Last Sunday, I informed you that South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson filed his decision on our motion for clarification and other relief related to the August 2017 ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court. His ruling determined that the 36 disassociated parishes, including Church of Our Saviour, are, “affirmed as the title owners in fee simple absolute of their respective parish real properties.” Judge Dickson further ruled that ownership to Camp St. Christopher remains as titled to the Trustees of the Corporation as stated in the 1951 deed and that the Federal Court has jurisdiction over all matters related to trademarks, service marks, and intellectual property.
I realize that many of you have questions, and I would love to call a rector’s forum, but under the current conditions, that is not possible. In the format of FAQ (frequently asked questions), I have listed three items that I believe I would address in a rector’s forum. If this does not resolve your specific issues, please do not hesitate to contact me, and I will be glad to answer them to the best of my ability. Again, I recommend reading our diocesan response found at www.adosc.org. You can also find a link there to download the entire ruling, but I believe that A.S. Haley’s article on the ruling may be a more efficient use of your time: http://anglican.ink/2020/06/20/sc-court-on-remand-vindicates-bishop-lawrence-and-his-parishes/)
Judge Dixon was tasked with writing an order based on the five separate opinions of State Supreme Court, and to entertain various motions filed by the plaintiffs (our diocese and churches) and the defendants. Our primary filing focused on the fact that there was never any written agreement between the parishes and the Episcopal Church in which the churches agreed to hold properties in trust for the national church. We did not vote for this to happen, and only agreeing to abide by the constitution and canons of the national church did not form a trust. It does not transfer the title of the property to the Episcopal Church or the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Judge Dixon further explained, “This is a property case. The title usually governs a decision on property ownership to real estate—the deed. In this case, all the Plaintiff Parishes hold title to their property in fee simple absolute.”
Is it over?
No, but it is getting very close. The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina have the right to appeal the case, and though the next step would be for them to turn to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, they may ask to have the case heard directly by the State Supreme Court. The State Supreme Court could deny the appeal and uphold Judge Dixon’s findings in which case we would be finished. The Court could rehear the situation and either agree or overturn the ruling. Justice Kay Hearn has publicly stated that she would withdraw herself from any further proceedings leaving four justices to hear the case. It would take at least a 3-1 majority to overturn the case as a tie would render the lower Court’s decision as final. If the State Supreme court decides to hear the case, we could be on the fall docket or maybe the spring—it would be difficult to predict at this point. We need to pray that the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church sees the futility of appealing (not likely in my opinion) and then pray the State Supreme Court agrees with Judge Dixon’s ruling.
What is next?
We have received a tremendous blessing, but let us not forget that God has been at work shaping, pruning, and preparing us to renew our energy, effort, and commitment to connect to Him and to connect to our neighbors and families. Who is the church? We are the church, and God is calling us to be His hands and feet in a post-Christian world suffering from a pandemic and social unrest.
How do you feel about this decision?
Honestly, I am relieved, and I am thankful, but I am not pumping my hands in the air and sticking out my chest. The victory belongs to God, and this ruling is all about his wondrous works and purposes. I suppose the other feeling I have is one of high expectation and responsibility. We have a calling to discern, a work to do, a great message to share, and the responsibility to make disciples who make disciples.
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
Blessed to Serve as Your Rector,