St. Andrew's Church-Mount Pleasant has voted to sever its ties with The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, becoming the second parish in the diocese to break away and realign with a different church governing body.
All Saints Church on Pawleys Island left the Episcopal Church in 2003, prompting a court battle over property that ended last week.
At a special meeting Sunday, the St. Andrew's vestry unanimously adopted a resolution that transferred the parish's canonical residence to the Anglican Church in North America, a recently established organization meant to provide theologically conservative congregations an alternative to the Episcopal Church.
St. Andrew's members ratified the resolution after the vestry vote. More than 700 members, or 97 percent, voted in favor of the change. Nineteen members voted against "disaffiliation."
The Rev. Steve Wood posted results of the vote on his blog and expressed satisfaction that, after years of consideration, the parish had decided to go its own way.
"I rejoice and give thanks for both the clarity of this discernment process and the unity of purpose within this parish demonstrated by this vote," he wrote.
"Having said that, I am reminded that at least 19 members of St. Andrew's may not be rejoicing in this vote and I commend them to you and your prayers as brothers and sisters in Christ. Please commit with me to ensure that St. Andrew's will remain a parish where all are welcome to gather at the foot of the cross."
St. Andrew's will affiliate with the Diocese of The Holy Spirit, part of the Anglican Church in North America. Its bishop will be the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey, rector of All Saints Church in Dale City, Va.
The parish's decision to sever its ties with the Episcopal Church already has prompted a legal query that could lead to litigation over property and action against the leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Last year, St. Andrew's transferred its property, valued at $3.45 million, into a land trust. The state Supreme Court's decision in the All Saints case, rejecting the idea that dioceses and local parishes hold property in trust for the Episcopal Church, likely will be a factor as the dispute unfolds.
An exchange of letters between diocese Chancellor Wade Logan and local attorney Thomas Tisdale Jr., who has been retained by the Episcopal Church, prompted a delay in the recent diocese convention.
The diocese passed resolutions condemning "ecclesiastical intrusions" by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and affirming its sovereignty.
Wood said his parish has "tried to handle (the disagreement) as gracefully as possible and as non-reactively as possible." He said he did not think the bishop was interested in pursuing legal action against the parish, adding that the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence's decision to remain part of the Episcopal Church "enabled" St. Andrew's to leave it.
"I'm excited for the future. I'm comfortable with the friendships I've built in the diocese, and confident they will continue," Wood said. "(Now) we're feeling our way forward in what gospel partnership looks like in the Anglican church."
Lawrence has said he would offer a pastoral response to dissenting parishes. He has asserted Anglican orthodoxy and criticized what he has referred to as the church's "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity" and emphasis on political correctness over the authority of Scripture.
In a statement, Lawrence noted the "sad irony" of St. Andrew's departure.
"As bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, I receive almost daily letters and e-mails from people across this Church suggesting that our stance gives them encouragement to remain and fight," he said.
"Yet we could not hold one of our strongest congregations: The departure of The Episcopal Church from the way of Christ and the rooted teachings of the Church has become too discordant for them to tolerate a longer. By God's grace we will keep St. Andrew's in our prayers and work with the leadership to find ways to cooperate in Gospel mission and ministry and that honors Jesus Christ and his Kingdom."
St. Andrew's is one of four parishes to take steps to disassociate from the Episcopal Church in recent months. The others are St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head Island; Trinity Episcopal Church in Myrtle Beach; and St. John's Church on Johns Island.
Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902 or firstname.lastname@example.org.