Anglicans, Episcopal Church reach settlement on yearslong $500 million property dispute

A banner bearing the seal of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. | SC Diocese

An Anglican diocese that broke away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences has reached a settlement with its counterpart over various litigation surrounding their departure, marking the end of nearly a decade of legal battles.

Bishops of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina announced the settlement on Monday, with the promise of further details for later this week.

According to an emailed press release from the Anglican diocese, the settlement was the byproduct of mediation between the two dioceses for the past four months, and it has the backing of the national Episcopal denomination.

“This settlement agreement allows us to invest our diocesan energy, time, focus and resources in gospel ministry rather than litigation,” said Anglican Bishop Chip Edgar in a statement shared with The Christian Post. 

“While the losses we have experienced, including those of St. Christopher and several of our parish buildings are painful, I am grateful that the work we have done has brought an end to litigation between our dioceses.”

Episcopal Bishop Ruth Bishop Woodliff-Stanley also released a statement, saying that to follow Jesus means “a willingness — an eagerness, even — to engage those who have been our opponents with the goal of repairing the breach between us.”

“I have been grateful for the gracious spirit of Bishop Edgar in doing just this work with us. I am grateful for his leadership and his generosity,” Woodliff-Stanley stated.  

“While each diocese has had to leave things on the table to get to this moment, and while we experience pain over losses of some of the historic churches our members hold dear, even still, we have seen the Spirit at work in drawing us toward God’s redemptive way of love at every juncture.”

In November 2012, the South Carolina Diocese voted to leave The Episcopal Church due to the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in the denomination and the reported mistreatment of then-Bishop Mark Lawrence.

Litigation over who rightfully owns the estimated $500 million in church properties, as well as claims over diocesan trademarks, began in January 2013.

In 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that at least 29 of the 36 church properties belonged to the national denomination rather than the breakaway Anglican diocese.

However, in 2020, South Carolina Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson issued an order stating that each parish owned its properties since they were not held in trust by The Episcopal Church.

Dickson, who had been assigned to enforce the state Supreme Court ruling, had applied "neutral principles" to the case, arguing that property records determine their ownership.

In April, the state Supreme Court revisited the matter and initially ruled that 14 properties had to be returned to The Episcopal Church, while 15 parishes could remain with the Anglican diocese.

However, in August, the court reduced the number of church properties that the diocese had to return to The Episcopal Church from 14 to eight, concluding that six parishes had successfully amended their bylaws not to have had their properties held in trust with the national denomination. 

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