Breakaway churches have 30 days to decide what happens with Episcopal Church lawsuit

Breakaway churches have 30 days to decide what happens with Episcopal Church lawsuit

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Leaders within The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina are giving each other 30 days to decide where the lawsuit between the churches will go from here.

Wednesday's ruling states that dozens of parishes that split with The Episcopal Church over theological issues, including the ordination of gay priests, cannot take valuable property with them.

Bishop Skip Adams with The Episcopal Church said a meeting was held Friday at Grace Church Cathedral with the Standing Committee, Diocesan Council, and Trustees, along with three bodies of clergy and non-ordained elected leaders to review the top court's ruling on church property and assets from a breakaway group's lawsuit against The Episcopal Church.

"We've found some clarity in the ruling at this point," Adams said.

Reverend Jim Lewis, with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (the breakaway congregations), said they have until September 1 to make a decision on whether they would like to have the case reheard.

"We don't believe this is the end of this matter by any stretch," Lewis said.

The 77-page ruling included separate opinions from the five Supreme Court justices who heard the case in 2014.

"The decision cannot be viewed as final until all possible steps toward an appeal have been resolved," Adams said in a statement Thursday.

The court ruled that 29 church properties which were part of the 36 parishes breaking away from the Diocese in eastern South Carolina, belonged to the nationally affiliated church, not the breakaway group.

Those properties are worth an estimated $500 million dollars, and include St. Michael's Church and St. Philip's Church in downtown Charleston, along with the popular Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island.

The ruling also stated that seven of the breakaway parishes, including St. Andrew's in Mount Pleasant, are allowed to keep their property because they did not accede to the canon.

"We believe that is who God is in Christ, is one in reconciliation and healing," Adams said. "As I've mentioned to several, I'm always reminded of Jesus' high priestly prayer before he died, which is that we all would be one. That's still our hope because division breaks God's heart."

It will be church service as usual this Sunday at Episcopal churches across the diocese despite upheaval caused by the ruling.

In 2014 a circuit judge sided with the Diocese of South Carolina. According to a spokeswoman for The Episcopal Church, the church offered a settlement to the breakaway congregations, however, it was rejected. The case moved forward to appeal court which resulted in Thursday's ruling.

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