The thing that has always bugged me, ever since January of 2013, when the breakaway group of parishes in what was the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina sued the remaining parishes of the Diocese, is the absolute non-necessity of it all. Literally millions of dollars in legal fees, and for what? Now that hearings, trials and appeals have nearly finished wending their way through state and federal courtrooms, a "Christian moment" finally comes to light. Over a year and a half ago at a gathering of the clergy of the continuing Diocese (loyal to the Episcopal Church) this idea was broached: "Why don't we grant to all the breakaway parishes their property?" That sentiment was immediately followed by: "We are only interested in what's rightfully ours; I.E., the intellectual, financial and real assets of the Diocese." (Actually, work on this offer was begun by our chancellor the day we were sued by the breakaways.)
This resonated quite positively with most, if not all, in the room. One priest exclaimed, "How reconciling this is! It's the Christian thing to do!" The Presiding Bishop was contacted, and her response was positive, with the caveat that she would be interested as long as ALL the breakaway parishes were included. Ironically, while this was the attitude and desire of our Presiding Bishop, our Diocesan Bishop, our Chancellor, diocesan officials and rank-and-file clergy, the breakaways continued with their rhetoric that "'They (the National Church, aka, dreaded 'TEC') are coming after our property!" So rectors and vestries of most of the breakaway parishes retained their own attorneys so that there was scarcely enough room in Judge Goodstein's courtroom last summer to contain the 40-plus lawyers that represented them all. And more ironically, the only thing that actually put these parish properties at risk was their joining in the lawsuit of the breakaway former diocese.
More recently, as a member of the Standing Committee of the continuing diocese, I joined brother and sister members in unanimously approving this offer. On the 2nd day of this month (June 2015), the attorneys of the breakaway parishes were sent written notice of this offer--this offer which has been in the works for over two years. My brother colleagues on the other side could be off the hook. They would no longer have to lie awake at night wondering where they would go and what they would do, and who would go with them, if a higher court overturned THEIR lawsuit which put THEIR parishes on the line.
St. Michael's, St. Philip's, St. Helena's, Holy Cross, St. Luke's, St. James, St. John's, Prince George...the list goes on. The rectors of these parishes are, owing to Mark Lawrence's decision to leave the Episcopal Church, no longer episcopal priests. But the way back, should any of them choose to take it, remains open to them because Bishop vonRosenberg chose to remove, rather than to depose them. This was an extraordinarily conciliatory move that underscores our hope of reconciliation.
And now, the Episcopal Church is preparing to elect a new Presiding Bishop. Bishop Katherine, their "whipping girl", will soon be out of office, and a new leader from among fine candidates will take the reins. Whence the acrimony then?
I am a native son of this state and diocese. Ever since, many years ago, my mental and spiritual fog lifted and I remembered that we are to love all and welcome all in Jesus' name, I have hoped for the church in general to generate a better witness than judgment, infighting and lawsuits. I can't imagine a better place to start than, even in the face of those who would question our motives, giving such a gift as we are offering.
Christopher Huff +