(Photo: Diocese of South Carolina)
An official with a diocese that recently voted to leave The Episcopal Church has explained that congregations opposed to the decision are free to remain with the mainline protestant denomination.
The Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina, told The Christian Post that "Continuing Episcopalians" are free to "re-associate" with the denomination.
"Churches wishing to leave the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and re-associate with the Episcopal Church are free to do so, in accordance with their own bylaws and articles of incorporation," said Lewis.
"Just as the majority of the parishes and missions are likewise free to remain with the Diocese and retain all their customary rights and privileges in its membership."
Lewis explained that from the onset the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the Diocese, had explained that this exemption existed for continuing congregations.
"We have said that those who wish to leave the Diocese may do so and take their properties with them. However, their unauthorized use of our Diocesan seal in advertising and communications to our clergy do not suggest that a peaceful parting of the ways is part of the plan for the TEC Steering Committee," said Lewis.
Back in October 2011, The Episcopal Church accused Bishop Lawrence of attempting to leave the denomination over its stance on homosexuality. Disciplinary Board for Bishops cleared Lawrence of two of the three charges leveled against him, but he was found guilty of "abandonment of the communion of the church."
In response to the proceedings, the Diocese opted to leave the denomination and in a meeting on Saturday, Nov. 17, at St. Philip's Church in Charleston voted to amend their governing documents to reflect this change.
"This has never been about who is welcome or not welcome in our church," said Lawrence before the estimated 200 people at the convention, as quoted by Reuters. "It's about what we shall tell them when they come."
Several days before the Saturday vote, Presiding Episcopal Bishop The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori sent out a pastoral letter that said she wanted the Diocese to remain in the denomination.
"Your presence adds to the ability of this community to discern the will of God, even if you disagree vehemently with one or another resolution passed by a particular General Convention," wrote Schori.
"Never in the history of Christianity have all the faithful agreed about everything, and I doubt very much that we will come to full agreement about everything before we join the saints in light at Jesus' Second Coming."
Lewis told CP that his Diocese never received the letter, even though it was addressed "to the saints in South Carolina."
"This Diocesan office never received a copy, though I presume the Presiding Bishop has our address. None of our elected deputies to General Convention received it, though we have received other correspondence from her office in the past," said Lewis.
"If the intent was to communicate with this Diocese, simply releasing the letter on the internet was certainly the least effective way to do so."
For their part, continuing Episcopalians in October formed their own "steering committee," which also has the name "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."
On their website, the steering committee does not acknowledge the diocese as leaving, but rather as certain leaders leaving the diocese instead.
"Parishes and Dioceses cannot actually leave The Episcopal Church; only individual people can. The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has existed since 1789 and continues to exist today as part of The Episcopal Church," reads an entry on the "Questions And Answers" part of the website.
"The regularly scheduled Diocesan Convention is now set for March 8, 2013. There, clergy and lay delegates will be able to make the decisions necessary to move forward."
At present, the defected Diocese of South Carolina has no plans to join another more conservative Anglican denomination.