circuit Court judge was tasked with writing an order based on a series of five separate opinions handed down in 2017 by justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court. The order denies a petition from Episcopal Church attorneys to appoint a Special Master for the transfer of property from departing Anglicans and to the Episcopal Church. The Circuit Court order found that the Federal Court has exclusive authority to decide all issues relating to trademarks, including the diocesan name and seal.

The Circuit Court order will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court by attorneys representing the Episcopal Church. The composition of the high court has changed since the 2017 opinions were handed down.

The Diocese of South Carolina was the fifth U.S. diocese to vote to depart the national church. Based on a review of yearly audited financial statements, attorney and Episcopal Church blogger A.S. Haley estimated in 2017 that the denomination and its dioceses had already spent in excess of $40 million in litigation expenses in disputes with departing Anglicans. In December 2011 the Diocese of Quincy (Illinois) won a legal dispute on property ownership over the Episcopal Church that was subsequently upheld on appeal. In May of this year the Supreme Court of Texas ruled in favor of the Diocese of Fort Worth, which had departed the Episcopal Church in 2008.

In June 2017, the Diocese of South Carolina formally joined the Anglican Church in North America. The diocese counts 52 member churches and more than 20,000 members.

This story will be updated as statements are received from the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church. The full court order is viewable below:


  1. Comment by c on June 19, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    Meanwhile, how many buildings across the US that used to be home to parishes that lost the legal challenges carry on with small congregations from the people that stayed, are empty, or have been sold?

  2. Comment by Reynolds on June 19, 2020 at 8:47 pm

    Michael Curry must be crying because of all the money that will leave. He has never been worried about the love love love

  3. Comment by Steve on June 20, 2020 at 9:21 am

    Two cases like this in a row (this and Ft. Worth). It’s nice that both courts rejected using a vote at a convention for something like the Dennis Canon as a means to transfer real estate. It is much better for everybody if real estate is only transferred by deed or similar recorded in land records. These were the two big cases, I’m not aware of any others at this point, so maybe no harbinger of things to come. Most other places, the Episcopal Church has or will end up owning the properties due to lack of opposition, not because they were right. Given the recent US Supreme Court decisions, while individual churches may be able to stay traditional, other institutions they may rely on, such as seminaries or religious universities, might not. Such a scenario suggests that traditional churches might survive until their leadership leaves or dies, after which they will be replaced by somebody indoctrinated by a state co-opted school.

  4. Comment by David on June 21, 2020 at 9:53 am

    One way to avoid this problem is to have a local corporation own the building and the church rent from this corporation. This is not infrequently done in some organizations. Of course, some denominations may not like this and refuse to consecrate the building.

  5. Comment by knw on June 24, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Mr. Walton,
    Respectfully, you got this part “wrong” (or, out of sequence).
    Bishop Lawrence was actively meeting with Archbishop Schori, trying to reconcile differences, when she suddenly acted to remove him from office — supposedly for certain abuses, which had been secretly filed against him.
    This action against Bp Lawrence *then* triggered a resolution from the Standing Committee of the Diocese of SC to leave the national church if such an attempt was made.

    The Diocese left the national church only after she/they attempted to remove Bishop Lawrence — not before. There are/were many in the diocese who still felt like we should do “everything” possible to stay, up until that point.

  6. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on June 24, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    That’s a good point, KNW — re-reading the article, one could come away with the impression that Lawrence was removed after the diocesan departure, which isn’t the case. I agree that the sequence is important. There’s also the “double jeopardy” issue which I didn’t mention in this piece. The Disciplinary Board voted against bringing Lawrence up on charges. Jefferts-Schori went back after the composition of the Board changed and again brought Lawrence up on charges, getting the result she wanted on the second attempt.

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