Report to Province IV Synod
At Kanuga Episcopal Conference Center, Hendersonville NC
June 6, 2014
I am happy to offer this report on behalf of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. And, indeed, I am grateful that Province IV has asked me to do so.
Certainly, the first word that needs to be expressed is one of gratitude. People of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina have been separated from the larger Church for many years. Intentional and systematic isolation brings about the potential for imposing a new identity. That has been part of the strategy in South Carolina for years. By reconnecting with The Episcopal Church in the last year and a half, we have attempted to reestablish our historic identity. Because of the welcome we have received – along with your support and encouragement – we are back! Thank you for designating the offering on Wednesday evening in support of our efforts. Thank you for encouraging additional means of financial support for us. Thank you for all other kinds of support you have offered to us as well. In sum, thank you for all that you have done – and will do – as we continue the process of reorganizing The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Now, I should mention the legal struggles early in this report because that is the aspect of our life which is most covered by the press. Also, activity on the legal front has intensified recently, following something of a lull. In fact, just last week I was questioned by lawyers on the other side of the case for several hours, in a formal video-taped deposition. As an attempt to prepare for this experience, two weeks earlier I scheduled a colonoscopy. However, that preparation really was inadequate for what would follow! That deposition was not a lot of fun, and much about this legal process is not fun, I must say.
The fact of the matter is that our current situation is awkward and uncomfortable, in many ways. After all, two church groups are squared off against each other in the courts. The press finds this situation stimulating and profitable. People on the street are both puzzled and, yet, enthralled. And, the Gospel of Jesus suffers as a result of this conflict.
From a legal perspective, this case is complicated. The charges are wide-spread and far-reaching. The jurisdictions are overlapping. And the cost at many levels is extensive. We anticipate that news on the legal front will be more bad than good initially. However, we trust that eventually – probably years from now – the news will be more good than bad. Please continue to pray for us in the mean time. And, at least for now, I think that is enough said, on legal matters.
Twenty two of the previous seventy churches in the diocese remained with The Episcopal Church. Eight remnant Episcopal groups – called worshipping communities – formed from churches that had left The Episcopal Church. Of those eight, five were accepted as Mission congregations in union with diocesan convention last February – with much celebration and fanfare! Therefore, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is comprised of thirty parishes, missions, and worshipping communities at this time. And our numbers are growing, over all.
Recent experiences of Episcopalians in the eastern part of South Carolina varies a great deal, depending on geography and circumstance. That is, some of our established parishes have known significant growth over the past year and a half. Other, smaller churches were hurt by initial defections when the previous diocesan leadership left. And, of course, still others were forced to leave their former church homes in order to maintain their identity as part of The Episcopal Church. Those groups of pilgrims are worshipping in rented public spaces, former schoolhouses, college chapels, and a funeral home. The commitment of these folks is remarkable. Their perseverance is extraordinary. And their stories are inspirational to all the rest of us. It is an honor to walk with these faithful Episcopalians, who have lost so much and, yet, whose spirits are unbroken.
In the past sixteen months, we have put into place a basic diocesan structure. There are no frills involved, I hasten to add, nor are there any full time salaries. But the basic structure is in place.
Please realize that the people serving on diocesan committees and commissions, though, have little – if any – previous experience at what they are doing. After all, these folks were excluded from such positions previously. For instance, of the deputies and first alternates elected for General Convention next summer, only one of the ten has attended a previous Convention, in the past thirty years.
In terms of funding diocesan operations, you need to realize that churches of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina have not had a history of generosity and support for the diocese in recent years. Thus, our churches are having to learn about responsible stewardship, vis-a-vis the diocese. And not all old habits are forgotten quickly.
Last year the General Church gave us a grant to assist us in the organizing of our operations. This year, though, we are on our own. We have a balanced budget, but there is no “fluff” in it, I can assure you.
In terms of the long view, we continue to work toward that for which we fervently pray – and that prayer is for unity. In that regard, we have a process in place for clergy who seek a way back into The Episcopal Church. One former priest is on this journey now, and I have had an initial conversation with another priest as well. We hope and pray that other clergy will join the lay people who have discovered the wholeness and joy of unity in the Body of Christ. We long for the day of fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer that all his followers may be one.
I have challenged the diocese at this point in our history to consider carefully what it is we want to construct on the basic foundation we have built. This is not a time to do business as usual, nor is it a time to try to do business as was done in the past. Rather, this is a new day, and the Spirit of God is doing new things. We recognize that our current circumstances are filled both with opportunity and with responsibility. By the grace of God and with the support of fellow Episcopalians, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina intends to be true to the leading of that life-giving Spirit at this time in our history. It is a time filled with pain and excitement, with loss and liberation, and with bitterness and hope. But we know the Spirit is at work in the midst of it all. And we are grateful for that Spirit which fills our sails, every single day.
Thank you for your attention. Thank you for your prayers. And thank you for your continued care for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina!
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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