MT. PLEASANT, SC: Parish looks to leave
St. Andrew's members push for joining Anglicans
By Adam Parker
The Post and Courier
December 19, 2009
St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant is the most recent church to take steps to leave The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.
The congregation has recommended that the parish "affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America and separate from The Episcopal Church," according to a posting online by its rector, the Rev. Steve Wood.
The Anglican Church in North America upholds an "orthodox" theology and is seeking recognition as a new non-geographical Anglican province recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Established in June 2008, it has nearly 750 parish affiliates.
The congregation's decision came after a formal 40-day discernment process. More than 900 response forms were submitted; 838 recommended realignment while 58 recommended remaining part of The Episcopal Church. A few responses were left blank.
The vestry of St. Andrew's will convene after the holidays to consider an official course of action, parish officials said.
The discernment process is a result of the dilemma caused by The Episcopal Church, Wood said in an e-mail.
"The call of every Christian is to stand with and for Christ. The amazing story of a God who loves us and pursues us has been lost by our national leadership which seems to no longer believe the very story entrusted to their care," he wrote. "The Gospel story is that God in Christ reaches out to broken and lost humanity offering real hope for a new life. St. Andrew's seeks to faithfully and humbly give witness to this glorious hope."
The Episcopal Church has been coping with theological discord for years, but disagreements among Episcopalians heated up after the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire became the first openly gay bishop of the church in 2003.
The Diocese of Los Angeles elected the second openly gay Episcopal bishop Dec. 5, the Rev. Mary Glasspool of Baltimore, who will serve as assistant bishop if a majority of dioceses approve the vote.
Two other South Carolina churches recently took steps moving away from The Episcopal Church.
On Dec. 1, the vestry and membership of St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head Island voted to remove all reference to "the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, the Diocese of South Carolina, and any Canons associated therewith" from its charter. The change has its precedent in the diocese: All Saints Church at Pawleys Island voted to delete reference to The Episcopal Church from its charter in 2004, then affiliated with the Anglican Mission in the Americas, an extension of the Province of Rwanda.
The Rev. Greg Kronz, rector of St. Luke's, declined to comment on the change. "It really is a St. Luke's matter," he wrote in an e-mail.
Also this month, the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Myrtle Beach voted to change its bylaws, removing reference to The Episcopal Church.
The actions come just weeks after the diocese held a special convention to vote on five resolutions, one of which calls on the bishop and standing committee "to begin withdrawing from all bodies of The Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ."
The Diocese of South Carolina oversees more than 70 parishes throughout the coastal half of the state. The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the diocese, wrote in an e-mail that he will remain open to counsel and conversation.
"I have been in conversation with the priests of St. Luke's Hilton Head and Trinity, Myrtle Beach. They are not seeking to leave the Diocese of South Carolina," he wrote. "We will continue to keep the lines of communication open and clear with both priests and their congregations. As for St. Andrew's Mount Pleasant, I will continue to be in communication with the leadership of the parish, ministering to all members of the diocese and parish as seems appropriate. These are challenging times for all Episcopalians both in the Diocese and in the larger church. Such times I believe call for a pastoral and creative response. I will continue to strive to offer it."
St. Andrew's Church transferred property worth $3.45 million into a land trust, a transaction recorded in July and amended in September. The "St. Andrew's Church-Mt. Pleasant Land Trust" received parish property formerly held by the vestry and church wardens of St. Andrew's.
"The purpose of the Trust shall be to purchase, receive, hold title to, improve, and otherwise manage real estate and improvements thereon in order to provide an orthodox Anglican ministry center for St. Andrew's Church," legal documents state.
The parish is known for its dynamic growth, variety of worship experiences, ministries and special programming. Wood was a candidate for bishop of the diocese in 2006 and has been active as an Episcopal leader, most recently serving as a delegate to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, held in July.
The Diocese of South Carolina mostly consists of adherents who object to what they perceive as the liberal, inclusive and "politically correct" leanings of a church that has abandoned Scriptural orthodoxy and Anglican tradition.
Lawrence has condemned what he calls the "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity" and encouraged like-minded "orthodox" leaders from other dioceses to join together in missional relationships.
Those on the other side of the issue say disagreements boil down to the manner in which Scripture is interpreted, and that none of the church's core beliefs have been subverted.
"The creeds remain intact," Barbara Mann wrote last month. Mann has held various national positions in The Episcopal Church and currently is director of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina. "Belief in the Holy Trinity is not in question; belief in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as Savior, including his incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, are not being questioned. Nor is the calling of Episcopalians as disciples to live out their baptismal covenant being endangered," Mann wrote.
Breaking from The Episcopal Church presents challenges to both sides. A diocese is the local governing and oversight body of the church based on geography. The Episcopal Church has 110 dioceses, including some in the Caribbean, Taiwan and Latin America. A diocese cannot withdraw from the church; only individuals or congregations can choose to leave, church officials have said.
When congregations vote to break away, the question of what happens to the property inevitably arises. All Saint's Church at Pawleys Island won its legal battle earlier this year when the S.C. Supreme Court decided the physical assets of the church belonged to the officers of the church corporation and not the diocese.
Outside of South Carolina, courts have affirmed the hierarchical nature of The Episcopal Church and the arrangement in which local properties are held in trust for the church by the diocese and parish.
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