Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tempest in a Teapot in South Carolina

Last Sunday, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina, held a parish meeting. The meeting had been duly noticed and announced, both by email sent to all parish members on August 29, and then orally at each of the services on the preceding Sunday. The notice sent out to the members was as follows:
The Vestry and Rector of The Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul has called a Special Annual Meeting of the Parish on September 9th, 2012 at 10:45 in the Parish Hall. 
In accordance with By-law requirements, the meeting is being announced via this email and will be announced at all three services this Sunday. All members-in-good-standing are encouraged to attend.

The agenda will be limited to a congregational vote on the proposed changes to The Cathedral By-laws distributed at the Annual Meeting on January 29th, 2012.

Any Cathedral members wishing to review these changes in writing may visit the church office to obtain a hard copy, and/or contact Prioleau Alexander.
Changes to the Parish By-laws? It is not exactly a topic calculated to get the blood roiling. Some 65 or so members of the parish responded to the notice, and attended the meeting between Sunday services. They constituted a quorum for business under the existing by-laws, which state: "At all meetings of the congregation those qualified members present shall constitute a quorum."

But from what followed after the changes were duly adopted, on a 55-10 vote, one would think that the Cathedral had voted to start the War Between the States all over again.

Screamed one Website: "Cathedral Votes 55-10 to Sever Ties with Episcopal Church" -- with the further subheadlines:
Congregation amends corporate documents, replacing references to the Episcopal Church with those of the Diocese alone 
Loyal Episcopalians in the congregation may ask for recent financial gifts to be returned
All this from some simple changes to the By-laws? Apparently so -- which goes far to show how touchy things are just now in the Diocese of South Carolina. In response, the Cathedral was forced to post a refutation of those outlandish claims on its own Web page.

Let me try to state this simply, so that non-lawyers may understand, as well. A corporation is a separate entity (person) in the eyes of the law. An American corporation comes into existence when articles of incorporation are approved by and filed with the Secretary of State in any of the fifty States.

The Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul is a religious corporation organized under the laws of the State of South Carolina. It filed its articles, just like every other South Carolina corporation, with the Secretary of State of South Carolina.

After it became a corporation, the Cathedral also adopted by-laws -- which it was not required to have approved by, or filed with, the Secretary of State. By-laws are simply rules for the day-to-day operation of the corporation. As such, the members of the corporation may vote to change them at any of their meetings.

Changes in the articles of a corporation must be filed with the Secretary of State again before they become effective. Changes in the by-laws do not have to be so filed, and are effective immediately unless stated otherwise.

So what changes did the Cathedral make to its by-laws, that caused such consternation among "loyal Episcopalians"? Simply this: in every case where the By-laws referred to "the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States", the words I have italicized were replaced with the words "in the Diocese of South Carolina."

Was this some kind of attempt to withdraw the Cathedral from ECUSA, as claimed by the consternated authors of the screaming page on their Website? It was not. Consider:

1. The Cathedral Parish is a South Carolina corporation.

2. As such, it is a constituent member of the Diocese of South Carolina.

3. It is not a constituent member of the Protestant Episcopal Church (USA). Only dioceses may be members of that organization -- not individual parishes.

4. As such, the Cathedral parish could not withdraw from ECUSA, because it was never a member of ECUSA in the first place.

5. The only larger organization from which it could withdraw is the Diocese of South Carolina, and it did not do so.

6. The Diocese of South Carolina remains a constituent member of the Episcopal Church (USA).

7. Consequently, the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul remains affiliated, through the Diocese of South Carolina, with ECUSA. It hasn't gone anywhere.

Moreover, for the Parish corporation to change its membership in the Diocese, it would have to change its articles before making any corresponding changes in its by-laws. The articles are paramount to anything in the by-laws, and take precedence.

By making the changes approved at the recent meeting, all the Cathedral did was to clarify that its day-to-day operations would be in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese, and not with the Constitution and Canons of ECUSA. This was fully appropriate, because as noted, the Parish is not a member of ECUSA, and the latter's Constitution and Canons have no provisions in them which have any direct effect on the operations of parishes in individual dioceses.

To be sure, there are national canons which speak of parishes and spell out certain business and accounting principles to which they are expected to adhere, but those canons cannot be enforced by the national Church against parishes. Any such enforcement would have to be carried out by the Diocese of which the parish is a member, and its Bishop. And the Diocese has the same kinds of canons regarding parishes as does the national Church, plus many more which are even more specific to parishes.

So it makes abundant common sense for the parish to spell out that it will be governed and guided by the Constitution and Canons of its own diocese. As long as that diocese remains a member of the national Church, there can be no question of the parish's affiliation.

There is no need, therefore, for Episcopalians to rush to the Cathedral and start reclaiming those candlesticks and altar cloths which they gave to it earlier.

The proprietors of the Website in question have still not seen fit to correct their sensationalist story -- which is why I refuse to link to it here. They know who they are -- and by refusing to correct their huge mistake, or to tone down their scare-mongering, they show, more than anything else could, in what direction they would like events to go.

I wrote a lengthy post, some time back, on the history of events occurring in the Diocese of South Carolina a number of years before Bishop Mark Lawrence assumed his present office. That post went into considerable detail about the undercurrents in the Diocese which were needlessly fomenting dissension and strife, which in turn greatly increased the difficulties for its leaders. It was called "South Carolina: a Case Study in How to Tear a Church Apart."

I know not what the rabble-rousers could hope to gain by their tactics, but it would appear that they are still at it.


  1. Sigh.... I see Steve Skardon of SC Episcopalians is at it again. Misleading others about what is happening in the diocese. Here is my favorite quote from Steve Skardon's post on Sept. 9th.

    "Attorneys advising SC Episcopalians believe over the past two years the Diocese of South Carolina under Bishop Lawrence has in effect re-chartered itself as a "religious organization" separate from the Episcopal Church."

    Yeah, yeah same old same old. Melinda Lucka is at it again also. When are these people going to tire of slinging mud?

    I see an update to SC Episcopalians gives the Cathedral's side of the story. That is a first!

    SC Blu Cat Lady

  2. Just checked the membership of the Forum. Steve Skardon is a member. [His father, the Rev. Steve Skardon, is probably turning over in his grave]. Another Forum member is someone who gives their parish as St. Mark's Port Royal. Interesting as St. Mark's is not a parish in the Diocese of South Carolina!

  3. Curmudgeon. It was not just altar cloths and candlesticks but probably the monies from Capital Campaigns that the parish has undertaken that "loyal" Episcopalians may want back. The Cathedral has been renovated recently as well repair of damage from Hurricanes (in particular Hugo) had to be done. So Cathedral parishioners may have contributed to those campaigns as well.

    However, as you say - A tempest in a Teapot. Wonderful description.

  4. Do the Articles of Incorporation actually refer to the cathedral parish's membership in the Diocese?

    I've seen some that don't!

    Need to see them to be sure!

  5. It doesn't take much to raise the rabble. You would have thought the parish had put out a YouTube clip mocking +KJS.

  6. Charles, As I understand things here, it is the charter of the parish duly certified and approved by the chancellor and other requirements as well, including that the bishop is satisfied the parish is self supporting. If you really want to know, it is Canon III in our diocesan canons.

    SC Blu Cat lady

  7. So about that parish meeting:
    - Apparently those "against" did know about the meeting (despite that certain website complaining that notice wasn't given "on the website"); ten of them apparently showed up. But...
    - Apparently ten votes was all they could muster.

    That's a SMALL tempest in that teapot. Or maybe it's a tempest in a SMALL teapot. Now I'm confused about which way the metaphor runs... :)

  8. knwpsk LOL! Well that is the way the Forum works......always make sure that the *conservatives* look bad regardless of the actual information. ;- )