SC Supreme Court returns 14 congregations to the Episcopal Church after lawsuit

Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 9:33 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2022 at 4:17 AM EDT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Supreme court made a decision in an Episcopal Church lawsuit that has been going on for nearly a decade.

The court ruled on Wednesday that 14 of 29 parishes will be returned to the Episcopal Church after a split in the organization. Those 29 parishes were part of a schism in which they left the Episcopal Church in 2012 and later joined the Anglican Church in North America.

The Right Reverend Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley is the leader of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and says she’s grateful the courts have finally made a decision.

“I’m grateful because it allows us to move forward with a focus on the things we have always cared about the most. And those are the matters in this diocese and in this state that are places where we most need to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ, so the places where people are suffering, the greatest places where people are experiencing the ravages of poverty, of racism,” Woodliff-Stanley said.

The court ruled that 14 of the 29 parishes did create an “irrevocable trust in favor of the National Church and its diocese.”

Therefore, the 14 parishes property rightfully belongs to the Episcopal Diocese.

Woodliff-Stanley says now her diocese has decisions to make about how to move forward with the 14 parishes that are being returned.

She says it’s not going to be one handing over of keys and changing of staff, saying there will be lots of conversations.

“We will make those decisions mindful of the pastoral needs and the lives of the people who are currently in properties that we may be now responsible for and stewarding. We will have a strong concern for their cares,” said Woodliff-Stanley.

One of the properties is Old St. Andrew’s Church in Charleston.

The church was built in 1706 and is the oldest house of worship in the state. Woodliff-Stanley says she knows Charleston churches have a lot of meaning to people, and she wants to handle the next steps with care.

“These are historic properties, important properties in the state of South Carolina where you know, people have baptized their children. They have been married there. They have buried their dead there...so these properties have a great deal of significance to all of us,” Woodliff-Stanley said.

She re-iterated she wants the next steps to be a collaboration.

Woodliff-Stanley says she is already in contact with Bishop Chip Edgar from the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina about what comes next.

“I believe that he holds that faith and I hold that faith,” Woodliff-Stanley said. “So that gives me tremendous hope about our capacity to have even difficult conversations and challenging moments that I think are going to be held in the deeper truth that what calls us together is deeper than than what divides us.”

She says she does nothave concerns for the process, only hope for the future.

But she does acknowledge that while some people are celebrating the decision, many are mourning it.

“We have great concern for the pastoral needs of everyone involved,’ Woodliff-Stanley said. “And so I want folks to rest assured that those needs will be front and center as we work I hope in the spirit of collaboration with the folks in those churches where the responsibility and the ownership for those churches is changing,”

The 14 parishes being returned to the Episcopal Church are: Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant; Good Shepherd, Charleston; Holy Comforter, Sumter; Holy Cross, Stateburg; Holy Trinity, Charleston; St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville; St. David’s, Cheraw; St. Luke’s, Hilton Head; St. Matthew’s, Fort Motte; St. James, Charleston; St. John’s, Johns Island; St. Jude’s, Walterboro; Trinity, Myrtle Beach; and Old St. Andrew’s, Charleston.

The 15 other parishes in the lawsuit will remain with the Anglican Church.

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