Reports from the trial in the Circuit Court in Dorchester County

Report on the third day of trial from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina

As the third of testimony for the plaintiffs concluded at 5:30 p.m., a total of 11 of the 36 parishes involved had offered testimony. Day 2 had included those listed earlier plus Epiphany Eutawville. Day 3 was St. Luke, Hilton Head Island (pictured); St. Luke & St. Paul, Charleston; Holy Comforter, Sumter; Resurrection, Surfside; Redeemer, Orangeburg; and St. John’s, Florence. 

Generally, the pattern of these presentations went as follows:

–  Swear in a parish member holding an official position such as vestry member or warden.
–  Describe the member’s personal experience and roles in the parish, and general parish history.
–  State the purpose of a vestry. The uniform answer given by the witnesses for the Plaintiff is that a vestry “serves as the board of directors for the corporation.”
–  Introduce corporate charters, articles of incorporation and similar documents.
–  Describe changes to the parish’s governing documents such as bylaws, constitutions and articles of incorporation that were made, primarily in 2010-2013, by means of vestry meetings, parish meetings, etc.; these changes removed references to The Episcopal Church in the documents.
–  Discuss a resolution that was adopted by each parish called “Commitment to Continue Diocesan Relationship.” These resolutions (which all had the same title) stated the parishes’ intention to remain aligned with the group led by Mark Lawrence.
–  Offer evidence of meeting notices, attendance, quorums, results of votes, minutes taken, etc.
–  Describe deeds and other documents relating to property and property transfers, including quit-claim deeds issued by Mark Lawrence and other diocesan officials.
–  Offer testimony that neither the diocese nor The Episcopal Church had any interest in any property.
–  Offer testimony that the parish had not received money from The Episcopal Church, sought permission from TEC to change its governing documents, or had any dealings with The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, etc.

When asked what the reasons were for wishing to take actions to disassociate themselves from The Episcopal Church, witnesses made statements such as “We wanted to protect our property from an outside entity” and “We supported our bishop and did not agree with the process restricting his ministry.” A witness from St. Luke’s Hilton Head Island said there was concern that “if a parish stayed, there was a risk that The Episcopal Church would take your property.”

On cross-examination, several additional facts came out about the original governing documents of the parishes. In most cases, they originally contained statements such as “this church accedes to and adopts the constitution, canons, doctrine, discipline and worship of” the diocese and The Episcopal Church” (usually identified by their historic names: “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” and “The Protestant Episcopal Church in The United States of America.”)

An example was St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston. Its bylaws in 1995 said the parish existed “for the purpose of operating an Episcopal Church” according to the constitution and canons of the diocese and The Episcopal Church “now in force or as hereafter may be adopted.” It specifies that no “alienation of property” may be made contrary to church law, and said any article in conflict with the canons are void. In 2012, the bylaws were amended to remove such references, according to testimony. 

A warden for St. Luke and St. Paul testified that the church had never viewed itself as ever having any direct relationship with The Episcopal Church, except by way of its connection through the diocese. The word “Episcopal” that appeared on the sign out front was there because it simply “meant that we had a bishop.” It has since been removed.

Varying testimony also was offered about reasons for wishing to leave The Episcopal Church. Under questioning from the parish attorneys, the reasons given had to do with “wanting to protect the property” and disagreements over the actions taken regarding Bishop Lawrence. 

These were also cited as the main reasons by the witness for Holy Comforter, Sumter. However, during cross examination, a deposition from the same witness was introduced. In the deposition, given on Monday, the witness said parish leaders felt The Episcopal Church had been “moving away from the idea that Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation” and “moving away from the teaching of scripture that marriage is between a man and a woman.” For people at Holy Comforter, “Those were the two key drivers.” 

At St. John’s, Florence, similar actions were taken. St. John’s vestry also passed a resolution to be part of Bishop Lawrence’s group and renounce any affiliation with The Episcopal Church. However, testimony showed that St. John’s retained the name “St. John’s Episcopal Church” and it has never amended its charter, which states its purpose is to establish and maintain “an Episcopal Church or Churches” in Florence. 

Later, the witness for St. John’s testified about a trust that came from a parishioner’s estate and is currently valued at around $2.7 million. Known as the Douglas Trust, it was established for St. John’s with the provision that it remain an Episcopal Church, and remain in communion with the Church of England.

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