Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, thus chief pastor to 2.1 million Episcopalians in 17 countries, stressed unity and justice to S.C. loyalists Saturday at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Church.
More than 300 Episcopalians, including Schori and other state and national TEC leaders, gathered at the historic campus in Pawleys Island on a mild, sunny day, ideal for a day-long “Enthusiastically Episcopalian in South Carolina” Conference.
TEC leaders said the event was intended as a “new beginning” or a “way to move forward” in the wake of an Episcopalian rift in which the majority of the denomination’s S.C. churches have withdrawn from TEC over the last two years.
“None of us can do it all,” Schori told the gathering. “None of us can do it in isolation. Where does injustice offend you? Where it burns, let your light shine.”
Several afternoon workshops focused on helping parishes start from anew and bolstering remaining TEC parishes, including those in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Conway. All Saints, Pawleys Island’s original Episcopal Church, withdrew from TEC.
The “justice” Schori referred to included recent TEC decisions to ordain gay men and lesbians, a major cause of the rift.
“This is not just about ending something bad, but creating a new vision,” said Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies of TEC after opening her remarks with, “I’m an Episcopal and I’m glad you are, too.”
The S.C. Diocese, as well as a half-dozen other dioceses from throughout the country, withdrew from TEC, citing TEC’s current refusal to require a literal translation of the Bible.
Calling TEC a “big tent,” Jennings said, “All are welcome based on unity in Jesus Christ.”
Schori said different creation theories can coexist in harmony, labeling Christian creation theory as “meaning” and scientific creation theory as a “mechanism.”
Charles G. vonRosenberg, appointed as provisional bishop of TEC of South Carolina after former S.C. Diocese bishop Mark Lawrence led 70 of 89 S.C. Episcopal churches away from TEC, encouraged attendees by telling of one succeeding parish that has returned to TEC and another that is considering a return.
“It’s not a flood, but there’s a trickle,” he answered to a question about reunification with departing parishes.
During his “State of the Diocese” presentation, vonRosenberg said the rift leaves Episcopalians to deal with both a sense of great loss and a sense of great hope.
“We have made significant progress in this diocese,” said Doug Billings, president of TEC Forum of South Carolina. “The big reason is Charlie.”
TEC leaders said they were resigned to the belief that property disputes between defecting parishes and the TEC would be settled in court.
Schori, former bishop of Nevada, was making her first trip to the Grand Strand. She said she has visited churches in many areas affected by TEC withdrawals.
“Each diocese is handling it their own way,” she said.
Workshop leaders included clergy from Pittsburgh who spoke of ways their parish members were able to stay positive after parishes in their area broke away.
The mood at Saturday’s conference was distinctly upbeat in the morning’s general sessions and the afternoon’s workshops. In between sessions, guests mingled under shady oaks throughout the campus.
About 60 volunteers from Holy Cross served food and water and assisted visitors. All attendees were given a plant bearing the message: Grow an Episcopalian.
“I can’t imagine moving,” said Holy Cross member and volunteer Judith Ingle, who helped give out plants. “Holy Cross is what keeps me here.”
Holy Cross rector Will Keith led in the morning Eucharist service that followed registration.
“We’re just trying to take care of each other,” said Keith. “And we’re lucky that we don’t have to rebuild a parish.”