SOUTH CAROLINA: Mount Pleasant parish members vote to leave Episcopal Church

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Fri Apr 2 10:16:50 CDT 2010

SOUTH CAROLINA: Mount Pleasant parish members vote to leave Episcopal Church

By Mary Frances Schjonberg,
Episcopal News Service 
March 31, 2010 

Some 700 members of a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina have voted to leave the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Steve Wood, rector of St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant, said in a letter to the congregation, titled "The Time Has Come for Our Departure," that members of the vestry decided early on the morning of March 28 "to withdraw from and sever all ties with the Episcopal Church in the United States and to transfer its canonical residence to the Anglican Church in North America or another province of the worldwide Anglican Communion..."

The parish held a special meeting later that day during which 703 members, a majority of the 722 who cast ballots, voted to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church. Those voting also passed two related resolutions by similarly wide margins.

South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence said in a March 30 letter to the diocese that he was "saddened" but "not surprised" by the news.

"As bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, I receive almost daily letters and emails from people across this church suggesting that our stance gives them encouragement to remain and persevere within the Episcopal Church," Lawrence wrote. "Yet here at home we could not hold one of our strongest congregations. The departure of the Episcopal Church from the way of Christ and the biblically rooted teachings of the church has become too discordant for them to tolerate any longer."

Lawrence said he hoped "many among us will look for ways to continue our mutual ministry and relationships" and added that he would be discussing "the arrangements to be made for those within the congregation who wish to remain within the Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church" with Wood and the St. Andrew's and diocesan leadership.

Wood said that those voting to leave intend to affiliate with the Diocese of the Holy Spirit, which is part of the Anglican Church in North America. He said that the affiliation could go into effect as soon as Holy Saturday, April 2.

"I rejoice and give thanks for both the clarity of this discernment process and the unity of purpose within this parish demonstrated by this vote," Wood wrote. "Unity and discernment are both gifts worked in our lives by the Spirit."

"Having said that, I am reminded that at least 19 members of St. Andrew's may not be rejoicing in this vote and I commend them to you and your prayers as brothers and sisters in Christ," Wood continued. "Please commit with me to ensure that St. Andrew's will remain a parish where all are welcome to gather at the foot of the cross; sinners yet redeemed by the wonderful work of Christ."

Latest parochial report figures for St. Andrew's show it having close to 2,800 members with an average Sunday attendance of nearly half that. Plate and pledge income was listed at just less than $3.5 million.

The decision came days after the factions in another South Carolina parish, All Saints' Episcopal Church in Waccamaw in Pawleys Island, announced that they had negotiated an end to what had been one of the Episcopal Church's longest-running property disputes.

And the vote came two days after the South Carolina diocesan convention passed a series of resolutions ( related to their role as a diocese of the Episcopal Church. The resolutions included one that declared "the presiding bishop has no authority to retain attorneys in this diocese that present themselves as the legal counsel for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina." The resolution also demanded that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori end any relationship her office has with such an attorney.

The resolution appears to have come as a result of the presiding bishop's decision to engage Thomas Tisdale Jr., a Charleston, South Carolina, attorney and former diocesan chancellor, to inquire about what Tisdale called "recent and ongoing actions by some congregations in our diocese that threaten to 'withdraw their parishes from the diocese and the Episcopal Church.'" A record of the letters he exchanged with current diocesan Chancellor Wade Logan III is available here.

Among other requests, Tisdale asked Logan for a number of documents related to St. Andrew's and three other parishes: St. Luke's, Hilton Head; St. John's, Johns Island and Trinity, Myrtle Beach.

Jefferts Schori told the church's Executive Council in February that Lawrence was "telling the world that he is offended that I think it's important that people who want to stay Episcopalians there have some representation on behalf of the larger church."

---The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and Episcopal News Monthly editor. 

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