Episcopal Church leaders from across eastern South Carolina will gather on Friday at Grace Church Cathedral to review the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling on church property and assets and consider the next steps toward resolving the division and confusion resulting from a breakaway group’s lawsuit against The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Skip Adams called the meeting on August 2, hours after the court issued the ruling. Friday’s meetings will include a joint gathering of the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and Trustees, three bodies of clergy and non-ordained elected leaders. Bishop Adams also has called a meeting for the leaders of nine congregations that organized as mission churches since the 2012 breakup left them without buildings where they could worship as Episcopalians.
Both gatherings will give local Episcopalians an opportunity to discuss the complex, 79-page court decision, which includes separate opinions written by all five Supreme Court justices who heard the case. The decision cannot be viewed as final until all possible steps toward an appeal have been resolved.
There are few steps that the diocese can undertake until the court decision is considered final, Bishop Skip Adams said Thursday, making it difficult to answer people who are understandably wondering what happens next.
Once some of the legal questions are resolved, the hope is that conversations can begin with leaders of the congregations that aligned with the breakaway group. “We continue to be guided by the hope of reconciliation,” Bishop Adams said. “We are committed to finding a path that will allow people to continue their life of faith as Anglicans in the Episcopal Church.”
The Bishop called for prayers for all the people of the diocese in a pastoral letter issued on August 2. That letter will be read aloud in each of the 31 Episcopal Church congregations that make up the continuing diocese.
Thursday’s ruling upholds the Episcopal Church’s position that it is a hierarchical church, rather than a congregational one in which a vote within a church congregation can override church law and polity. Churches that adopted the Episcopal Church’s governing documents as part of their governance were then bound to those laws, including the so-called “Dennis Canon.” That canon requires that church properties be held in trust on behalf of the diocese, to be used for the benefit of the Episcopal Church.
According to the ruling, the continuing Episcopal diocese will control all diocesan property of the Diocese of South Carolina, including Camp St. Christopher, along with 29 of the parishes who aligned with the breakaway group and sued the Episcopal Church in 2013. The court found that these parishes had “acceded” to the Dennis Canon. The court ruled that seven other parishes involved in the lawsuit had not acceded to the canon, and could retain their properties. (The 36 churches named in the decision are listed below.)
In many cases, these properties were the results of gifts made by Episcopalians over many years, given with the intention that they remain with the Episcopal Church. In defending itself against the lawsuit filed by the breakaway group, Episcopal Church leaders were charged with a duty to protect the assets of the Church from being removed and used for other purposes.
Under the Episcopal Church’s hierarchical system, when Bishop Mark Lawrence was consecrated as bishop, he was charged with caring for the diocese and its assets on behalf of The Episcopal Church. After he and his leadership took actions aimed at removing the diocese and numerous parish properties, then-Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori placed a “restriction” on his ministry in October 2012, effectively suspending him, and asked him to explain his actions before a disciplinary panel. Instead, he announced that he and the diocese, clergy, and parishes were no longer a part of The Episcopal Church. The breakaway group then filed a lawsuit against The Episcopal Church and the group of local Episcopalians who reorganized the continuing diocese. Eventually, 36 parishes joined the suit.
In 2015, TECinSC made a settlement offer that would have given up any claim to those parishes’ property, in exchange for the breakaway group handing over the diocesan property and assets. The offer was rejected, and TECinSC moved forward with its appeal to the state Supreme Court, resulting in Thursday’s decision.
Subject to the final ruling, parishes listed in the opinion are as follows:
Seven named as not subject to the Dennis Canon:
Christ the King, Waccamaw
Prince George Winyah, Georgetown
St. Andrews, Mount Pleasant
St. John’s, Florence
St. Matthew’s, Darlington
St. Matthias, Summerton
St. Paul’s, Conway
29 named as subject to the Dennis Canon:
All Saints, Florence
Christ Church, Mount Pleasant
Christ-St. Paul’s, Yonges Island
Church of the Cross, Bluffton
Good Shepherd, Charleston
Holy Comforter, Sumter
Holy Cross, Stateburg
Holy Trinity, Charleston
Old St. Andrew’s, Charleston
Church of Our Saviour, John’s Island
St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville
St. David’s, Cheraw
St. Helena’s, Beaufort
St. James, James Island
St. John’s, John’s Island
St. Jude’s, Walterboro
St. Luke’s, Hilton Head
St. Luke and St. Paul, Charleston
St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte
St. Michael’s, Charleston
St. Paul’s, Bennettsville
St. Paul’s, Summerville
St. Philip’s, Charleston
Trinity, Edisto Island
Trinity, Myrtle Beach
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