An Open Letter to
Click the links below to find...
A Facebook photo album from the meeting
Sermon for the Choral Eucharist with the Province IV Bishops
The service bulletin for the Choral Eucharist
Bishops pledge prayers, support for continuing Episcopalians
News from The Episcopal Church in South Carolina
June 27, 2013
Responding to stories of loss and blessing told by worshiping communities across eastern South Carolina, the bishops of Province IV of The Episcopal Church today issued an “Open Letter to The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,” pledging prayers for the people of the diocese and support and cooperation for their bishop, the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg.
“We commend you for your faith and courage during this trying season,” the letter says. “We observed that you are meeting your present difficulties with good fellowship, good creativity and good cheer. This is an inspiration to us. Your example and mission zeal is easy for us to commend in our own jurisdictions.” (The full text of the letter is on this page.)
Twenty-six bishops were at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston for a twice-annual Province IV meeting that concluded today. On Wednesday, Episcopalians from seven worshiping communities spent the day telling the bishops about the effects of the schism that has divided the people of their diocese.
Emotions surfaced frequently during the presentations as people spoke of how much they love and miss their home churches – historic buildings, ties that go back for generations, and friends and family who have taken a different path. But in spite of tears, the choice was clear, said Eve Pinckney of the Okatie group. “No matter how beautiful the building is, you’re worshiping God, not the building.”
Last October, church leaders loyal to former Bishop Mark Lawrence in the Diocese of South Carolina announced they were leaving The Episcopal Church because of theological differences including the blessing of same-sex relationships. Twenty-one parishes and missions remain with TEC, along with six worshiping communities that have formed from remnants of other parishes.
“It felt like being hijacked,” said Kevin Shea of the St. Anne’s worshiping community, a group started by people from a Conway parish that announced its separation from the church in October. “Our priest said ‘I am no longer an Episcopalian, we are no longer an Episcopal church,’” Shea said.
The separations, though painful, have led to abundant blessings, worship group leaders said. “We are truly experiencing joy and the freedom that comes with that,” said Ginga Wilder of the Summerville group, which recently adopted its new name, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.
“I have never been prouder to be an Episcopalian,” said Ellen Hardin of the St. Francis worshiping community in Charleston’s West Ashley area. “I am proud to be part of a church that will face these issues and find our way through them.”
The bishops listened attentively to an entire day of presentations, and gathered afterward to talk with each other about what they had heard.
“The stories were profoundly moving, and they spoke of moral courage, a spirit of persistence and camaraderie, and a real lack of any vindictiveness,” said the Right Reverend Dabney Smith, Bishop of Southwest Florida and President of the Province IV House of Bishops.
“Each of the stories in one way or another expressed the desire to articulate the Gospel in word and action within each community and in the larger community,” Bishop Smith said. “Perhaps the most significant summary word was ‘gratitude.’”
Much of the gratitude was directed toward the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, who was elected in January as Bishop Provisional of “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,” the working name for the diocese that has remained with the church. Bishop Smith noted how many groups thanked Bishop vonRosenberg for “providing hope, connections, and renewed mission energy.”
Despite challenges such as finding worship space – the Okatie group held its first service on Easter morning on a member’s dock – the groups reported healthy attendance. “We have children every week, enough to have a Children’s Chapel,” said Andrea McKellar of the St. Francis group.
Newcomers are drawn by the opportunity to experience Episcopal Church worship that had been unavailable to them for years as they watched their parishes distance themselves from the Church. Alex Shifflett recalled changes at her Hartsville parish that led her to stop attending. When her twin children finally asked, “Why aren’t we going to church?” she responded by finding other Pee Dee Episcopalians who went on to form the St. Catherine’s worship group in Florence. On Wednesday, the St. Catherine’s slideshow included a photo of the twins serving as the group’s first acolytes.
The worship groups have also given laypeople a chance to explore new leadership roles, or return to ministries that had been lost to them. Organist Nancy Hendricks said that when her parish voted to follow the breakaway group, she began throwing away sheet music, believing she’d never have the opportunity to play in an Episcopal church again. Now, she’s music director for the new St. Francis community.
“It feels as if everything I have experienced up to this point has been to prepare me for this,” she said.
The bishops are holding their twice-a-year meeting in Charleston June 25-27. On Thursday, they met with Mary Kate Wold, President and CEO of the Church Pension Group, to talk about changes in health care coverage under Obamacare.
Province IV is the largest of the nine provinces in The Episcopal Church, and includes 20 dioceses in nine Southeastern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Bishops pledge prayers, support for continuing Episcopalians (Episcopal News Service)
From Summerville to West Ashley, Episcopalians start over after split (Post & Courier, June 27)
Largest Episcopal Province Declares Support for South Carolina Diocese's Continuing Members (The Christian Post, June 27)
Southeastern Episcopal bishops applaud local members (Post & Courier, June 28)
TEC bands together after split (Florence Morning News, June 30)
More resources from the meeting:
Video presentation by St. Anne's, Conway
Video presentation by Good Shepherd, Summerville
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