Continuing Episcopal diocese names provisional bishop

vonRosenberg The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg.

When Bishop Mark Lawrence announced in October he had left The Episcopal Church, along with a large number of the faithful from parishes and institutions across the Diocese of South Carolina, those worshippers who remained loyal to the church were left without leadership.

Local Lutheran congregation realigns with orthodox group

The Episcopal Church isn’t the only mainline Protestant denomination examining its policies and practices with regard to sexual and gender identity, religious doctrines such as salvation and sin, and the authority of Scripture. Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and others also are struggling with these issues.

On Thursday, St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Goose Creek announced it was the second congregation in the tri-county area to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and join the more conservative North American Lutheran Church. The other was Advent Lutheran Church in North Charleston.

At a Jan. 6 special congregational meeting, 87 percent of those present voted to change affiliation, according to a news release.

The vote was the result of months of meetings and discussions and came in response to “a direction that the ELCA has taken over a number of years,” said the Rev. W. Stephen Johnson, senior pastor, adding that he bore no ill will toward his former denomination. This change, he said, was a way to affirm the identity of St. Timothy.

“Christian churches throughout the U.S. are going through a major realignment,” he said. “We have gone through a lengthy period of intense discernment. And, at the conclusion of the process, we have affirmed that the North American Luthern Church, with its emphasis on the centrality and primacy of Scripture, and a clear focus on mission, is the best fit for us.”

The NALC started in August 2010, with support from Lutheran CORE, an affiliation of conservative Lutherans looking to offer “organizational alternatives.”

“A lot of people don’t even know the NALC exists,” Johnson said.

Adam Parker

On Thursday, their representatives nominated the Rt. Rev. Charles Glenn vonRosenberg, retired bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee and a Daniel Island resident, to become provisional bishop of the continuing South Carolina diocese.

The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg

“The Episcopal Church has been my spiritual home all of my life, and Episcopalians have been my spiritual family. This family within this home has provided me nurture, direction, encouragement and comfort through the years. And so, in the first place, I am willing to accept this call out of a sense of gratitude. Secondly, other members of my spiritual family in The Episcopal Church want to continue as members of The Episcopal Church. They have asked me to undertake this new role, and I feel a sense of responsibility to accept that call. Thus my two reasons for saying yes are a sense of gratitude and a sense of responsibility.

“The people who have decided to leave The Episcopal Church have done so, I believe, with a spirit of faithfulness to their understanding of the truth of the Gospel. Those who are staying in The Episcopal Church likewise are attempting to be faithful to the Gospel’s call. Therefore, it is my hope and prayer that we may respect one another in Christian love, wish each other well, and pray for each other even as we go our separate ways. My additional hope is that one day we may be reunited as friends in Christ.”

Local clergy and laypeople who gather on Jan. 26 at a special convention will vote on whether to approve the nomination. If elected, the church’s presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, will install vonRosenberg at that meeting.

A provisional bishop has all the authority and responsibility of other bishops, but serves only until a diocese is ready to elect a permanent bishop.

VonRosenberg said a sense of gratitude and responsibility prompted him to welcome the call to leadership.

“The Episcopal Church has been my spiritual home all of my life, and Episcopalians have been my spiritual family,” he said. “This family within this home has provided me nurture, direction, encouragement and comfort through the years.”

Leaders of the continuing diocese say at least 19 parishes and missions out of a total of 71, and six worship communities (typically groups from breakaway parishes) have indicated they are staying with The Episcopal Church. Others remain in a discernment period. Many more have decided to align with Lawrence: delegates from 49 parishes and missions voted to affirm disassociation from The Episcopal Church at a November convention organized by the breakaway diocese.

Last week, officials of the disaffected diocese filed suit against The Episcopal Church in an effort to retain control of significant property holdings. The church has not yet responded publicly to that suit.

VonRosenberg, 65, and his wife, Annie, retired to Daniel Island in 2011 after he served 12 years as bishop of East Tennessee. Since October he has been an advisor to the Steering Committee that formed to help reorganize the continuing South Carolina diocese.

For many years, Bishop vonRosenberg served in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina as rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Greenwood and later as Canon to the Ordinary (assistant to the Bishop) of that diocese from 1989-1994.

As the third bishop of East Tennessee, he oversaw 45 congregations, five worshipping communities and nearly 16,000 active members. While there, he started a Bishop’s Committee on Inclusivity in 2009 to encourage “reasonable and holy conversations” on same-gender relationships.

In a November interview, vonRosenberg said he was saddened by the fracturing of the local diocese and the distress it caused worshippers.

“People are caught in a maelstrom,” he said. “They want there to be a safe place, and they want that to be the church.”

He said calling into question beliefs and practices ultimately can strengthen religious institutions. When discord flares and choices are presented, it is perhaps best “to err on the side of caution,” he said. “In a time of crisis, perhaps we don’t want to make absolute statements. We want to be as gracious as we can.”

On Thursday, vonRosenberg said he believes those who have left the church are only trying to stay true to their understanding of the Gospel.

“It is my hope and prayer that we may respect one another in Christian love, wish each other well, and pray for each other even as we go our separate ways,” he said.

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