(Photo courtesy TEC in SC)
The provisional bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has sent out letters to an estimated 140 clergy seeking clarification as to whether or not they will be departing the denomination.
The Right Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop of TECSC, sent out the letters to priests and deacons who had not been in attendance for the conventions held by the "continuing Episcopalians" of the South Carolina Diocese.
"I invite you to make known your allegiance to TEC and, if you wish, to request a time to speak with me about this matter," read one of the letters, according to a TECSC press release posted Thursday.
"You face a very serious decision, with significant consequences for you and for the church, and I encourage your careful and prayerful consideration."
Holly Behre, director of Communications for TECSC, told The Christian Post that the letters varied in their content and were not necessarily exclusively for clergy who had opted to leave The Episcopal Church along with the rest of the South Carolina Diocesan leadership.
"Others were to clergy who, for one reason or another, may not have been able to attend a convention, but clearly want to remain with The Episcopal Church," said Behre.
"Of the priests and deacons who are canonically resident in the diocese, about 1/3 have indicated they are remaining in TEC, and the other 2/3 appear to be leaving The Episcopal Church."
Last November, the South Carolina Diocese of The Episcopal Church voted to leave the denomination over theological differences between their leadership and issues surrounding the treatment of the diocese's head, Bishop Mark Lawrence.
By January, those loyal to The Episcopal Church who remained in the diocese and the diocesan leadership found themselves in court over the disputed name, seal, and property of the church territory.
The Episcopal Church and the "continuing Episcopalians" of the diocese believe that Bishop Lawrence is not the rightful head of the territory and that no diocese can legitimately leave TEC. The South Carolina Diocese, however, believes that the diocese has every right to the property, name, and seal in part because their church body predates the founding of The Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis of the South Carolina Diocese told The Christian Post that he personally received one of vonRosenberg's letters and took issue with whom the letters were sent to.
"The Episcopal Church has every right to update its roster of clergy. However, it is disturbing that letters were sent to retired clergy, many of whom have no need or interest to be embroiled in these matters," said Lewis.
"In fact, my first notice of these letters came through a phone call from a medically disabled, retired member of the clergy, who was concerned about losing his benefits."
As the legal issues continue for the TECSC and the SC Diocese, on Thursday Anglican bishops from several African nations visited the South Carolina Diocese in support of their decision to leave The Episcopal Church.
"We came to encourage Bishop Mark Lawrence to stand firm in the faith," said the Rt. Rev. Abraham Yel Nhial, bishop of the Diocese of Aweil in the Episcopal Church of Sudan.