Leaders on both sides of the Episcopal split in Charleston agreed on one thing Sunday morning.
It’s a painful time for everybody.
“There is a lot of hurt everywhere,” the Rev. Michael Wright, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, told about 150 people packed into Hanahan Hall for a special forum on the recent events involving the national Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.
In recent years, the diocese, led by Bishop Mark J. Lawrence, had distanced itself from the national church, citing the church’s liberal leanings. Diocese officials said that the national church’s “indiscriminate inclusivity” has compromised the integrity of the institution, particularly after the national body ordained an openly gay bishop and blessed same-sex marriages.
After a series of back-and-forth actions that began in 2006, the national church on Thursday sanctioned Lawrence and restricted him from exercising his ministry. On Friday, the diocese officially announced its split from the national church.
Grace, a Gothic Revival cathedral on Wentworth Street that dates to 1848, will be staying with the national Episcopal Church.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Chuck Bender, a member of Grace, said before the forum started. “Some of these people have been in these churches all their lives, and now they may have to decide if they’re going to have to go somewhere else.”
St. Michael’s, which occupies a tourist landmark at Meeting and Broad streets as Charleston’s oldest church building, is siding with Lawrence and the diocese. The Rev. Al Zadig, the church’s rector, addressed the split during the 10:30 a.m. worship service.
“I cannot underestimate how painful this is to so many of us cradle Episcopalians,” Zadig said, reading from a letter that was available in the vestibule for members and visitors. “I know several clergy who have been in tears over this.”
The fact that the break has been coming for a long time doesn’t make it any less painful, he said.
“For many years there has been a split coming in the Episcopal Church over the core issue of the authority of Scripture,” Zadig read. “Do we have the freedom to rewrite the Bible to fit social trends, or do we rewrite our hearts according to the changeless word of God in Scripture? … The National Episcopal Church is changing Scripture according to social norms and in doing so has changed the core of the Christian faith.”
Wright said the Episcopal Church has always welcomed diverse opinions, and the issue was disregarding church law.
The diocese and most of its churches quit after a disciplinary board from the national church ruled Thursday that Lawrence had abandoned the Episcopal Church. A major issue was Lawrence allowing churches to declare that their properties were no longer held in trust for the national church.
“The break is clear,” Wright said during the forum at Grace. “What that means is still being worked out.”
What’s not clear is who now constitutes the Diocese of South Carolina.
“We are the Diocese of South Carolina,” said Wright, of Grace Episcopal Church. “Nothing is changing here. … We carry on as the Episcopal Church.”
Zadig, of St. Michael’s, said those who left are still the Diocese of South Carolina.
“How will it change our life?” he said. “Not at all.”
It’s not clear what body the parishes that left the national church will join. A special convention is scheduled for Nov. 17 “to iron out the necessary changes to our Canons and Constitution, and begin to discern the best way forward into a new Anglican future,” according to a notice on the diocesan website.
It’s also not clear who will lead the churches that remained with the national body. Leaders will start working out those details this week, Wright said.
The diocese announced its break from the Episcopal Church on Friday in a half-page advertisement in The Post and Courier.
Wright said “the remaining diocese” will make a similar public statement as soon as a new leadership structure is in place.