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The Presiding Bishop on South Carolina

The Presiding Bishop on South Carolina

When Episcopalians from the 19 South Carolina parishes and six worship groups that have not followed their former bishop gather this weekend, they will have a lot of work to do: re-organize their diocese, elect a provisional bishop, and, it appears, adopt a name or at least a working title.

The reports:

The Rt. Rev. Charles Glenn vonRosenberg, a retired bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee who has long ties to South Carolina, is to be installed as provisional bishop for the remaining churches Saturday.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, says the church schism in South Carolina is both a challenge and an opportunity but sees the mother church emerging stronger from a controversy similar to those Christians have weathered for 2,000 years.

“At times people have decided they need to follow their spiritual journey in another direction. And people have come and gone from the Episcopal Church many times over the years,” she said during an interview with The Associated Press this week.

“Our task, when people decide to leave, is to bless their journey and pray they find a fruitful place to pursue their relationship with God,” she said. “In the meantime, we’re going to do what we feel called to do in the Episcopal Church.”

When the former leaders of the Episcopal diocese left the church, they initiated a suit to keep the name, assets, and property of the diocese in their control. A judge issued a temporary restraining order yesterday.

A state judge this week issued a temporary restraining order saying the diocese is the only group that can use the name Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. A hearing on whether to make the order permanent is set for next month in Columbia. So one of the things the group must do is give themselves a working title.

Holly Behre, a spokeswoman for the parishes remaining with The Episcopal Church, says the group will adopt a name that will comply with the spirit of the court order until the matter is resolved in court.

The Presiding Bishop says that suits like this have generally gone the Episcopal Church’s way. Ironically, one time that it didn’t was in South Carolina.

Jefferts Schori said that, in other states, courts have generally ruled property belongs to the larger church, not individual parishes or dioceses.

“Everywhere but in South Carolina where suits like this have taken place, in the ones that have gone to completion, the decisions of the court have said the property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church,” she said. “We believe all the assets of the church are a legacy of generations before us for the mission and the ministry of the Episcopal Church. It’s not our right to give it away for purposes unimagined by the givers.”

Courts in Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Connecticut have ruled in cases in favor of the church.

However, when All Saints Church in Pawleys Island left the national church more than eight years ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled the parish owned its property.

The reporter is right as far as it goes, but there is more the Pawley Island story.

In all other cases The Episcopal Church has appealed a loss in court and ultimately won possession. So when the Presiding Bishop says, “Everywhere but in South Carolina where suits like this have taken place, in the ones that have gone to completion, the decisions of the court have said the property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church,” she is speaking to the fact that the former Bishop of South Carolina cut the process short.

It was the Diocese of South Carolina that took All Saints Pawleys Island to court and the court decisions went back and forth several times. It was the Diocese of South Carolina under Mark Lawrence who decided to stop appealing for reasons that are now obvious. Lawrence and his cohorts have embedded the stand that his predecessor, Bishop Edward Salmon, disputed in court into the legal maneuverings they are now undertaking.


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Paul Powers

Actually, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t decline to hear the case. A group of parishioners who wished for All Saints to remain in the Diocese of SC and in TEC petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the S.C. Supreme Court’s decision. Before the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to accept the case or not, the loyalist group reached a settlement, so at their request the petition was “dismissed.” If the Court had declined to hear the case, the petition would have been “denied.” I doubt that the Court would have accepted the case, but as it turned out, it didn’t have to make that decision.

Joe Monk

Ummm – the Pawleys Island case was appealed to the US Supreme Court.

It declined to hear it.

Paul Powers

The US Supreme Court hasn’t taken a church property case in over 30 years. Whoever loses this case in the state Supreme Court shouldn’t count on the US Supremes’ riding to their rescue.


I can’t help but think of the entire RC parishes who, perhaps on the chopping block, would gladly transfer to TEC *with* their property.

…but we in TEC wouldn’t even consider that strategy, because WE know that a parish—whether TEC’s or the RCC’s (and even a closing parish)— belongs to its diocese, which in turn belongs to its denomination. [The RC members of SCOTUS being one reason I’m certain that they would uphold diocesan-supremacy over local property]

JC Fisher


I appreciate the PB’s comments. All too often, folks are misled by the whole, “It’s our parish and we bought and paid for it,” argument. That begs the question: What about those of us who gave funds, or buried friends and family at various parishes, with the understanding that we were doing so in the context of the Episcopal Church? Is it right others can later seize our investments of time, talent, and treasure, wrest them away, and use them for other purposes?

Additionally, whatever happened to the oath of loyalty that all clergy and vestries take? On issues of this sort, I may be dreadfully old-fashioned, but a person’s word is his honor, and it is a grave thing indeed to renege on an oath. So, I find it ironic that the separatists claim to be leaving in order to “protect their honor.” If they really feel that way, I wish them nothing but the best, but I don’t accept the notion that they may try to seize assets belonging to others. Something about thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…of worship.

Eric Bonetti

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