CHARLESTON, S.C. — Clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina gathered Tuesday behind closed doors to pray and discuss an investigation by the national Episcopal Church into allegations that their bishop has abandoned the faith, as the denomination continues to wrangle over the ordination of gays and the recognition of same-sex unions.
The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the diocese, said about 100 clergy from the diocese in the eastern and lower part of South Carolina attended the meeting called by Bishop Mark Lawrence.
Lawrence was recently contacted by the national church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops. That panel said that, based on information from churchgoers in the diocese, he is alleged to have abandoned the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.
The state diocese has distanced itself from the national church because of the national organization's policies of ordaining gay bishops and sanctioning same-sex unions.
Lawrence, who has not commented publicly on the allegations, is expected to issue a statement on Wednesday, Harmon said.
But in a message to the faithful on the diocesan website announcing the meeting, Lawrence told parishioners "rest assured we will do all in our power to defend gospel truth and catholic order. We and the members of our Standing Committee ask your prayers for God's guidance and wisdom."
The letter from the disciplinary board mentioned, among other things, that the South Carolina diocese had eliminated mention of the national church in the diocesan charter purpose statement and passed a resolution that the local diocese is a "sovereign diocese." The letter also said that Lawrence had done nothing to stop local parishes seeking to leave the Episcopal church.
The discord stems from the national church's consecration in 2003 of its first openly gay bishop and its 2008 decision allowing bishops to bless same-sex unions. In 2006, the local diocese voted to reject the authority of the bishop of the national church.
Some parishes in the diocese have left the national Episcopal Church to join the more conservative Anglican Church in North America.
When All Saints Church on Pawleys Island left seven years ago, a legal fight ensued between the denomination and the local church over parish property. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled the local parish owned its property and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the denomination's appeal.
The national church is also seeking records from the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina
A Standing Committee serves to advise a bishop and also consents to the election of bishops, approves candidates for ordination and handles the fiscal affairs of a diocese. The Diocese of South Carolina comprises 28,000 parishioners in 47 parishes.
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