'Continuing Episcopalians' in Breakaway Diocese Elect Temporary Leader

A group of congregations and clergy loyal to The Episcopal Church have elected a provisional bishop to lead them as the leadership of their diocese has left the denomination.

The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the name given to the continuing Episcopalians during their legal battle with the South Carolina Diocese, elected the Reverend Charles vonRosenberg. VonRosenberg was given the position at a special meeting of the continuing Episcopalians last Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Holly Behre, communications chairman for TEC in South Carolina, told The Christian Post about the results of the vote and powers that vonRosenberg will have as bishop provisional. "Bishop vonRosenberg was elected by acclamation by clergy and lay delegate representing 9 parishes, 10 missions and 8 continuing parishes," said Behre.

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"Bishops provisional have all the duties and responsibilities of other bishops. The only difference is that they serve for a limited period of time, to be determined by the Convention, until we are ready to begin the process of calling a new Bishop."

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, was in attendance for the proceedings. "The Presiding Bishop was celebrant and preacher at the Choral Eucharist that opened the meeting, and brought words of support and encouragement," said Behre.

"Later she convened the meeting of the Convention and chaired it until the election of the new Bishop. He was immediately installed in an investiture liturgy and then chaired the remainder of the Convention."

Last November, the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina decided to leave The Episcopal Church over a mixture of theological differences and tensions over the denominational leadership's treatment of Bishop Mark Lawrence, the diocese head.

By January, issues between The Episcopal Church and the South Carolina Diocese leadership over who owned the rights to the name, seal, and property of the church territory led to the breakaway leadership filing suit.

Last week, Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein issued an order stopping the continuing Episcopalians from using the diocesan name and seal. Jeff Walton, Anglican Program director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CP that the continuing Episcopalians are free to find new leadership.

"Those who have chosen to remain connected to the national denomination are entitled to organize a new diocese and elect their own leaders – this is not in dispute," said Walton. "What continuing Episcopalians cannot do is attempt to assume the identity of the departing Diocese of South Carolina. The Diocese is a legally incorporated entity with its own elected officers, registered names and seal."

Regarding whether or not the temporary order would become a longer term injunction come a hearing on Friday, Walton told CP that he felt the breakaway Diocese's case was strong. "In some churches, this would be resolved as a disappointing but ultimately civil divorce. Unfortunately, the national Episcopal Church has adopted a 'scorched earth' policy with litigation against any parish or diocese that chooses to depart the denomination," said Walton.

In his remarks upon being elected to provisional bishop, vonRosenberg spoke a tone of reconciliation to those gathered at Charleston about those who broke away from The Episcopal Church. "We need to recognize that other sincere Christians – former Episcopalians – have chosen a different path from ours. Theirs is a path committed to faith in Jesus, as they understand that faith," said vonRosenberg.

"While we have failed thus far in our efforts toward Christian unity, our Lord will ultimately succeed, on his day. When that day comes, I want to greet fellow Christians as friends, not as enemies."

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