Just so folks know, no signage at either of our campuses at The Church of the Cross have the word "Episcopal" on it. Three years ago, when our vestry and clergy were presented with a plan to "Brand" our church, we decided to leave the word Episcopal out of the signage and letterhead, etc. of the Church because we felt that the overall witness of the Episcopal Church in the United States was not reflective of our Anglican-Evangelical heritage.
Instead, the vestry and clergy felt strongly that we should keep our focus on growing the kingdom. The plan has allowed many people to come to know Jesus better rather than simply becoming a type of religious person tagged with a denominational trademark. By emphasizing a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we continue to add about 12 families a month to the Church. We are keeping first things first. And, first things first mean that we are missional (we are concerned with reaching folks who do not beleive or who do not have a first allegiance to a Church) not denominational first.
Three years after an openly gay Episcopal bishop was consecrated, the Episcopal Church U.S.A. is still faced with a dilemma that has been described as moral, biblical, political and logistical -- whether and how it can stay unified in the face of divisive views on the issue of gay leadership, and the larger issue of biblical authority.
In the months after the consecration, Episcopalians everywhere met to discuss what they believe, and whether their church had been -- or would be -- faithful to those beliefs. Those who disagree with the consecration say that it disregards God's opinions laid out in the Bible about homosexuality, and sex outside marriage, and therefore turns the entire church away from God's authority.
It's been three years of hand-wringing and parishioner-swapping, as believers figure out what they believe and where those beliefs are most welcomed. Bishop John Lipscomb of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, who visited recently to speak to concerned local Episcopalians about the issue, estimated that the church lost 100,000 Sunday attendees in the last three years. Locally, Episcopal pastors and parishes have suffered as well.
"It's contentious. It's painful," said the Rev. Greg Kronz of St. Luke's Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island, who estimated he's lost 40-50 parishioners. "I've had people who I've pastored through difficult times, and they've walked away, some without a goodbye. That really hurt."
The Rev. Richard Lindsey of All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head said he's had similar trouble.
- Photo: From left are the Rev. Mark Lawrence, his wife, Allison, and retiring Bishop Edward Salmon. Lawrence recently was elected to replace Salmon as head of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, although he has said he disagrees with the direction of the national church.
Sylvia Weeks/Special to the Packet
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"What's happening that is both good and bad is we've had musical chairs," Lindsey said.
"People have settled in where they feel most comfortable."
Lindsey said he's striving to be inclusive of the entire spectrum of beliefs on the issue. His parish is among the most moderate of those in the diocese.
"In this church," Lindsey said of All Saints, "we believe we are part of the Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church."
Those dual affiliations work for now, but there's a question as to how long the two entities will be one and the same.
Kronz is among the majority of pastors in the diocese who identify with the beliefs of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which largely disagrees with the direction of the Episcopal Church, its American branch. Most of the parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina wish to be aligned with the Anglican Communion.
The diocese has taken the first steps toward such an alignment by joining the Anglican Communion Network, a 3-year-old group of about 10 conservative dioceses in the U.S., and by asking the archbishop for "alternate primatial oversight," which would assign someone from the Anglican Communion, instead of Episcopal Church leaders, to oversee its ministry and development. That request has not yet been answered.
When asked if Kronz still considers himself an Episcopalian, he becomes uncomfortable.
"Ewwwhhh, that's a tough question," he said. "In terms of the historic Episcopate and what it has stood for over time, yes. In terms of what it stands for now, no."
Clearly, clergy at The Church of the Cross feel similarly.
"We opened our new campus at Buckwalter last year, and the word 'Episcopal' is not part of the name," said the Rev. Jay Slocum, who leads worship services there.
The diocese's direction was made more evident in September by the selection of the Rev. Mark Lawrence of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, Calif., to replace retiring Bishop Edward Salmon. All three of the finalists for the position shared similar traditionalist views. Lawrence's own California diocese also is part of the Network.
The selection process was deliberate, said Kronz, who headed up the search committee.
"We wanted someone in line with our diocese, not necessarily in line with the national church, but someone who reflected the nature of this diocese," he said.
But not everyone in the diocese agrees that Lawrence's selection was a good idea.
"This is a person trying to become one of the leaders of the church he's trying to leave," said Lynn Pagliaro, a board member of The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a group of moderate Episcopalians within the diocese who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church. On Oct. 31, The Forum sent a letter to all presiding bishops and standing committee members, who must consent to Lawrence's selection before he is consecrated, urging them to consider the consequences of their consent.
"Mark Lawrence was broadly supported as an individual, and as the best choice available. However, his election is being touted in the diocese as a mandate for separation from The Episcopal Church," the letter states. "We want to emphasize the fact that that is not unanimous, nor do we accept it."
Lawrence could not be reached for comment. The approval process can take up to three months.
The viewpoints of those in The Forum, though in line with the vast majority of the national church, are few and far between in the diocese.
"People in the Network make up only about 10 percent of Episcopalians," Pagliaro said. "But in South Carolina it looks more like 80 percent."
At a recent forum held at All Saints and led by Lipscomb, a friend of Lindsey's whose views are decidedly more traditionalist, the amount of concern local parishioners still feel for their church's future was evident.
"The minority is not given a voice in this diocese," said one local Episcopalian, to the agreement of others. Lipscomb urged them to open a dialogue with the bishop about their concerns for the direction in which the diocese seems to be headed.
"We can't even do that in our own church," said a woman in attendance who was not a member of All Saints.
If Lawrence is approved and consecrated, and the diocese breaks from the Episcopal Church, issues will arise as to whether parishes would have to forfeit land that technically is owned by the Church. Plus, there are moderate parishes in the diocese that would likely choose to remain in the Episcopal Church, and they'd need new leadership.
Kronz and Lipscomb both believe nothing will be decided until the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the next meeting of the archbishops and bishops of the Anglican Communion, held once every 10 years.
Until then, parishes of both viewpoints continue to pray, and worship, side by side.
Pagliaro said he's remaining optimistic about his future as an Episcopalian in South Carolina.
"We're hopeful in the Forum that a lot of Episcopalians would stay in the Episcopal Church," Pagliaro said. "I've been an Episcopalian for 40 years. It's a joyful, inclusive church. I'm just proud to be a part of it."
Lipscomb was more guarded in his comments about the direction of the church he serves.
"Optimism," he said, "is for people who don't understand the problem."
Contact Robyn Passante at 706-8131 or email@example.com.