Local Anglicans who separated from the Episcopal Church in 2012 approved a resolution Saturday accepting a new provisional oversight that gives them a formal ecclesiastical connection to the global Anglican Communion.
The Diocese of South Carolina will join the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a worldwide network of theologically orthodox Anglican churches, and enter a relationship with primates from the Anglican Global South. The Global South comprises growing provinces in Africa, southeast Asia and South America.
"This will give us gracious oversight from one of the largest ecclesiastical body in the (Anglican) Communion," Bishop Mark Lawrence said in his address to the annual diocesan convention.
Lawrence and most local Episcopal parishes separated from the national church because of long-standing administrative and theological disputes. However, the Episcopal Church is a North American province of the Anglican Communion, so the separation left the diocese without a formal connection to the seat of global Anglicanism, the See of Canterbury.
Since then, the Diocese of South Carolina and others around the U.S. have sought ways to remain in communion with global Anglicans outside of the Episcopal Church umbrella.
"This measure of oversight allows us to be involved in the larger conversations that take place in the communion in a more direct fashion," the Rev. Canon James Lewis said. "We'll have a more direct connection."
Area parishes that remain with the Episcopal Church are using the name The Episcopal Church in South Carolina while disputes over the diocesan name, marks and property are resolved in court. They are led by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg who declined comment on the new oversight.
The unanimous vote Saturday became possible after a group of Global South primates formed an oversight council last month in Egypt to "provide pastoral and primatial oversight to dissenting individuals, parishes, and dioceses in order to keep them within the Communion," according to a statement from their steering committee.
They then offered the local diocese oversight under the new council just weeks before its annual convention this weekend at Christ Church in Mount Pleasant. The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Anis, primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East and chairman of the Global South steering committee, is a supporter of Lawrence and has traveled to Charleston to speak to local Anglicans.
Diocesan leaders jumped at the opportunity, though it meant notifying clergy and laity shortly before nearly 400 delegates voted.
"This is an unqualified good thing for the diocese, so we really felt the need to respond now," Lewis said. "In many ways, it was serendipitous that we had a diocesan convention already scheduled."
However, some parishioners including Scott Harvin, an attorney on the vestry of St. Jude's in Walterboro, question why the diocese had to act so quickly. He said many at his parish learned of the resolution just a week before Saturday's vote.
"There was no time to sit and have an examination with the laity of the whole diocese," Harvin said. "Most folks are not even aware of the situation."
A lack of ordaining women, and concerns over the treatment of gays and women in some Global South countries, also trouble him. For instance, some don't allow women to be ordained priests.
Lewis assured that won't change in the Diocese of South Carolina, which covers the southeastern area of the state.
The new provisional oversight doesn't require the local diocese to change its constitution or canons, and women will continue to be ordained and serve in the priesthood, Lewis said.
As one priest put it, the oversight is more like a way station than a permanent stop for the diocese. From here, its constituents will discern how to align for the long haul.
Delegates also voted to create a task force to explore permanent affiliation options. Its members will offer recommendations at the diocesan convention next March.
Lawrence emphasized that Saturday's resolution allows the diocese to revisit the oversight arrangement and change it by convention vote if necessary. Meanwhile, he continues to speak with Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America and said the local diocese could decide later to align with ACNA or another group.
Lawrence wrote in a recent public letter that he hopes Saturday's vote "will not be interpreted, either by those within the Diocese or across the wider Anglican Communion, as a step away from ACNA or any other more permanent provincial affiliation."
ACNA is a "province in formation" that has brought together Anglicans in the U.S. and Canada, many of whom have left the Episcopal Church in recent years. The Rt. Rev. Steve Wood, rector of St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant, is bishop of ACNA's Diocese of the Carolinas.
Wood took part in the convention Eucharist and called Lawrence and diocesan clergy and parishioners "brothers and sisters in Christ."
"I look forward to continued collaborative efforts as we seek to create a biblical and unified Anglican witness in North America," Wood said.
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.