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South Carolina Supreme Court issues final ruling on disputed churches

02 June 2023

Decade-long case of rival US dioceses reaches final resolution

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Old St Andrew’s, Charleston, in 2013, which is to stay with the breakaway Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) diocese

Old St Andrew’s, Charleston, in 2013, which is to stay with the breakaway Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) diocese

TWO of South Carolina’s oldest church buildings will not be returned to the Episcopal Church in the United States, but will stay with the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, a court has ruled. One other church will be returned to the Episcopal Diocese.

The South Carolina Supreme Court denied a petition for a rehearing of the final settlement of the long-running dispute between the Episcopal Diocese and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) diocese (News, 30 September 2022).

The denial resulted in the confirmation of the transfer of the oldest church in the state, Old St Andrew’s, Charleston, which was built in 1706, from the Episcopal Diocese, together with the Church of the Holy Cross, Stateburg, which dates back to the late 1700s. The Church of the Good Shepherd, Charleston, will be returned to the Episcopal Diocese, however.

More than a decade ago, 29 parishes broke away from the US Episcopal Church in protest at its decision to ordain openly gay clergy and to permit same-sex marriages in its churches (News, 23 November, 2012). A property dispute has waged in the courts ever since (News, 26 June 2020).

Last year, the Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that 14 parishes had expressly agreed to an Episcopal Church law that placed all parish properties in a trust belonging to the national Church (News 29 April 2022). The court ruled that 15 had not, and could, therefore, remain with the Anglican Diocese.

The Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, the Rt Revd Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, said that she was grieved by the loss of the two historic parishes. “Many faithful Episcopalians are personally affected by the loss of these two churches as blessed spaces of worship for themselves and the generations before them,” she said. “I grieve with each of them.”

She continued: “I know Episcopalians will continue to hold these sacred spaces, which are an integral part of our history, close at heart. We will continue to support those who have lost their church home yet wish to continue their faith journey in the community of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”

The Episcopal Diocese said in a statement that Bishop Woodliff-Stanley, Chancellor Skip Utsey, and the diocesan leadership team would work with the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese, the Rt Revd Chip Edgar, and their leadership, toward fulfilling the court ruling.

A statement from the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina expressed gratitude at seeing the final legal issues in the property disputes resolved. “To come to the conclusion of all litigation is a welcome blessing,” it read.

“While grateful for these good gifts, we mourn the loss of property for Good Shepherd that this order dictates. Like the other seven congregations who received adverse rulings, Good Shepherd will continue on in faith.”

Bishop Edgar said: “As we have seen with our other parishes whose properties were taken from them, I am confident that the Church of the Good Shepherd will recover from this blow and prosper in the new place to which the Lord will lead them. As we have with our other parishes, the Diocese stands ready to encourage and assist them.”

The Rector of the Good Shepherd, the Revd Will Klauber, said: “The Lord will provide for us a community. He will provide facilities and space for his ministry to continue. We rest assured that Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father, and his Spirit is still with us as we navigate these uncharted waters.”

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