Breakaway Diocese Still Waiting for Decision in $500 Million Episcopal Church Property Dispute
A diocese that broke away from The Episcopal Church over theological differences and purported mistreatment of its bishop has been waiting more than a year for a decision regarding the lawsuit over who rightfully owns approximately $500 million in church properties.
In September 2015, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments between the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and parties representing The Episcopal Church and its loyal members, known as the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
As of Wednesday, the highest state court has still not released a decision as to which party rightly owns the dozens of church buildings as well as the trademarked diocesan name and seal.
Joy Hunter, director of communications for the South Carolina Diocese, told The Christian Post that the diocesan leadership did not expect such a long wait for the decision.
"Ours isn't the longest delay, however. The court has been known to take more than a year to render a decision in similar circumstances," said Hunter.
"We continue to maintain the use of our name and properties, which for the diocese goes back to 1785, and much longer for some parishes."
Hunter also told CP that the months of waiting for a decision "hasn't changed our course of action of sharing the Gospel."
"In fact we've just launched a church-planting team to meet the needs of the exploding population in our area. This weekend a conference on sharing the Gospel with millennials is taking place," continued Hunter.
"Neither has the decision slowed down our commitment to making biblical Anglicans for a global age, both at home and abroad. We recently sent a team to South America to build relationships with fellow Anglicans there. Bishop [Mark] Lawrence has just returned from being an invited guest at the recent Global South conference in Egypt."
In November 2012, the South Carolina Diocese voted to leave the national denomination due to theological differences and the apparent mistreatment of diocesan bishop, the Rev. Mark Lawrence.
In January 2013, a lawsuit was filed by the breakaway diocesan leadership over the rightful ownership of the name and property of the regional body.
The breakaway leadership was able to get an injunction allowing them to use the name Diocese of South Carolina while the lawsuit was processed.
Episcopalians still loyal to the national denomination adopted the name The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and elected the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg as provisional bishop.
In February 2015, Judge Diane Goodstein ruled in favor of the breakaway diocesan leadership and in September of last year the state supreme court heard arguments in an appeal.
Since arguments were heard by the state supreme court, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has overseen a change in leadership.
In January, vonRosenberg announced his retirement and the Rt. Rev. Gladstone B. "Skip" Adams became the new provisional bishop for TECSC in September.
"Bishop Adams, 64, continues until October as the 10th Bishop Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, where he has served for the last 15 years," noted TECSC's website.
"Adams is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated from Towson University in 1976. In 1980 he earned his master of divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1980."
Holly Behre, TECSC communications director, told CP about the current worship space situation for congregations within the diocese that remain loyal to the national denomination.
"All 31 Episcopal congregations in our diocese are worshiping together on a regular basis. Of those, 21 have remained in their own buildings throughout the legal dispute," said Behre.
"The others, who were forced to leave their buildings after the 2012 division, have worked out arrangements to borrow or rent space for worship. Several are sharing space generously offered by churches of other denominations in their communities."
Regarding the long wait for a result, Behre said that she believed the "issues before the South Carolina Supreme Court are complex, and so we have understood that a ruling may take some time."
"Our 31 congregations are actively carrying forward the mission of the Church. On Nov. 11–12, Episcopalians in eastern South Carolina will gather for their 226th diocesan convention, and be challenged once again to 'Seek and Serve Christ' in this part of God's kingdom," added Behre.