Members of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina met Saturday to elect and install a provisional bishop and reconstitute its administration after the Diocese of South Carolina, under the leadership of Bishop Mark Lawrence, left the church late last year.
The special convention, hosted by Grace Church downtown, drew hundreds of enthusiastic Episcopalians who came not only to conduct official business but to welcome the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, who offered words of encouragement to worshippers loyal to the church throughout the eastern half of the state.
“We stand in solidarity with the people of South Carolina,” she said.
The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, who had previously been named as the likely new bishop of the continuing diocese, was officially nominated, elected by acclamation and installed. He made a plea for tolerance and understanding during a schismatic period.
“There is no place for self-righteousness here, but there is much room for humility,” vonRosenberg said. Jesus Christ provides the foundation upon which the church can rebuild in this part of the state, motivated by the spirit of humility and love. This effort will be challenging, he added, offering four cornerstones in an effort to get things started.
“We are not alone,” he said. “We are part of The Episcopal Church,” and by extension part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The continuing diocese makes no claim of sovereignty. “We are part of something bigger than ourselves.”
“The tent covering The Episcopal Church is wide and broad,” and it includes something like a very large family (which doesn’t always agree on everything), he said.
The sources of authority are scripture, tradition and reason, he said. “We give thanks for classic Anglicanism and Episcopal theology.”
Finally, the church must emphasize its mission work and outreach to the rest of the world.
VonRosenberg’s remarks were a clear alternative to the views held by leaders of the breakaway Diocese of South Carolina, who have asserted that Scripture alone contains all that’s necessary for salvation and have withdrawn from The Episcopal Church because of what it calls its too-liberal theology and intrusive politics.
Last week, a circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order against The Episcopal Church, preventing it from using the names and seal of the independent Diocese of South Carolina.
The Rev. Jim Lewis, canon to the ordinary of the independent Diocese of South Carolina, attended the convention as an observer and reiterated the need to keep identities distinct.
“Today’s special convention was clearly a source of great joy for those attending, and understandably so,” Lewis said in a statement to The Post and Courier. “As we have often said, The Episcopal Church is more than free to establish a new diocese in South Carolina. What the court ruling this week says, though, is that they can’t do that and claim to be us.”
Episcopal Church officials said they are complying with the order. At the convention, images of the seal were obscured and the name “the Diocese of South Carolina” was replaced with “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.” A hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine whether an injunction should be issued making the ban permanent.
At a news conference Saturday, Jefferts Schori would not speak about current litigation or future court battles over property that are almost certain to ensue.
“The challenge is always to recognize that our work is God’s work,” she said. “The work of the courts is to help resolve differences when faithful people haven’t done that themselves.” Church property, she said, “is a legacy, it’s a trust” that transcends generations and particular conflicts.
In her sermon, she included a strong defense of the democratic and inclusive nature of her church.
“Most human communities, from churches to governments to families, function more effectively in response to shared decision-making,” Jefferts Schori said. “Over and over again, we’ve discovered that better decisions are made when they’re made in communities with appropriate checks and balances. Power assumed by one authority figure alone is often a recipe for abuse, tyranny and corruption.”
Convention delegates passed eight resolutions that made the proceedings legitimate, cleared the way for nominations, earmarked money collected at the offering for Episcopal Relief and Development and declared null and void recent changes the now-independent diocese had made to its constitution and canons.
This last resolution restored the continuing diocese’s unqualified accession to The Episcopal Church and, when passed, was met with loud applause and cheers.
Delegates also voted for members of a new standing committee, secretary (Hillery Douglas), diocesan treasurer (the Rev. James Taylor), chancellor (Tom Tisdale), diocesan council and trustees of The University of the South.
A quorum was achieved thanks to delegates from nine parishes, 10 missions and eight “continuing parishes” (groups of Episcopalians from parishes loyal to Lawrence). Four informal “worshipping communities” also were seated, but did not vote.
The split among Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina was many years in the making. Diocesan leaders and many of their followers have long held that The Episcopal Church has abandoned “orthodox Anglicanism,” preferring easy accommodation of social trends such as gay marriage.
Those loyal to the church have argued that inclusiveness and accommodation are necessary in a changing world.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the church’s House of Deputies, told attendees that comprehensiveness is a gift from God, citing the Anglican “middle way.”
“Follow the Anglican middle way and it will guide you between extremes in the company of Christians from all walks of life and all gifts of the Spirit,” she said. “The middle way is seldom the easiest path. It is easier to walk apart, surrounded by people who look like you, and think like you, and believe like you. But if you travel the middle way, you will find the fruits of the Spirit.”