About 400 Episcopalians gathered last week for their annual convention of congregations across eastern South Carolina, an opportunity to recognize new worship communities and to elevate five to full mission status within the church.

About 400 delegates, clergy and visitors from 30 Episcopal congregations gathered to conduct official business and to hear from the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Delegates approved promoting five worship communities to mission status: St. Francis in Charleston, Good Shepherd in Summerville, The Episcopal Church on Edisto, St. Anne's in Conway and St. Catherine's in Florence. They join 22 other parishes and missions in the diocese along with new worshiping communities in East Cooper, Okatie and Myrtle Beach.

A mission is a worshiping community that has been formally organized for at least one year, elected officers and meets various canonical requirements. They can elect delegates to the convention while worshiping communities cannot.

At the convention, vonRosenberg thanked local Episcopalians who have remained with the national church after the majority of area parishes disassociated from it in 2012, citing ongoing theological and administrative disputes. That split remains the subject of an ongoing lawsuit to settle disputes over which group has the rights to diocesan names, seals and property.

The new worship communities formed mostly by groups of Episcopalians who wanted to remain loyal to the national church but whose home parishes opted to disassociate from it.

In his address, vonRosenberg discussed another Christian fissure, this one back in 1795 when the Methodist Church formed after a split with the Church of England, the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is its American province.

Yet, at a recent Episcopal House of Bishops meeting, participants discussed potential future communion between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church.

"I need to emphasize that these are only discussions about proposals at this point," vonRosenberg said.

He emphasized, however, the need for Christian unity among different denominations and groups who might not agree on all issues but who can still operate as a family with common roots and missions of faith and service.

"The spirit of God moves through history in the direction of unity among God's people. I believe that principle," vonRosenberg said. "I pray for our unity, and I encourage you to join me in that belief and prayer."

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