What is this all about? And what was this "diocesan schism"? As you may be aware, in 2012, leadership (under Bishop Mark Lawrence) and some members of some congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, decided they no longer wished to be part of The Episcopal Church. Read a full accounting of the timeline at this link, but this is a summary of key points in the schism. Congregations voted based on the information they received from leadership, and in the end, the diocese was split into those congregations that wished to stay with The Episcopal Church, and those that did not. Initially, those who wished to leave, kept the name of "The Diocese of South Carolina/The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and the group of congregations who remained loyal to The Episcopal Church formed under a diocese recognized as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), under the leadership of a provisional bishop, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg. The breakaway group then sued The Episcopal Church and it's affiliated diocese (TECSC), asserting ownership of their church properties and St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center.
In March 2013, The Episcopal Church and TECSC filed a complaint in U.S. District Court against Bishop Lawrence, citing violations of the Lanham Act, the primary federal trademark law of the United States, which prohibits trademark infringement and false advertising. The suit, vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, says that by representing himself as bishop of the diocese, Mark Lawrence is engaging in false advertising.
In 2017, the diocese that left The Episcopal Church, joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is part of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) and not a part of the Anglican Communion (The Episcopal Church is the only denomination recognized by the Anglican Communion in the United States). Today, in 2023, the breakaway diocese now affiliated with ACNA is known as The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina.
After years of legal hearings and arguments, TECSC initially lost in the courts, but matters were overturned later on appeal. In the state courts, in 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that 29 congregations and St. Christopher Camp and Conference center should be returned to the diocese that remained loyal to The Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, this final decision proved not to be final. In April 2022, the SC Supreme Court again issued a ruling, this time saying that 14 churches that left The Episcopal Church and it's affiliated diocese, as well as all diocesan property and St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center, did so without having have property ownership and they should be returned. After appeals for rehearing, this decision was further amended in August 2022, reducing the number of returning congregations to eight, but still returning all diocesan property and St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center.
As for the case before the federal court, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ruled in favor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and The Episcopal Church in September 2019 on the trademark infringement and false advertising lawsuit filed in 2013. Saying that “The time has come for this dispute to be resolved,” Judge Gergel granted the plaintiff’s (the Bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina(TECSC)) motion for summary judgement, and declared that the group that disassociated from The Episcopal Church (TEC) in 2012 (and all affiliated churches) can no longer use the name “Diocese of South Carolina” nor use the “diocesan seal” or “Episcopal shield.”
Immediately after the April ruling, Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, diocesan bishop for The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, reached out to her counterpart in the ACNA diocese (the Anglican Diocese of SC), and began a conversation that led to months of negotiations that resulted in a final settlement between the two dioceses in September 2022, as both dioceses sought to bring an end to the rancor and go forward with the ministry of their respective dioceses.
Congregations began returning in July 2022 with St. John's, Johns Island, and diocesan property has been returned as well, including St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center, which returned to the ownership of and the operation by the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church, to whom the land was given in the first half of the 20th century. See this article for an update about the transitions in October 2022.
WHO TO CONTACT
If you have more questions after reading this page, or you would like to have a conversation about where to go from here, please contact the Diocesan Office at 843-259-2016 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE ON THE TRANSITION
*Updated January 2023*
We invite you to explore this “Frequently Asked Questions” supplement, offered to provide information and share hope for a future that remains grounded in the love of God.
What is a ‘returning congregation’? The South Carolina Supreme Court, in a decision on August 2, 2017, identified 29 parishes that must return to The Episcopal Church. They were among the parishes that filed a lawsuit against The Episcopal Church in 2013, and since then have been operating as part of a separate organization that left the church. According to the Supreme Court decision, these parishes belong in The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), legally recognized in September 2019 as the historic Diocese of South Carolina . The goal is for every returning congregation to live into its future as a vital, mission-minded Episcopal congregation, called to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
*Update* - As noted in the paragraphs above, the South Carolina amended their decisions twice in 2022, and ultimately they decided that eight congregations did not have proper ownership under state law and therefore, they must be returned under the trust of their rightful owners, The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Additionally, the courts decided all diocesan property taken by the breakaway diocese must be returned to the diocese that remained with The Episcopal Church (The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina/The Diocese of South Carolina). This includes St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island. From July to December 2022, seven congregations were returned, and in one instance, an ACNA congregation was allowed to purchase the property that had been determined to be the property of the Episcopal Diocese.
Are there online resources to answer my questions? Yes. In addition to this FAQ (an older version can be found online at episcopalchurchsc.org),
Two independent online blogs are available. These have no official connection with the diocese, but the writers are knowledgeable about the history of the division in our diocese and report on ongoing developments: Ron Caldwell’s episcopalschismsc.blogspot.com, and Steve Skardon’s scepiscopalians.com.
PEOPLE AND CHURCHES
What is the vision for churches that return to The Episcopal Church? The vision for every church is best expressed by our Diocesan Vision Statement: The Diocese of South Carolina, as a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is - Centered in Christ's Love - Proclaiming Good News of God's Grace - Rooted in Our Communities - A Light to All - Called to Sacrifice and Serve
Will parishioners be forced to leave their churches? No. The Episcopal Church and The Diocese of South Carolina are committed to helping congregations continue to worship and serve God in their church homes, in much the same way they have done since before the split. The main changes for a returning parish are the following: (1) congregations and liturgies would be led by clergy who are in good standing with The Episcopal Church, and (2) parish vestries and bylaws would function in accordance with Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church again, as they did before the split. The parishes affected by the split are like families and are important parts of the communities they serve. Diocesan leadership is committed to working with each congregation to help it continue and thrive.
I am a member of a church that disaffiliated. What do I have to do to return to The Episcopal Church? Do I face any kind of penalty, or do I have to go through some process? Every person who has been baptized and/or confirmed in The Episcopal Church is an Episcopalian. Transferring your membership to another denomination is the only way that it can be changed. Parishioners who have been attending other churches are still Episcopalians, as long as they want to be. There is no penalty in returning, and no formal process or action is required. We mean it when we say “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”
What about wedding plans and funeral arrangements? Knowing that most weddings, and some funerals, are planned months or years in advance, The Diocese of South Carolina will make every effort to honor reservations and pre-arrangements. The Bishop and the Episcopal clergy serving the congregation will respond pastorally to couples and families on a case-by-case basis. We are encouraged that clergy from The Diocese of South Carolina and the disaffiliated group have collaborated respectfully and collegially on wedding and funeral arrangements a number of times over the past six years, and we pray that will continue.
What will happen to the disaffiliated clergy of the congregations? When the split occurred, all clergy in the diocese were offered an opportunity to remain in The Episcopal Church. Those who chose to leave the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church in 2013 are no longer able to serve in Episcopal churches. However, The Diocese of South Carolina worked to ensure that there would be a path for clergy to be reconciled with and return to the Church, if that is their desire, and to include a clear process of discernment for the good care of all. Since 2013, three priests have been welcomed back through this process. While each situation is unique, historically this process has taken less than one year. For clergy who wish to explore this path, the first step is to contact the Diocesan Office.
Can clergy whose views are more conservative still find a place in The Episcopal Church? They can, and they do! There exists a great deal of diversity in the viewpoints of the clergy who serve in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, both in parishes and in diocesan and churchwide leadership roles. This unity-in-diversity as part of the Body of Christ is one of our greatest strengths. Parishes who are seeking to call clergy find a large pool of potential candidates in Episcopal ministry who represent a wide range of views and approaches.
Some of our members plan to leave the parish and start a new church elsewhere. How should we respond? Jesus prayed for his Church in his high priestly prayer found in John 17:11, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” We hope you will join your prayers with ours for the unity of the Church in this diocese. Continue to pray for all the people who have chosen to leave the church. Work to maintain an open door for conversations and relationships that, in time, can provide a path for reconciliation. Finally, continue to support the health and vitality of your own Episcopal parish, so it can carry on as a witness to our Lord long after the memories of this division have faded.
Who owns the property of my parish? Every parish owns its own property and holds it “in trust” for the use of the Church. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the 29 disaffiliated properties are held in trust for The Diocese of South Carolina (TECSC) and for The Episcopal Church. The trustees are the vestries of the parishes, and they are responsible for ensuring that the property is used for the benefit of The Episcopal Church. In June 2018, the US Supreme Court declined to review that decision, so the ruling of the state Supreme Court on this matter should be final.
Will my church be sold? No church property can be sold without the consent of the duly elected Episcopal vestry, the Standing Committee of the diocese, and the Bishop. The Diocese of South Carolina recognizes the important role these buildings play in the history and life of the communities they serve, our state, and our diocese. We are committed to working with the faithful and committed people of each parish to help them maintain strong congregations that can sustain their property and their ministry.
Can the disaffiliated groups that are now aligned with ACNA buy or lease the properties from the DSC? No. Our focus is on working with those who want to remain in their churches and worship as Episcopalians. The Diocese of South Carolina is responsible for being good stewards of all the property and assets of our diocese, seeing that they are used for the mission of the church. We are committed to helping each congregation move through the transition process in ways that will help them grow and flourish.
What is happening with St. Christopher? St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center is one of the diocesan properties belonging to TECSC/The Diocese of South Carolina under the South Carolina Supreme Court decision. When the court decision was implemented, the Diocese had a transition plan ready, so St. Christopher can continue operating with minimal or no disruption. The Diocese of South Carolina has held youth retreats at St. Christopher since 2019 and a Clergy Conference there in 2020/2021.
The importance of this beloved camp and conference center is much larger than our recent divisions. Our prayer is that it will continue to bless generations to come and be a focal point for unity and healing in our diocese. All who are seeking a deeper relationship with God are welcome to the Camp.
Almost every employee at St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center (except for one who was an ACNA priest) was offered the opportunity to stay, and they were warmly invited to do so in an effort to maintain continuity and keep things as they had been for decades, before and after the schism. The leadership of the diocese and the staff at St. Christopher are deeply committed to continuing the traditions that have made this place close to the hearts of people from many denominations.
EPISCOPAL AND ANGLICAN CONNECTIONS
What is The Episcopal Church in South Carolina like today? According to The Episcopal Church’s statistics, the DSC was the fastest-growing diocese in the United States, with a 3.8 percent increase in baptized members in 2018 and 18.8 percent growth since 2014. Today, the DSC has 31 congregations and more than 7,500 members, in addition to those who are rejoining the diocese in parishes affected by the split. Under Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, we have more than 90 priests and 19 deacons who are either canonically resident, or licensed to serve, in our diocese.
Our parishes and missions range from very large to very small and are located throughout the eastern/coastal half of South Carolina. Twenty-two congregations are worshiping in the buildings they were using before the schism. Another nine congregations were formed after the split and are worshiping in spaces they have bought, leased, or borrowed. You can find a list and a map at this link.
As a diocese of The Episcopal Church, The Diocese of South Carolina is fully involved in the councils of the Church. Our Bishop and Deputies continue to participate in General Convention, and several diocesan members hold offices on church-wide panels and committees that do the work of the Church between General Conventions. The Diocese of South Carolina has hosted Presiding Bishop Michael Curry twice since his election in 2015, and we welcomed him again in November 2020 as the keynote speaker at our 230th Diocesan Convention.
What is the relationship between the DSC and the Anglican Communion? The Anglican Communion consists of dioceses and provinces around the world that are in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Episcopal Church is the only recognized province of the Anglican Communion in the United States, and churches in the DSC are all part of this Communion. There are church groups outside the Communion that use “Anglican” in their name, but they are not a recognized part of the Anglican Communion.
Is The Episcopal Church fully participating in the Anglican Communion? Yes. The Episcopal Church is a full participant as one of the 40 provinces of the Anglican Communion. For example, Episcopal Church representatives participated in the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in May 2019 as well as in previous ACC meetings. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry attended the October 2017 meeting of Primates (leaders of the 140 provinces of the Communion). Presiding Bishop Curry also was invited to preach at the Royal Wedding in May 2018, watched on TV by millions of Anglicans worldwide. Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury has called for a Lambeth Conference in 2020. Bishops of The Episcopal Church, including the past two provisional bishops of The Diocese of South Carolina, are invited to this gathering. The theme is “God’s Church for God’s World: Walking, listening and witnessing together.” After a pause during the pandemic, this group was able to gather in July 2022, and our bishop, Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley was part of this gathering.
THEOLOGY AND BELIEFS
I have heard that The Episcopal Church does not follow certain core beliefs of Christianity. How do I get an accurate picture of what The Episcopal Church believes? There are many ways to explore the beliefs of The Episcopal Church, but a good summary can be found in The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which is used in worship in congregations of The Diocese of South Carolina.
Start with the historic credal statements of the Church, known as The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed, proclaimed regularly in our worship. Along with the Creeds, The Baptismal Covenant grounds us in the manner in which we affirm Christ as Lord and seek to follow him as faithful disciples. In that context, The Episcopal Church is part of the greater Anglican tradition that respects and honors many different ways of living out the faith within the unity of the Church as the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We believe the best way to get an accurate picture is to visit one of the Episcopal churches in the DSC. You will find the Prayer Book used, the Scriptures read, the hymns sung, the Creeds prayed and proclaimed, and the Gospel preached – every Sunday.
How do Episcopal churches worship? A typical Sunday service in our diocese will be deeply familiar to all Anglicans and Episcopalians: Holy Eucharist from the Book of Common Prayer (1979, Rite I or Rite II). The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed, and the Nicene Creed (or Apostles’ Creed) is said. We pray the Lord's Prayer. We sing hymns from The Hymnal 1982 and other familiar sources such as “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. We read the same Scripture readings in the lectionary shared by Anglicans and other Christian denominations around the world. Again, the best way to know for yourself is to “taste and see” by visiting an Episcopal church. Find one here. You can also…
Listen to audio of Sunday services at Holy Cross Faith Memorial, Pawleys Island
Visit this link to see a sampling of the printed bulletins (aka service leaflets, or orders of service) from Episcopal churches in your area.
What do you believe about the Bible? We believe “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.” Our understanding is in accordance with the words of our Lord Jesus who said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets.” - Matthew 22:37-40.
What is happening with the Book of Common Prayer? The 1979 Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church continues to be the official prayer book for all the churches of our diocese, and this will also be true for returning congregations. (Find an online version of it here). The 2018 General Convention held extensive discussions about possible prayer book revision, but finally chose to “memorialize” (keep) the 1979 prayer book with which people in our diocese are familiar, while allowing for new liturgies to be explored in the future.
By contrast the churches in the disaffiliated group that identify with the “Anglican Church in North America” (ACNA), are adopting a new, heavily revised prayer book. It is currently posted on the Internet, with printed copies to be introduced in June 2019.
The Episcopal Church permits same-sex couples to marry. Will my individual beliefs about human sexuality be respected if my parish returns to The Episcopal Church?
In keeping with the living out of our Lord’s two great commandments, our Baptismal promise is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” We believe we are all part of the Body of Christ, and that unity transcends our individual differences of opinion on the controversial issues of our day. Same-sex marriage is included in the life of The Episcopal Church. No clergy person is required to officiate any marriage ceremony that goes against her or his beliefs.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
I’d like to help my parish stay together as an Episcopal parish. What should I do? We invite you to call the Diocesan Office at 843-259-2016 to discuss options and next steps.
How do I keep up-to-date with what’s going on? Subscribe to our email newsletter HERE to receive weekly news, as well as updates whenever major news occurs. Visit our website, episcopalchurchsc.org. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
A previous version (prior to the court decisions in 2022) can be found here. (Updated October 2020) It will be updated again soon in 2023.