Lowcountry SC Episcopalians rally, elect leader

New bishop, new start after split over gay marriage

cclick@thestate.comJanuary 27, 2013 


The complete remarks from the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the national church at end of story

Jubilant Lowcountry Episcopalians on Saturday set aside concerns over fracture and looming lawsuits Saturday to worship together, elect provisional Bishop Charles Glenn Von Rosenberg and begin the process of rebuilding a diocese diminished by the departure of hundreds of conservative clergy and parishioners.

“A glorious day!” declared Sara Ann Murphy, after a worship service led by The Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and primate, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who heads the U.S. church.

“There was no pro and con,” said her husband, the Rev. John Murphy, a retired Episcopal priest. “It was all pastoral.”

“I’m just overjoyed,” said Pat Patrick, an alternate delegate who worships at Charleston’s St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. “It was a very powerful service, with sincerity and compassion. The message was about inclusion, to have compassion for those who are struggling.”

Amid colorful pageantry and procession, soaring music and the ringing bells of the historic Grace Episcopal Church, the faithful seemed to find their voices and gather strength for what may be a prolonged battle over theology, the rights to Lowcountry church properties and to the resumption of their original identity as the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

The diocese’s former bishop, the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, left the Episcopal Church over theological issues related to gay marriage, gender and other social issues, taking a majority of the diocese with him. Last week, he persuaded a circuit court judge to issue a temporary restraining order preventing those who wish to remain with the U.S. Church from using the historic diocesan name.

On Saturday, the delegates representing Lowcountry congregants conducted business under the name “Episcopal Church in South Carolina.” Lawrence and his diocesan followers have also filed a lawsuit seeking to retain about $500 million worth of church properties. Lawrence has not affiliated with any organization, although he said he considers the breakaway congregations part of the Anglican Communion. Von Rosenberg said the Communion has not acknowledged the congregations as part of the Communion.

Von Rosenberg, like Jefferts Schori, chose not to focus on the unspoken uncertainty that ripples beneath the surface, instead reminding congregants that the coming rebuilding effort should be based on a foundation of humility and love, realizing that those who have left the U.S. church also believe they are following Christ.

“There is no place for self-righteousness here,” said Von Rosenberg, who suggested that all Christians need to seek forgiveness for failing to achieve Christ’s call for unity. “Our intentions in many ways mirrors each other even though our paths diverge.”

Ultimately, those gathered must focus on mission and outreach, he said. Von Rosenberg, who came out of retirement to assume the provisional bishop position, was elected by acclimation and received two standing ovations.

Delegates to the convention also rescinded resolutions put in place by Lawrence several years ago that gave the diocese sovereignty over the national church, a move that many saw as the first indication the diocese would split from the more liberal U.S. church.

Jefferts Schori, who last fall found that Lawrence’s actions had amounted to an abandonment of the communion of the church, also spoke pastorally.

“The question is less about who’s right and who’s wrong in the midst of the current controversies,” she said. “It’s more about how we deal with those who disagree – the other sheep in the flock, and the variety of shepherds around us.

“What are those of you in this diocese going to do in your interactions with those who’ve departed? Are they law-breakers who should be shot down or thrown in jail? Do we see them as vigilantes? Neither is going to produce more abundant life, my friends,” she said. “When you meet them out there in the pasture, consider that some of the sheep may think they’re listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Some are also simply exhausted.”

She said the feast of God doesn’t tolerate “keep out” signs. “The picnic on the grass is open to all who are hungry, who need rest, who seek peace and justice and healing.” Then she brought delegates to their feet when she concluded that the “word is out, ‘y’all come! Come to the feast!’”

Anne B. Errington, a member of tiny St. Mark’s Chapel, was buoyed by Jefferts Schori, who she believes has been demonized by Lawrence and others in the breakaway group.

“I’m going to tell all the people at St. Helena’s (Episcopal Church) that despite what they have heard she does not have horns and a pitchfork.” St. Helena’s in Beaufort has chosen to follow Lawrence out of the national church.

Patrick, the St. Stephen’s member, said he remains puzzled by Lawrence’s actions. He said he and his gay partner consider Lawrence and his wife to be friends, “and if he walked in here today there would be hugs all around.”

“It is so bewildering,” Patrick said, “But we all have to trust we are on our own journey and that we may come together at some point – maybe not in this life.”

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