SC Bishops Discuss ‘New Season’ After High Court Divides Separatist Church Properties | Features
Two days after the SC Supreme Court announced its final decision regarding the ownership of 29 parishes that split from the Episcopal Church, the two bishops overseeing the affected dioceses discussed how the two groups could move forward. before.
The two religious leaders – Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanely of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Chip Edgar of the dissociated Anglican Diocese of South Carolina – are relatively new to their posts and have not overseen the two dioceses for the majority of the dispute which began in 2012.
But with the matter over, the two bishops, who first met on April 21, discussed the following day at Grace Church Cathedral in downtown Charleston about how their two dioceses could work together in the following a bitter dispute that caused anger and frustration for both groups.
“It is imperative to explore whether we cannot move forward in a very different spirit than we have been in the past,” said Edgar, who was consecrated bishop of the Anglican diocese in March.
Many questions loom on the horizon over the court’s decision, which allows 15 parishes that left the Episcopal Church to keep their properties while ordering 14 breakaway parishes to cede properties to the Episcopal group. However, the two bishops say they are determined to work together on property transfers and other issues that are sure to arise in the coming months. They say they are both equally open to partnering on ministries that can address the wide range of issues affecting South Carolinians.
“I think we are both keen to enter a new season marked by a different tone and tenor between our two communities,” said Woodliff-Stanley, who initiated the April 22 meeting which took place at the seat of the Episcopal Diocese SC. Woodliff-Stanley took over as head of the state Episcopal Diocese in the fall.
Neither Woodliff-Stanley nor Edgar explicitly said whether they agreed or disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision, which also allows the Episcopal Church to retain ownership of diocesan properties, such as Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island. The two bishops acknowledged that some congregations have welcomed the court’s decision while others are upset. Edgar pointed out that the 14 congregations were forced to abandon their places of worship.
“All of these 14 churches think this is a terrible injustice,” Edgar said.
Woodliff-Stanley also acknowledged the grief felt by Episcopalians with ties to the 15 breakaway congregations that will remain with the Anglican diocese. Some Episcopalians had hoped to be able to return to their home churches. But with the court’s decision, that won’t happen, Woodliff-Stanley said.
In reaching its decision, the court reviewed each parish’s governing documents to determine whether the congregations had at any time expressly conceded to the Dennis Cannon after it was adopted in 1979. The Dennis Canon is a church law that states that all the churches are kept. in trust by the National Episcopal Church.
The court found that 14 of the parishes had accepted ecclesiastical law, forcing those congregations to abandon their church facilities. Fifteen congregations, however, did not yield to the canon and pledged only an alliance to the national church and its affiliated South Carolina diocese, the court heard.
Edgar said he was unaware of any other approach the judges might have taken. But the bishop said he still did not know exactly how the judges distinguished whether each individual parish had bowed to church law. The language in each of the churches’ statutes often looks the same, Edgar said.
“…I read it and thought, ‘I can hardly tell the difference between what one (parish) said and the others.’ So, I don’t know what was going on in the minds of the judges. It leaves unanswered questions,” he said.
The main question is how the 14 parishes that have operated under the Anglican diocese will move forward. Edgar said some of these parishes have already discussed building a new church.
There will be other legal issues that will arise as the two dioceses begin settling real estate transactions — issues that may need to be dealt with in court, Edgar said.
“Some of these issues may come before the courts again,” he said. “We hope that doesn’t happen. … No one wants to be in court again.”
The two bishops may have moments of disagreement as all of this unfolds, but church leaders hope to discuss the issues without any hard feelings.
“We have hope together that the transition can happen in a way that reflects the highest ideals of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Woodliff-Stanley said.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, the Episcopal Diocese — which covers the eastern half of South Carolina — would have contained 31 congregations with more than 7,000 members. Likewise, the Anglican Diocese had said it contained 53 churches with almost 20,000 members along the eastern part of the state.
The controversy between the two groups boiled over in 2012 after years of wrangling within the Episcopal Church over gay rights, scriptural interpretations and powers of governance.
Several churches branched off from the main church and later formed the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. The case went to the state Supreme Court in 2015. The court was initially thought to have ruled in 2017 that 29 of the 36 parishes that split from the Episcopal Church must cede their properties. But the court believes it has not made a final decision on ownership of the properties, Judge John Few wrote in his April 20 majority opinion.
The use of marks and emblems is currently under appeal to the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court has deferred to the federal courts on these matters.