S.C. parishes that left Episcopal Church can’t take property, court rules

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A new ruling from the state Supreme Court is causing fresh concerns among congregations that left the Episcopal Church in 2012, a dispute that might stay unresolved while it is reviewed.The breakaway faction that includes 29 parishes is unable to legally take some property with it, according to the ruling issued Wednesday, amounting to $500 million in buildings, grounds and cemeteries.The group had filed a state lawsuit, saying it shouldn’t have to turn property over to a church that opposes its Biblical principles.Before the split in 2012, the South Carolina diocese, founded in 1785, had about 29,000 members in the eastern part of the state. The breakaway group, known as the Diocese of South Carolina, retains control of many of the state’s most recognizable parishes, including St. Michael’s, in Charleston. The divide occurred mainly over the national Episcopal Church’s decision to ordain gay priests and bless same-sex unions. “It has challenged us. In some good ways and some ways that are painful,” said Episcopal Bishop Skip Adams.The Rev. Canon Jim Lewis from the Diocese told churchgoers that the issues in this case are “complicated” and the legal counsel is still reviewing the ruling and its implications. Attorneys on both sides declined to comment. The state Supreme Court allows both sides 15 days to ask for a review of the case. Adams oversees 31 parishes along the coast of South Carolina. He said he understands that the church is wrestling with difficult questions as a community, but believes it makes church members more devoted.“I think it causes anxiety because there are a lot of unknowns right now,” said Adams. “But our goal always has been the possibility of healing and reconciliation. We want to continue to keep those possibilities out there.”Some religious scholars view the schism in the state as marring the church’s image, hurting membership and causing financial constraints.Members still affiliated with the national Episcopal Church continue to meet either in remaining parishes or in borrowed spaces, with one group holding services in a bank, according to Adams. “My goal is to continue to be praying not only for the folks in the Episcopal Church but for also be praying for our sisters and brothers in Christ on the breakaway side.. because I really do believe God loves all of us,” he said.

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